We often hear the name Immanuel during Christmastime. What does it mean? It means “God is with us.” Why is this name so closely related to Christmas? It goes back to the first Christmas.
The first Christmas started with a big disappointment for a good man named Joseph. He was soon to marry the love of his life. Joseph and Mary were “betrothed.” Betrothal in ancient Israel was somewhat like our engagement used to be, only stronger.
I write “used to be” because now many people (not all) who claim to be engaged feel free to live together as husband and wife, or at least to sleep with one another. Sex used to be a joy reserved for marriage. Thankfully, some folks still respect marriage, one another, and God enough to wait.
Joseph and Mary had respect for God and his institution of marriage. They also respected each other enough to save themselves for marriage. This is where the problem appears. Mary was pregnant before their wedding day.
People would conclude that either Mary and Joseph didn’t wait, or that Mary was unfaithful. Joseph knew the baby wasn’t his. He could only assume that Mary had been with another man. Imagine his heartbreak!
The Gospel writer Matthew tells us that Joseph was a “righteous man.” He knew the right thing to do. The Old Testament law said that a woman who was pledged to be married and slept with a man was to be stoned to death. This was a horrible thing for Joseph to consider. He still loved Mary.
Consider Joseph’s dilemma. If he acts according to the letter of the law, even if he just divorces Mary for cheating on him without taking any other action against her, he will expose the disgrace of the woman he loves. She will have a mark against her that will follow her the rest of her life.
On the other hand, if Joseph follows his heart, if he ignores her unfaithfulness and continues with the wedding, he is defying God’s law. He knows that God condemns adultery and sexual immorality. He would be deciding what is right based on what he wants. He would be rejecting God’s word.
Joseph struggles to find a way to be right and still be loving. He finally settles on a compromise. He will divorce her (that was necessary when two people were betrothed and ended their relationship without marriage). But he will try to do it secretly, so it doesn’t cause Mary too much trouble. Sounds weak.
This is when God steps in and gives Joseph the missing piece of the puzzle. Mary’s baby was conceived by God’s Holy Spirit. She has been faithful to him. Joseph can take her as his wife, knowing that the baby is a miracle from God.
And there is more. God tells Joseph to name the baby Jesus, which means “God is salvation.” Why? Because Jesus will save his people from their sins.
The Gospel of Matthew tells us that all this took place to fulfill a word from the Prophet Isaiah: “See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel,” which means God is with us.
Jesus is God with us. When God comes to us in Jesus, he solves our greatest problems. He was the solution for Joseph’s heartbreaking dilemma. Jesus is the answer to our most deadly difficulty. He will save us from our sins and guarantee us eternal life with God in heaven.
Praise God for being with us this Christmas,