Sermon for the 1st Sunday after Christmas, Year B, Dec. 28, 2008, Luke 2:22-40

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Luke 2:22-40

lighthouse-blue

Looking for Consolation

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.

– C. S. Lewis

Some people have written that the church in the 21st century, in her teaching and preaching is completely taken in by the “therapeutic model”.

The church is the dispenser of feel-good, positive thinking, practical advice for living, and pop-psychology.

That approach may be appealing in good times; times of affluence and abundance, but it goes down like thin gruel in difficult times like these.

  • People who loose their jobs or their homes or their pensions need something much deeper than happy-talk.

  • People who are lonely and depressed need more than a “how to be happy” recipe.

  • People who are fearful about the future will not be consoled by positive thinking advice alone.

So, we come to this text whose focus is on two people who are waiting for consolation:

25Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel

Anna:  38looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

In so in many ways they are like all of us.

They are living in hard times, unstable times, uncertain times, as we are, trying to discern what God is doing in these times.

We are going to see that their quest is for truth first, and in that truth they see both pain and consolation.

This text, I believe, is vital for us today, so let us look into it.

The scene opens in Jerusalem where Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to Jerusalem to fulfill their duty to the Law of Moses.

Luke repeats that phrase “the law” – of Moses, 5 times in our text. Clearly it was important to Luke that we take note of this.

One detail to note: their sacrifice was of a pair of doves – which is what people who cannot afford a lamb are permitted to substitute. These are not easy, prosperous times.

Luke then guides our eyes to focus on one man there at the temple in Jerusalem, and after that, on one woman.

Both are at the temple, both are devout, prayerful people, sensitive to the Holy Spirit, (mentioned 3 times, hinted at once more) waiting for God to act – they are, in miniature, everything Israel should be.

They were also old people. This is significant.

Luke did not have to mention their age at all, but he did.

These people have been waiting a long time.

For them, apparently nothing has been happening for a long time. But in that long time of nothing happening, they have remained faithful, devout, and hopeful people.

There is more to their oldness than that: they will not be around much longer. Their world will shortly give way to a new one as the next generation takes its place.

In this way, they are indeed like Israel, in the days before Jesus began his ministry; a new world is coming. The question is, what are they going to do about it?

Those two elderly people, Simeon and Anna are rooted in a tradition; in the story of Israel, in the Old Testament:

  • They believe, as Mary and Joseph too, in the Law of Moses.

  • Their spiritual lives revolved around the temple in Jerusalem,

  • Their hopes were solidly based on God’s promises to Abraham and to David.

In fact as they spoke, the words of the prophet Isaiah sprang from their lips effortlessly.

This is key to the story, key for understanding Jesus, and key for us today.

Most of the people in that temple in Jerusalem thought they understood God’s next move.

In the old days, Israel was an independent nation with a king descended from David on the throne.

Through the prophets, like Isaiah, God promised that in the future he would do something powerful and new to redeem his people.

That must mean now what it used to mean. Our problem is material – it’s the Romans. God will intervene and restore our kingdom.”

If you are stuck in the old ways of thinking, this is what you expect. So Luke brings us a story of two old people, deeply imbedded in their spiritual history, the law of Moses and worship at the temple.

We should expect that Simeon and Anna cling to the past as strongly as a human can.

But this is why we need this story: they do not. Even as elderly people they are open to God’s work in the world to take on an entirely new shape.

The truth is that this new shape was glimpsed by the prophets like Isaiah.

Isaiah pictured a future time in which God’s work in the world would be different than his work in the past.

Isaiah pictured the world as a dark place in which people were stumbling around in need of guidance – not just Israel, but all the people of the world.

So Isaiah pictured God’s future intervention as a light – “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light(Isa 9:2)

Israel had an important role to play in God’s intervention. Israel was supposed to be ready to throw open the doors to their neighboring nations so that God’s light would shine on them as well.

The Old Testament vision of God’s future consolation of Israel, which Isaiah struggled to keep alive, was that Israel would be, as he pictured it, “a light to the nations.”

God was building a lighthouse through Israel, tall enough to guide all of the people of the world.

