December 3, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife.” —Matthew 1:20-24 ESV
The story of Jesus’ birth carries complexities of human relationships and emotions that are too profound to overlook. For one character in particular, the news of Mary’s pregnancy came as a shock that led to major internal conflict. As Joseph lies deep in sleep, overtaken by confusion and contemplating what should come of the future, the Lord speaks to him through an angel whose message redirected the course of Joseph’s heart—and if we allow it, will do the same to ours.
When the angel appeared to Joseph, Mary (his betrothed) was pregnant, and Joseph knew he was not the father. During that time, betrothal among Jews was a formal ceremony, a symbolic act which pledged the woman to the man. A betrothal regarded the man and woman as married before God, so to be unfaithful to your betrothed was seen as committing adultery.
As Joseph ponders what steps to take, his noble character is revealed. Instead of acting hastily out of anger by assuming that Mary has been unfaithful, he seeks to protect her reputation by divorcing her in secret. Doing this would not lead to her public shame, but would send her back to her family where she would still have social and economic protection. The weight of Joseph’s decision meets a more remarkable response. The angel speaks to Joseph and touches on two main things: his identity and emotions. Yet in this story, his greatest need is both revealed and fulfilled.
The angel’s first words are, “Joseph, son of David.” In saying this, the angel reminds Joseph of the nobility from which he comes (King David’s), the lineage into which the Messiah would be born. Joseph’s bloodline would be the one to birth the chosen One of Israel who would rule and restore the nation.
The angel also speaks to Joseph’s emotions when he tells him not to fear. The Greek word used here for fear is phobeó, which means, “to be seized with terror; to dread doing something for fear of harm.” Joseph needed his emotions to be stilled and for the pressing weight of his decisions to be lifted. The angel’s words bring clarity and direction to his confusion, for he assures Joseph of God’s purpose in what was taking place. Perhaps most significantly is how the apostle Matthew ties the angel’s words together.
Matthew alludes to a prophecy nearly 800 years old, first given by the prophet Isaiah during the reign of Ahaz, King of Judah. Instead of looking to God for his deliverance against the threat of enemy invasion, the king looked to other nations for help. The prophet reminds the people of Judah that a day would come when a sign would be given by God; a virgin would give birth to a son, and His name would be Immanuel—God with us.
Matthew highlights what Joseph and each of us desperately needs more than anything: to have the presence of God in our lives. We need a relationship with God, and it was only made possible because Jesus came down to be with us. God is faithful to show up in our most troubling times, and when He does, He shows us who we truly are, He stills our hearts, guides our path, and most of all, our relationship with Him is restored.
Through a birth like no other, God entered the world to be close to us. Joseph’s story reminds us that God is not too far to hear us when we’re filled with fear. On the contrary, it shows us the lengths to which He would go to be with you and me.
Pause: What does the name Immanuel mean to you? Where do you need to experience God’s closeness in your life today?
Practice: Set aside some intentional time to spend with God. Meditate on Isaiah 7:14, and ask God to allow you to feel closer to Him and His presence.
Pray: Jesus, thank You that Your name means “God with us.” Your name reveals Your heart to be in a close relationship with me. Lord, awaken my heart to desire Your presence more and more, for it’s what I need more than anything in this world. Holy Spirit, help me to be made aware of God’s presence in my everyday life so others may see His glory in me. Amen.
Gabriella Bemis serves as a volunteer for Calvary’s communications and worship teams. She holds an M.A. in psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about integrating her knowledge of human behavior with the truth of God’s word. When she is not writing resources or singing at church, Gabi loves to paint, cook, and enjoy time outdoors with her family and friends.