Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas Eve
“You Shall Call His Name…”
Seminarian Andrew Keller, Vicar
St. Matthew 1.18-25
24 December 2019
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Choosing a name for a child can be a difficult task. While some parents have names picked out long before a child is born, others are undecided until the birth. Some name their children after beloved family members or favorite Biblical heroes. Others choose more unique names. Parents throughout history have named their children with certain expectations in mind. For example, Hannah prayed fervently for a child and when her prayer was answered, she named her son Samuel, which means, ‘God has heard.’ Yet, other names, such as David’s rebellious son, Absalom, which means ‘father of peace,’ do not live up to the parent’s expectation.
In the Gospel reading for tonight, the Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord, Joseph was told by the angel two names by which the Christ-child shall be called: Jesus and Immanuel. Each of these names bear a promise from God to His people: to save His people and to be with them always. Unlike other children who would’ve disappointed the expectations behind these names, Jesus lived up to them.
“She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” God’s people have suffered the bitter effects of sin since the original sin of our first father, Adam. Yet, they themselves also strove in sin, rebelling against the Lord and His Word and lusting after other gods. They actively disobeyed the God who brought them up from the land of slavery. We too have perpetuated the stain of sin in this world. We look elsewhere for comfort and security. We too are naturally inclined to remain in our sins, and thus in the way of darkness and death.
Yet, God did not forget His promise to our first father. He sent His Son to come to us and to live up to His name, “YHWH saves.” Jesus was born to die. Why did He do this? St. John answered this question in his first epistle, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” God gave His Son to die for those who rebelled against Him, who disobeyed Him, who put themselves above Him, that they might have life through Him. Jesus died, not that we deserved it, but because He loved us enough to take our sins upon His shoulders, and bestow upon us His righteousness. By His death and resurrection, we have been redeemed. As ones bought back by His Holy precious blood, we do not turn back to the ways of the Old Adam, but remain in Him, that through Him, we might live. He truly lived up to the name Jesus, the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The other name for Christ in the Gospel reading is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy to king Ahaz, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which means, God with us.” Throughout Old Testament, God strove with His people, whether it was at Sinai, through the prophets, or in the temple. In the New Testament, God dwelt with His people in the person of Jesus. Through Christ, God and man could commune face to face in a way they could not since Eden. Through Him, the kingdom of heaven was at hand, bringing about marvelous teachings and miraculous signs. Even at His death, the pagan centurion confessed, “Truly this was the Son of God!” His resurrection further attested that He certainly is the divine Son of God.
Before He ascended into heaven, He promised the disciples, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Where is He now? How can He say He is always with us if we cannot see Him? Sure, it is easy to confess that He is with us when things are going well. But when your life takes a turn for the worst, what then? When you lose a job, a friend, a parent, what then? Did Jesus forsake His promise?
Of course not! He is exactly where He promised to be, namely where His true Church is, as Christ said in Matthew 18, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” He loved the church in a such a way that He gave up His life that she might be sanctified. How do we know where the true church is? The children in catechesis learned from the Augsburg Confession Article 7: The church is the assembly of saints in which the gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly. Indeed, our church is rightly name Immanuel, for God is truly with us. Here, the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen is preached to you, that through this Word, the Holy Spirit truly works faith in each of you. Here, baptism drowns the Old Adam, which would rebel against God, and a new man emerges to live before Him in righteousness forever. Here, the true body and blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is given freely for the forgiveness of your sins. Here at Immanuel, God is with us.
Take heart, dear Christians, that you are not alone. Christ was born on this night to die for your sins. He has armed you with the Word and Sacraments, that you are well equipped to face the trials of this sinful world. Ultimately, because of sin, you will close your eyes in death, but this is not your end. On that Last Day, you and all the dead will open your eyes in new life, and bodily step forth from your grave, for your name has been written in the Book of Life. On that Day, He will call you blessed, to come inherit the kingdom set forth for you. On that Day, He will take you to eternal life, where God and man will dwell together forever, for He has saved you from your sins.