God’s plan was never for Israel alone. Israel was the tool by which God was planning to make something huge and new, world-wide in scope.

Why? Because Israel’s root problem was not the Romans. It was not material, it was spiritual. And that problem is shared by all the people of the world.

At root we need to know God and to be transformed by him.

As long as people identified the problem as material, they would look for a material solution.

The question was: could people who were raised their whole lives, like Simeon and Anna, surrounded by that interpretation of the problem and the solution, ever see that the new thing God was doing was so much bigger and deeper?

It feels like we are living in a time as dark as the one Isaiah imagined.

All around us, all of our lives, we have been surrounded by the vision of life that is thoroughly materialist.

Happiness, our culture believes, comes with having things.

More happiness comes from having more things, bigger things, newer things, better things.

And now we are living in a time when things are at risk.

We desperately need that light that God is shining.

And here is where the story Luke tells us is so crucial. Both Simeon and Anna recognize and identify Jesus as that light, as the source of that consolation of Israel that they have been longing for for all of these years.

Somehow they were able to see through the shallow materialist hopes for Israel and even in their old age, embrace the new thing that God was doing.

The vision of life that guides the powers of our world is an earthly vision. It is a material vision.

You know what the “bottom line” is?

We use words like “the bottom line” to describe essence of everything – as if all of life is an accounting ledger.

We need that beacon of light that God is building. We need to have our eyes open to the truly transformed hope of the gospel.

It is this: “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).

We will never be saved by any material value.

When the light of the Kingdom of God that Jesus brought to us begins to shine, it illumines a world of true values;

  • in which worship and prayer are the essence of faithful living, as Simeon and Anna demonstrated;

  • in which we see that God’s embrace of all people means that we value our neighbors, as objects of his loving concern – a light to the nations;

  • in which longing for a kingdom of material security is transformed into longing for a kingdom of righteousness, justice, and peace.

The light that Jesus shines illumines a world that is oriented towards comfort, but not first towards truth, and in the end finds neither comfort nor truth.

Seeking comfort first means believing the lie that our deepest needs will be met by a healthy portfolio and good credit score.

The truth is that what we need most is from God, comes only from him:

  • to have a way to love and to be open to being loved;

  • to know how to forgive and have peace in our homes;

  • to know how to rely on the Holy Spirit to keep us from temptation and evil that is always present in us;

  • to understand ourselves as part of a family, a community of faith and to draw strength and encouragement there;

  • to have an open heart towards our sisters and brothers in need, and to experience the joy of giving;

  • know that God loves us, unconditionally;

  • that in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven, and made children of God

We cannot minimize the real hardship and suffering of economic loss. People are hurting; the pain is real.

We are the ones who respond with giving to people in need precisely because our hearts have been released from believing that we need to hang on to everything we have for dear life.

Our spirits have been set free from that fearful dark world of insecurity because we understand that our security is vouched safe by God who loves us and cares for us.

Our hearts are open to responding to a world of suffering people because we know the joy of believing, with Simeon and Anna, in God’s future.

Our hope is in God alone. Jesus Christ has come; the light of the world – and now we see what is true, and in this is our consolation.

Christmas Eve Communion Service

Away in Luke’s Manger
Luke 2:1-20away_in_a_manger2

How many times have I read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke? Many, many times, but this year as I read it again I noticed something I had never noticed before.

Before I say what I noticed, one word of explanation. Luke did not write his gospel at a table in Dizzy Bean Coffee Shop on his lap-top computer, so he had no way to make text bold, italicized or even underlined. In fact, he did not even have an exclamation mark, as no one did in his day.

So if a person writing in the first century wanted to emphasize an idea and make sure the reader did not miss it, he might repeat it several times.

Now, if a writer tells us something more than once, and it seems trivial – there is good reason to sit up, pay close attention, and try to see the point he is making.

Here is what I noticed this year: three times we read the seemingly trivial information that the baby Jesus would be lying in a manger.

First, Luke himself tells us:

2:7 And she agave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The second time we hear the angels tell the shepherds:

2:12 “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

The third time, just in case we were not paying attention, Luke himself tells us what the shepherds saw:

2:16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.

