“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas / Just like the ones I used to know. . . .” Irving Berlin’s song of 1942 struck a chord with those serving in distant locations in the military during WW2. But Matthew tells you of a more serious, much more real dream. The text for Sunday morning’s message is Matthew 1:18-25, with Isaiah 7:1-17 as Old Testament background. Matthew calls you to experience the promise of God as it comes to fulfillment in Jesus.
This first incident in the birth narrative as found in Matthew’s Gospel may have seemed more like a nightmare than a dream to Joseph. The young woman to whom he is engaged to be married is pregnant. As Matthew puts it, she “was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” This Gospel, like Luke’s, emphasizes the supernatural conception of Jesus. As strange as it sounds to our modern ears (and it sounded strange to Joseph’s as well!), Jesus has no earthly father. You can speculate about what went through Joseph’s mind and heart, but he was a just man. Rather than deal harshly with his fiancee, he intended to divorce her quietly.
At this point God sent an angel to Joseph in a dream. The angel told Joseph not to be afraid, instructed him to take Mary as his wife, and pointed to Isaiah’s prophecy. This is the first of several instances in the birth narratives in Matthew in which an appearance of an angel is connected with the fulfillment of a prophecy found in the Old Testament. Matthew wants you to understand that the coming of Jesus is what the Old Testament Scriptures were pointing to. You live in a relativistic culture that may be willing to allow you to believe in Baby Jesus if you find that meaningful for you. While Matthew is not unconcerned about what is meaningful for you, his focus is on a larger picture. This Jesus is the messianic King. All the Scriptures pointed to him, and nothing will be the same after his coming into the world. That is true whether or not you get the picture.
Matthew emphasizes the name Jesus, a name so familiar that perhaps you need to stop and reflect on what it means. In it’s Old Testament form you recognize the name as “Joshua,” meaning “Jehovah (or Jahweh) saves.” You know the story of the man who followed Moses as the leader of Israel, and brought them into the promised land. But this is a greater Joshua. He delivers you from your sins. That is the purpose for which he entered this world. That is why he died and rose again.
There is no more important question that you can ask yourself today than whether you truly know this Jesus as the One who saves you from your sins. Matthew wrote his Gospel as a call for you to trust him. By the end of his Gospel he will have explained quite fully who this Jesus is and what he came to do.
Understanding the message of the angel and appreciating the fulfillment of the promise in the prophets, always involve obedience. Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus approves of of the person who not only listens, but “who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Joseph hears the message of the angel and does what was commanded: he names the baby “Jesus.” As he holds the newborn baby in his arms, Joseph’s response is one of obedient trust. That is the path to which Matthew’s account summons you. That is not just a dream. It is life in the real world.