Matthew 1:18-25 (Fourth Sunday in Advent—Series A)
“Conceived by the Holy Spirit; Born of the Virgin Mary”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
December 18, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel reading recorded in Matthew 1:
18Now the genesis of Jesus Christ was so: When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Now Joseph, her husband, being righteous and not wishing to disgrace her, determined to divorce her secretly. 20But while he was considering these things, behold!, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, “Joseph, son of David, stop being afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21And she will give birth to a son, and you will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22This whole thing took place so that that which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet should be fulfilled, saying, 23“Behold, the virgin will conceive and will bear a son, and they will call his name Emmanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” 24When Joseph arose from the dream, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and he took his wife, 25and he did not know her until she gave birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
The Christian Church confesses in the Apostles’ Creed, “[I believe] in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.” As Christians, we believe, teach, and confess that Jesus is true God and true Man. But does it really matter?
Joseph, a descendant of the great Israelite king, David, had a huge dilemma. He was betrothed to a girl named Mary. Matthew tells us that “before they came together, she was found with child from the Holy Spirit.” But Joseph, at that point, didn’t know the “from the Holy Spirit” part. All he knew was that Mary, his betrothed, was pregnant and not by him. According to Jewish custom, betrothal was a legally binding relationship, the first stage of marriage. It was not at all like “engagement” today. Far too many couples who are engaged think it is appropriate to move in with their fiancée and act like a married couple, even with an engagement not being legally binding. Mary and Joseph, St. Matthew makes clear, had not come together in marriage yet. The marriage was consummated only after the brothel period was completed. For a virgin, betrothal usually lasted for about one year. During this time the betrothed girl was legally the man’s wife, even though she was still a virgin, since the marital relation did not begin until the marriage ceremony. Thus betrothal could be broken only by a formal written divorce.
Joseph determined to make the divorce happen secretly so as not to disgrace Mary any more than the current situation already had. But God intervened and let Joseph in on the Good News that His promise was being fulfilled, “Joseph, son of David, stop being afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. And she will give birth to a son, and you will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Joseph acted in faith, trusting the angel’s command to him. He took Mary as his wife and “he did not know her until she gave birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”
Matthew, writing by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, goes to great lengths to show his readers the miraculous conception of Jesus. He is very clear that no human father is involved. The words of Gabriel to Mary are confirmed, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:30-35). By God’s grace, both Mary and Joseph were granted trust in God’s Word of promise that the very Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, would take a human nature into His person, being conceived in the womb of Mary by the power of God the Holy Spirit. As the writer to the Hebrews says in chapter 2:14, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things.” The Son of God became flesh; He is true God and true Man. Do you, like Mary and Joseph, trust this Word of God? And does it matter if you do or not?
It is hard to think about “the how” of Jesus’ Incarnation. The Bible doesn’t share with us this information. The God-breathed Word simply tells us of the fact that Jesus is true God and true Man. In Martin Luther’s beautiful words, Jesus is “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary” (Small Catechism). In Christ, God and man are united in one person. While our brains might not understand it, we can trust that this is most certainly true because the Word of God tells us so. Yes, believing that Jesus Christ is, at the same time, both true God and true Man, is a matter of trusting the Word of God found in Holy Scripture. It is receiving from God the Holy Spirit the gift of faith that the Word of Scripture is true because it is the Truth. Although the devil and the world and our sinful flesh tempt us to think otherwise, God the Holy Spirit, through the Word and the Sacraments of Christ calls, enlightens, makes us holy, and keeps us with Jesus Christ in the one, true faith. May God our Father forgive us for the times that we doubt His Holy Word and grant us grace to believe His promises to us in Jesus Christ, who is true God and true Man, our Lord.
It is for that very forgiveness of all our sins that God sent His one-of-a-kind Son to take to Himself a human nature in His Incarnation and so be our Lord. But does it really matter if one believes that Jesus is both God and Man? Could He not be our Lord without being God-made-flesh? No, He could not. Hence Scripture’s insistence that we believe and confess that Jesus Christ, “the Son of God, is at the same time both God and man” (Athanasian Creed).
In order to save us from our sins, the Son of God had to take the place of those He came to save. He had to become the perfect substitute for people. In order to be that perfect substitute, Jesus, true God from eternity, had to take to Himself a true human nature and human flesh. He had to be made just like us, yet without sin, in order to save us (Heb. 2:17; 4:15). Because you and I are not able to keep God’s holy Law perfectly as He demands, Jesus as true God and true Man took this burden on Himself. The Son of God was born of a woman, born under the Law, that He might fulfill God’s Law on our behalf (Gal. 4:4)
To satisfy God’s demands for justice, full atonement for the original sin with which we are conceived and born and for all the sins we have committed since needed to be made. The death penalty for humanity’s sin had to be paid. The Son of God had to be true Man so that He might be capable of suffering, shedding His blood, and dying for the sins of the whole world in whose place He hung on the cross. Jesus the Son of God took on flesh and blood so that He might be able to die and so purchase and win the forgiveness of sins and eternal life for each one of you.
If Jesus were not true Man, He could not have accomplished for us this saving work through His perfect life, suffering, and death as humanity’s substitute, as your substitute before God. He kept the Law for you so that you might be credited with having done so. Jesus died your death and suffered hell so that by His blood you might be set free from sin and death.
Now, a mere man, sinner or saint, could have never done this for us. A sinner cannot save himself or herself. A sinner cannot save another sinner. A perfect saint, if one did exist, would be saved, but would not be able to pass his or her perfection on to anyone else. Since it is necessary that you and I be reconciled to God, no one other than God Himself could make that happen. Only God could meet the full demands of His holiness. Only God could save us. The saving work of Jesus in His life and death was sufficient to redeem all people from sin, death, and from the power of the devil since “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19 ESV), because it was God’s blood in Christ that was shed for us. It was God in Christ who fulfilled the Law for us and suffered for our sins. It was God Himself in the person of the God-Man Jesus Christ who reconciled the world to Himself.
Jesus had to be true God and true Man in order to be our Savior. That’s why it does
matter that we believe and confess along with the Scriptures that Jesus is both “perfect God and perfect man” (Athanasian Creed). And it is none other than this Jesus—the Son of God and the Son of Mary—who is our Lord! It is this Jesus who “has redeemed [us] from sin, from the devil, from death, and from all evil. . . . For when we had been created by God the Father and had received from Him all kinds of good, the devil came and led us into disobedience, sin, death, and all evil [Genesis 3]. So we fell under God’s wrath and displeasure and were doomed to eternal damnation, just as we had merited and deserved. There was no counsel, help, or comfort until this only and eternal Son of God—in His immeasurable goodness—had compassion upon our misery and wretchedness. He came from heaven to help us [John 1:9].”
The Son of God “became man [John 1:14], was conceived and born without sin [Hebrews 4:15], from the Holy Spirit and from the virgin Mary [Luke 1:35], so that He might overcome sin. . . . He suffered, died, and was buried so that He might make satisfaction for [us] and pay what [we] owe [1 Corinthians 15:3–4], not with silver or gold, but with His own precious blood [1 Peter 1:18–19]. And He did all this in order to become [our] Lord.”
By the power of the Holy Spirit working through His Means of Grace in Gospel Word and Sacrament, boldly confess in your lives and with your words that Jesus Christ is true God and true Man, your Lord, the Savior of all people! Amen.
 Edward W. A. Koehler, A Summary of Christian Doctrine (St. Louis: Concordia, 1952), 93-94.
 Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 401–402.
 Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 402.