Though I previously never noticed that Luke told us this little fact three times, of course I have always known that trivial detail of the story – everybody does.

Every crèche I have ever seen features a manger in the center with the baby Jesus lying in it, around which everyone gathers and everything happens.

The manger even became the subject of the Christmas lullaby, “Away in a manger, no crib for his bed, the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head.”

The observation that Jesus had to lay in a manger because he had no crib is unintentionally funny: the word crib used to mean manger – we still say “corn-crib” today.

I think it helps to think of a corn crib to understand what Luke was trying to tell us: I would never set a baby in a corn crib – or a feed trough or a dog dish or anything else that animals use as a dinner plate.

The only thing fit to be put into a manger is animal food. Why would Luke place the baby in there with the animal food three times?

The odd thing is that Luke does not tell us about any animals at the crèche scene.

The shepherds who find the baby Jesus there were with their sheep when the angels came to them, but Luke does not tell us if they brought them or left them.

Even though every crèche has a donkey, a cow, some sheep, and maybe even the wise men’s camels, Luke doe not mention a single four-footed beast at all.

If the baby Jesus is there in the place of the animal food, who are the animals that need supper?

At crucial moments throughout his gospel, Luke dips into the words and images of the prophet Isaiah, to help us understand Jesus’ purpose, and this is one of those crucial moments.

In the opening paragraph of Isaiah’s prophecy, Isaiah introduces the central problem he is sent to prophesy about. Here is how Isaiah pictures it:

Isaiah. 1:3 The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s crib/manger;
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand
.

Isaiah says that Israel, God’s people, forgot their manger. They forgot where to go to get fed.

The ox knows its owner – and the donkey can find the manger even in the dark of night – but do the sheep know where to go to get fed?

Will they recognize when their shepherd comes to feed them?

Jesus has come, to feed his sheep; you will find the baby, lying in a manger – he has come to fill our hunger.

He has come to bring nourishment to our aching-gut longing for God.

This is what Christmas is: God’s Bread for the World.

Everybody has a hungry heart” – so the song goes – and it’s true. We are hungry people; hungry:

  • for approval,
  • for respect,
  • for intimacy,
  • for meaning;
  • ultimately, for God.

None of what we are hungry for can be wrapped up and put under a tree; none of it can be found or lost on the stock market. Our hunger is far deeper that that.

He came to feed us with the bread of life. He came to be the bread of life for us – the food in our manger.
And that is why on Christmas eve, we gather at a table. We gather to eat supper.

We come to the Lord’s Supper at which our souls are nourished and strengthened, where our hunger for God’s presence is satisfied.

He came as a baby, lying in a manger;
He is present as the risen Lord, providing for us his food, from his table.
Come, and be fed.

Sermon, Luke 1:26-38, 4th Advent, B Dec. 21, 2008

2 Samuel 7:1–11, 16

Luke 1:26–38

raised-hands-collage001

Nothing

Last week we noted that interest in angels increases in hard times – and that we are in hard times, therefore, angels times. This is another angel story – a hard-times piece.

Gabriel gets the call to be the messenger. We could have expected the he would be picked for this assignment – he was, after all, the one who went to the prophet Daniel to tell him about the coming Messiah, (or in Greek-ish English, Christ).

Now Gabriel takes a very similar message to a young single Jewish girl, named Mary.

There are some profound differences between the message Daniel received and the one given to Mary; Daniel’s did not come with the burden of pregnancy and childbirth.

But the angel Gabriel did greet both of them in practically the same way: Greetings favored one!

Luke signals that we should reflect on this greeting until we make the connection because, even Mary had to wrinkle her brow over it:

29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

Gabriel understands that the connection does not come easily, so he repeats the words he said to Daniel:

30 Mary, for you have found favor with God.

The connection is important because the new thing that God is doing, though Mary, must be seen in continuity with the story of Israel – Daniel’s story; so, same angel, same greeting.

Gabriel says to Mary some powerful words, but before we look at them we must notice something: Mary responded to the angel – twice.

