It has been reported by a number of news outlets that genealogy is the second most popular hobby in the United States, after gardening. I guess it is not entirely surprising then to learn that genealogy websites are the second most visited category of websites on the internet. The number one category? I’ll let you figure that one out for yourself, but I’ll give you a hint: it’s not trains.
The popularity of genealogy – tracing one’s family history – has been attributed to two factors. First, Baby Boomers are retiring in ever larger numbers, and they have enthusiastically taken to genealogy as a way to spend their leisure time. And second, the internet has made huge amount of information and documents available online. It has made the enterprise practical in a way it had never been before.
The apostle Matthew had an interest in genealogy. In fact, most of chapter one in his Gospel is a genealogy. He begins by writing: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Matthew tracks the genealogy of Jesus Christ from Abraham to Joseph as he shows that Jesus is the Christ who fulfills God’s promises in the Old Testament.
It’s not the most exciting reading, though there are a few surprises in there such as “David begat Solomon by the wife of Uriah.” We are reminded that God worked through sinners in order to provide the rescue from sin. However, on the whole it is rather monotonous as we hear that a father begat his son. It runs that way, at least until we get to the end, where Matthew tells us: “Matthan begat Jacob, and Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.”
Coming, as it does, after the repetition of “X begat Y, and Y begat Z,” the change is very striking. It is intended to be so, because it calls attention to the fact that Jesus was not conceived and born in the way that everyone else on the list was. Matthew wants us to know that Jesus is the son of David. He also wants us to know that Joseph was not his father. That fact requires some explanation.
We learn in our text that Joseph was betrothed to Mary. As I mentioned last Wednesday, betrothal was something far more significant than our engagement. If a couple who is engaged calls it off, apart from hurt feelings the only issue of real substance is what happens to the engagement ring. It was not so with a betrothal. This was a legal transaction, and to break it was the equivalent of divorce.
From what we learn about Mary in the New Testament, Joseph must have considered himself to be blessed. Arrangements had been made for him to marry a great girl who would be an excellent wife. Or at least, it had seemed that way at one time. Because now, before they were actually married, it had been discovered that she was pregnant.
Before they were even married, Mary had been unfaithful. She had broken the Sixth Commandment through fornication. Joseph was a just man. He sought to live his life according to God’s Word – his Torah. There was no way he was going to marry a woman who was sexually immoral.
But at the same time, Joseph was not vindictive. He didn’t want to make an example of Mary and heap shame upon her. So instead, he decided to divorce her quietly. He would end the betrothal and would not marry her, but he would do so in a way that sought to shield her from harm as much as he could.
Talk about having a lot on your mind! While Joseph considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "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.”
The angel addressed Joseph as “son of David,” and that was the key factor that he brought to Mary’s child. For Joseph to take Mary’s child as his own, would make that child part of the line of King David. The angel told Joseph not to be afraid to do this – to take Mary has his wife. And he explained the reason why. Things were not what they appeared. Instead, that which was conceived in Mary was from the Holy Spirit.
There was no sin on Mary’s part in the conception of this child. This was a miracle worked by the Holy Spirit. And in fact, quite the opposite, God was working through his child to give forgiveness of sins. The angel told Joseph, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
The ancient world was very open to the possibility that dreams could be a means of revelation. Something about this experience left Joseph in absolutely no doubt that this was more than just a vivid dream. It was instruction from God, and so he acted upon it. We learn from our text: “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”
Like Mary, the event of the incarnation brought unexpected changes and challenges to Joseph’s life. Joseph’s would be the wedding night that never was, as he did not have relations with Mary until after she had given birth. Talk about a disappointment. As a newlywed, Joseph would find himself responsible for raising a child who was not his own son – a son who was not like any that had lived before. If being a first time father can be intimidating, think about what it was like to be raising this son.
Yet Joseph obeyed the angel’s direction. By taking Jesus as his own, he made the incarnate Son of God part of the Davidic line. The One conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary was now the Son of God, and the son of David.
Joseph’s obedience became part of the way that God worked to fulfill his promise about the heir of David, the Messiah. Joseph obeyed, but God did this because of our disobedience. As the angel said to Joseph, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus’ name means “Yahweh saves.” Through Jesus Christ, God acted to save not only his people Israel from their sins. He acted to save all people. He acted to save you.
Though we are fallen and sinful, God did not abandon us. Instead, he did the exact opposite. Matthew explains in our text that these events involving Mary 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).”
God did not leave us alone to our sin. Instead, in the incarnation God was Immanuel. He was God with us as the Son of God died on the cross to provide the answer for sin – as he atoned by his sacrificial death for the sin that would have damned us.
As we learn in our text, Jesus Christ was Immanuel. Yet this is not something that was only true in the past. It is still true today. It is still true because on the third day Jesus Christ rose from the dead as true God and true man. Jesus has defeated death for us, and he continues to come to us now. He continues to be God with us in ways by which he gives us the forgiveness he won on the cross. In his Word and in the Sacrament of the Altar he is God with us sustaining faith.
Joseph heard the angel’s word and he obeyed. He took the pregnant Mary as his wife, and the child in her womb as his son. He was father to the child born in Bethlehem and gave him the name Jesus as the angel had said. He took up the vocation of father and husband that God had given him to do.
And in the same way, Jesus Christ – Immanuel – is the reason that we now seek to be faithful in our vocations. In Christ we have received God’s forgiveness and love, and so we seek to share this with others. We do so, not in self chosen ways, but rather in those settings where God has placed us. Because of Jesus – Immanuel – we now become the means that God uses to help others. Because of Jesus – God with us – God works through us to provide his love and care in the world.