By John Dillon

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. – Matthew 1:18-25

The night Jesus was born, hope was realized. I am not sure many people at the time fully understood what that really meant. Honestly, even today I am not sure we understand the fullness of what Jesus’s birth means, but still, we have hope because He was born.

The timing of Jesus’s birth was complicated. Israel was occupied by the Roman Empire and the burden of that Roman occupancy made the nation very tense. This wasn’t the first time God’s people had been oppressed by a foreign power. Throughout its history, Israel had faced numerous foreign powers which threatened and controlled them. But God is faithful. Every time Israel got into trouble (which was mostly a result of their disobedience to God), they would turn and ask God for forgiveness and help. Each time, God would answer. He would raise up leaders like Moses who would lead the people back, both physically to their promised land, and spiritually back to a healthy relationship with God. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that at this time, when Rome was fully in control of Israel, the people would be looking for the next man, the next warrior, who would restore Israel.

When Jesus was born, that was the expectation of the Messiah, that was the nation’s hope. When He did not meet this expectation and was not interested in fighting the Romans, many looked elsewhere for hope. But the hope that Jesus offered and still offers us today, was unlike anything Israel had seen before, and is unlike anything that has ever been offered since.

Matthew recounts the story of Jesus birth in Matt 1:18-25. In it, he tells us that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, informing him of Mary’s pregnancy, proclaiming “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus…”. We see the name Jesus and immediately know the importance of that name, but I am not so sure the beauty of His name was initially understood by many in Israel. While the name is rooted in a Holy meaning, it had become a very popular name and the origin of its significance may have been missed. In fact, the name is still very popular today in United States. “Jesus” is a translation of a translation of a translation of the Hebrew name yehoshu’a (which if translated directly from Hebrew to English, is Joshua). Yehoshu’a is made up of two Hebrew words: yasha’ which means “to save,” and yeho which accounts for the first few letters of God’s personal and holy name, Yahweh. So by telling Joseph to name the baby Jesus, God is giving a message, “Yahweh Saves.” Furthermore, so that there would be no misunderstanding of what Yahweh is saving, the angel tells Joseph to name him Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.”

Israel had a problem, but it wasn’t the problem they thought they had. Sure, Roman occupation was an issue, but it wasn’t THE issue. Throughout Israel’s history, they continually fell out of fellowship with God. They would get caught up in the world and would lose site of the big picture; that we were made for fellowship with God. Literally. In the beginning, we were made to be in the Garden with God, but we messed up. We were deceived by evil and consequently were removed from the presence of God. That’s what sin does, it separates us from the presence of God. Ever since that time, we as humans have had a longing in our hearts; a God-sized hole. We often try to gratify that empty part of us with other things, but these things never completely satisfy us. At our core, our problem is being distant from God.

When Jesus was born, God said to mankind, “I, Yahweh…I will save you from this problem.” In coming to Earth, Jesus created a way for us to have access to God through Him. Jesus’s sacrifice restored our fellowship with God and through faith in Him, the Spirit of God lives in us. Furthermore, even though we still live in a world that is broken, the ultimate penalty of sin (eternal separation from God), has been accounted for by the cross. And because of this, we have hope that one day we will be back, fully in the presence of God. That is the hope that we have because of Jesus.

There is one more thing that really sticks out to me when reading Matthew’s account of Jesus’s birth: The Angel appears to Joseph telling him to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife and to name the child. Now the question I have is, why? Why did God do it this way? Why did He need Mary and Joseph? As the creator of all things, He could have just as easily appeared on Earth. Sure, I know that there were prophecies about the coming Messiah that needed to be fulfilled, but God is the one who decided to give those prophecies, so again I ask, why?

There are probably many reasons why, and surely many that we don’t entirely understand. Nevertheless, I think one of the reasons that God invited Joseph to be a part of His story is because God wants us to be a part of the work He is doing on Earth. He invites each of us to be a part of bringing His hope to others. That is not to say that He needs us to accomplish His work, but He wants us to be a part of it. This is a grace and a privilege. Joseph did what the Angel asked of him, and Matthew tells us that this fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah that says, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” which means “God with us.” In accepting God’s call, Joseph literally experienced the presence of God with him. Here is the good news: we can too. Jesus tells us that in Matthew 28: 19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” When we bring the message of hope to others, God is with us.

A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a pastor at a local church. He knew that our business environment has been challenging the last few years and he asked me how things were going. I told him that I was struggling a bit in enjoying work. It’s not that I didn’t like my job, it’s just that all the things that go with working for a large corporation was starting to wear me down. I told him that sometimes I wish I was in full-time ministry where I could focus more on encouraging people. The pastor looked me in the eyes and say, “John, I am jealous of you! All day I am around people who know Jesus, and it is a privilege to shepherd them, but you are around people every day who don’t know Jesus. You have an opportunity every day to bring the hope of Jesus to those who are searching for hope in the wrong places.”

Is there someone you know who is looking for hope in the wrong places? Maybe it is someone you work with every day. God may be inviting you to be the one who brings hope into that person’s world, to be a part of God’s story in that person’s life. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to preach to them either. The way you act, show care, and love them may draw them to you, and make them question why you are different. Especially now, during the season of hope, we can be a light. God is inviting us to this great work, and we know that when we are sharing the hope of Jesus with others through our words and actions, we will experience Immanuel, God With Us.

Merry Christmas!