The first time was to ask the question, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” and the second time is to say those famous words, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.

Both of those responses are possible only if Mary believes that this angelic message has not yet been carved in stone. The “how”question has to be settled first, and then there is the issue of cooperation.

Nobody says, “let it be with me according to your word” to a command from the general. “Yes sir!” is what you say when yo have no choice.

Mary did not think she had a silent role; she believed that she had some lines to deliver in this scene. She was under the impression that she could have declined the offer.

After all, it was going to mean pregnancy and childbirth – which is still life threatening today – all the more so in the ancient world.

It was also going to mean more than a lot of blushing and explaining that would never convince anyone. People in her culture could get killed for what it appeared she had done. (Deut 22:2, ff.)

So, even at the cost of enormous personal sacrifice, Mary makes the choice that she believes is hers to make, and accepts her role as God’s servant.

Thinking of yourself as God’s servant is ironic because it is always a choice, never forced. It is precisely the definition of a servant that they have no choices, but we always do.

In fact, when we say we are God’s servant we are saying yes to God’s will – and we are saying “I want to think of myself as a person who does God’s will so completely that it is as if I did not even have a choice about it.”

But we always do.

Pause: maybe you have been raised a good Presbyterian and expect me to now launch in to a wearisome explanation of how this “choice” business fits with our doctrine of predestination.

I will not – that discussion is always wearisome, seldom fruitful, and always ends up at the same place: at the level of our human experience, we always have choices to make. Evil is always a viable choice. Obedience is never coerced.

Getting back to the story: Gabriel tells Mary what will happen if her answer is “yes.”

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;

Mary’s “yes” to God will certainly entail sacrifices, but the result will be nothing less than God’s work, start to finish.

The child she will bear and birth is the one who will finally and fully bring God’s presence to us.

32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High,

35 …the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.

These are opaque names; like glimpsing through ripple glass; they feint towards divinity – is that clear? Not entirely so; not yet.

What does this mean? Mary’s “yes” to God is the means by which incarnation happened – God became human because Mary said “yes.”

Part of what the Christmas story means is that God’s action in the world is un-coerced; and if un-coerced, then is dependent on people being willing to say, 38“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Mary was willing.

So what was God’s plan for this child with the God-names?

32 the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

This is a bitter pill to all of those whose hopes and aspirations for God’s work in the world is no larger than their little nation.

But to those who are willing to say “yes” to God, he has prepared a kingdom that has no end, a “forever” reign of God.

Mary’s “yes” to God opens the door for God to come to humanity, and to bring with him a kingdom which has no limits, across time and across space.

Mary has no idea yet how big this is. She can be forgiven for hearing words about her ancestors, Jacob and king David, and thinking that Gabriel has just made her the mother of the king.

Luke, who gives us this story, however, has the advantage of hindsight: Luke is not Jewish – he is Greek. He understands that the fulfillment of these hopes is inclusive of all of humanity.

Mary’s willingness to say yes to God’s will opened the door to a new thing that God was doing among people: opening the doors of a kingdom that is big enough to transform the world, forever.

Luke knows that the child born to willing-Mary will grow up to be Jesus, God’s anointed one, the Christ.

He will show us God’s will, he will teach us God’s way, he will suffer and die on our behalf, and he will be raised from the dead – deserving of those god-names, “son of the most high, holy, son of God.”

Luke will write his gospel, and then he will write volume 2, the book of Acts, which narrates the story of the world-wide kingdom of God growing outward from Jerusalem to the limits of the empire.

We will read about that early church and see that people who, like Mary, say “yes” to God and who embrace Jesus as their King are transformed.

They worship together in each others homes, across social and economic class lines – unheard of in that time!

They will follow Mary’s example of willing sacrifice as they pool their economic resources together to help those in need.

They will organize food distribution and widow-support, they will be agents of healing for the sick and of freedom from people in bondage to spirits.

This Christmas story about the birth of Jesus begins with the “yes” of Mary – and the result is huge!

And this is the pattern of God’s work in the world; which is where it touches our lives today.

We will probably not meet and angel like Gabriel, but God is calling all of us to commitment. It will not do to be a passive observer.

The Christmas story shows us that the invitation is given: here is what God wants; but God does not consider that invitation answered until he gets a response.

The angel-messenger does not leave until Mary gives him the reply.

She is not a part of God’s mission to bring the kingdom of God to earth until she says, ““Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

What would it mean for us to say those words today?

What sacrifice would we be willing to make in order to say those words today?

What lifestyle changes would we need to make in order to say, “let it be with me according to your word”?

What values would change?

What habits would have to be un-acquired?

Is it even possible that people like you and me, normal, middle-class caucasian North-Americans could ever say and mean “let it be with me according to your word”?

The answer is also here in this story. It may well be that such a commitment is impossible for us to make.

But this is not normal story, this is the Christmas story; it is about God doing a new thing in willing people.

We therefore have the courage to ask the question: what is impossible? and hear the angel say to us, 37nothing will be impossible with God.”

Nothing

Nothing.

Nothing is impossible with God; even empowering little people like us to make that bold commitment to Him:

Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

We will take a moment of silence now, and I invite you – or rather God invites you to reflect on the sacrifice it may require, but to say in all sincerity to him:

Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Let us pray.

Sermon, Matthew 1:18-25, Dec. 14, 2008, 3rd Sunday in Advent, Year B

Matt 1:18-25angel-statues-pray

The Birth of Jesus the Messiah

I heard an interview on the radio, with a Rabbi who had written a book about angels. He said that there had been several periods of time in history when interest in angels had been heightened – people wrote about them, and painted pictures of them more in those times than at other times. They were, the Rabbi said, usually times of crisis, upheaval and danger.

We are in angel times now. People are loosing their jobs by the hundreds of thousands. We will finish the year with over 2 million homes in foreclosure, and millions more homeowners are falling behind in mortgage payments.

These are angel times for us here in America.

And we are not even on the continent of Africa. I do not know if they ever have non-angel times – but this time is certainly horrible – there is even a cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe.

We need to find the strength to deal with this world, so we move on from the reasons that these are angel times, to our text, which, as it turns out, features an angel.

Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ birth in a breathless space of 7 verses. It is so fast he actually leaves out important parts of the story.

The story begins,

When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

Now, who knew that the child was from the Holy Spirit? Joseph did not – yet. Did Mary? Luke is the one who tells that part of the story; Matthew flies right past it. Anyway, Joseph is in the dark.

And he has got to be a miserable man. He is a good man. He has done the right thing – he has kept the law of Moses – which is what you must do to earn the title that Matthew gives him, “righteous man” – a Tsadiq – for those of you who have seen the film “The Chosen.”

When you try to live well, as Joseph did, it is not outrageous to expect that things will go well for you.

Not that you will be rich and famous, but that, for example, when you get engaged to a nice girl, she might be able to keep herself away from other men before the wedding.

When the story starts, Joseph the righteous man has got to be miserable. His fiance is pregnant, and he is not the father. He draws the only conclusion open to him, and plans for their permanent separation.

I’m sure you have heard explanations of how much more complex and involved betrothals were in that time and place that mere engagements are today, so I will not repeat that here, except to say that this was a big deal; a personal crisis for Joseph the righteous man.
(Some here might say, yes, but not nearly the crisis it was to Mary! and you are right – but Matthew is telling Joseph’s story. It is Luke that tells Mary’s story – and yes, we will hear that this Christmas season too, but not today.)

So, Joseph is miserable; after doing the right thing, his personal life is suddenly in disaster; this is not how it’s supposed to go.

It’s supposed to be like Psalm 1: the good people are blessed; their lives are like trees planted by the rivers of water, and whatever they do, prospers – unlike the wicked which are like the chaff that the wind drives away.

Well Joseph has just been blown away by the cruel wind of a botched life-plan, and probably he is thinking: “this is not fair! Where is God?”

I am wondering if there are some Josephs here today? People who do not claim to be perfect, but who, by and large have tried to do the right thing, but somehow life got messy – or worse.

I have been here long enough to know that some of you have gone through experiences so deeply difficult they make this economic crisis seem like a picnic by comparison, and you wonder – is it fair? Where has God been?

But this economic crisis is not a picnic either, and when you watch the money you thought would sustain you through the end of your life dry up like an unattended bird bath, you may wonder – is this what I deserve? Where is God in this?

This is an angel time, both for Joseph and for us, and so let’s get to the angel part.
The angel appeared to Joseph, Matthew says, “in a dream.

He does his job: he delivers a message. His message fills in the blanks – Mary will have a baby – in fact a son – but she has not been unfaithful. The child is from the Holy Spirit.

At this point, the story itself becomes unfair to us, because Joseph gets what we rarely (if ever) get: an explanation from God about why bad things are happening.

In this respect, we are far more like Job than Joseph. Job suffered miserably – the loss of his wealth, the loss of his children, the loss of his wife, and even of his health. And he never knew why – just like us.

The only way in which Job and Joseph are alike is that they were righteous men – things were not supposed to go that way. Where was God?

We do not know why – children die, why cancer develops, why hearts fail and stock markets crash. I mean, we know “why” at the scientific level – about genes and carcinogens, cholesterol, and credit default swaps, but we never know the important “why-answers: “why me? Why my family? Why now?”

I’m sure that before the angel appeared, Joseph must have prayed the prayer that we all pray when the crisis hits: “O God, make this go away. Let me wake up, and not see an angel, and not have a pregnant fiancee either. Bail me out, God.”

Behind the “why” question is the, often unspoken question, “where are you when I need you, God?” Are you there?

This story exists to answer that question.

Matthew supplies the meaning of the angel’s message to Joseph:

22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

Jesus is the answer to the question, “where is God?” Jesus has come to us to be God, with us.

I was raised in a protestant home, so I remember how strikingly odd it was when, as a boy, I heard someone pray “holy Mary, mother of God…”. Mother of God? God has a mother?

That childish confusion later gave way to an understanding of how correct that phrase is. God came to be with us, as a baby, from a mother’s womb.

He came to be with us in the most human way possible – in the only human way – being born as a helpless baby. He was born in hard times – economically, politically, socially. He became one of us. And yet he came as Emmanuel – God, with us.

This is how the gospel of Matthew begins: Jesus is none other than God with us.

And this is how it also ends. The very last words that Jesus says to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew are these:

18 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18 -20)

I am with you – always – to the end of the age.”

  • With you – when your loved one dies;
  • With you – when illness strikes you;
  • With you – When your family is in crisis;
  • With you – When your life does not go to plan.

There is another word, which is shared by the beginning and the end of Matthew in addition to “with you;” listen for it.

24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him;

“… teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded...”

Jesus’ presence comes with commands. Matthew tells us that Jesus summed up the whole law of Moses with the two great commandments: love the Lord your God with your whole heart and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.

And that’s the trouble: we like to think of ourselves as righteous, but who among us has not failed to keep these two commandments? We do not. We sin. And our sins separate us from God.

And this fact of life brings us back to our story: This is why Jesus’ name is not an option; it cannot be Joseph jr. It must be, rather, Joshua – Yeshua – Jesus – meaning, “God Saves”.

Why? Because Jesus has come, but not as a buddy to commisurate with, but as a saviour, from our sins.

As the angel said to Joseph: She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Jesus came to be God with us, God for us, God loving us, God laying down his life for us, so that he could be God forgiving us, saving us from our sins – the very cause of our separation from him in the first place.

Christmas means that in Jesus, God has come – with commands. And because we fail at his commands, because we sin, we need a savior. Jesus came to be Emmanuel, God with us, as Jesus, who saves us from our sins.

God is with us, this Advent season when the world is in turmoil, not because we are righteous people who, like Joseph, think we have a right to expect it.

Rather, God is with us, because though we are sinful people, Christ died for us, rose for us, and reigns in power for us.

This is the joy of Christmas; God has come to be with us, to end the separation between us and him, to save us, to forgive us, and to be powerfully present at every moment of our lives.

These are angel times – but Jesus our saviour has come: God is with us!