From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.
Devotional Text: Matthew 1:17-20
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Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 5, 2017, and you are listening to Day 3 of my new series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to “Emmanuel,” a song written by Michael W. Smith and performed by a young Amy Grant on her 1983 Christmas album, modestly called A Christmas Album. Still my favorite of her three holiday albums. You need to hear this song in the context of the album, because it includes this nice transition into “O Little Town of Bethlehem”—set to a very different melody from the traditional hymn. I’ll have to play that in a future podcast.
But I’m playing this song because I’m reading the angel’s words to Joseph in Matthew 1 starting with verse 20—after Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant—and that Joseph is not the father.
“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 I was a young man back in the ’90s and early 2000s, my favorite band in the world—by far—was a female rock trio called Sleater-Kinney. I really loved these guys. I still do! I’ve seen them in concert several times. On one occasion, I arrived at the concert venue when the doors opened. We were nearly the first ones in the theater. So I left my friend Keith to hold my spot in front of the stage while I went to the lobby to the concession stand. And who should be standing there—right in front of me, ordering hot tea and lemon, but Corin Tucker, the lead singer and guitarist in the band. She was inconspicuous because she was still in her street clothes. The handful of other people in the lobby didn’t recognize her. But I did.
“O.K., think Brent. What are you going to say to your rock idol that isn’t going to make you sound like a complete idiot.” That’s what was going through my mind! I was nervous. I didn’t know what to say. I felt like doing what Wayne and Garth do in the Wayne’s World movie when they meet their hero Alice Cooper: fall at his feet and say, “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”
So I was tongue-tied… And then… Someone walked up to Ms. Tucker and said, “Are you Corin?” And then of course she started to talking to him. I missed my chance! Ugh.
I bring this up because this sense of being awe-struck, feeling unworthy, feeling nervous, being scared in the presence of greatness captures—at least to infinitesimally small degree—what it’s like for people in the Bible to be close to God.
Remember when God graciously allows Jacob to wrestle him in Genesis 32. Although Jacob doesn’t escape unharmed—God injured Jacob’s hip and he limped the rest of his life—he was surprised that he was alive at all. In Exodus 33, God graciously agrees to show Moses his glory as Moses stands in the cleft of the rock. But God warns him, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”
Think, finally, of Isaiah, after he has this amazing vision of God in the Temple in Isaiah 6. Is Isaiah overjoyed to be in God’s presence? No! He’s terrified! “Woe is me,” he says. “For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Why is it so incredibly dangerous to be so close to God? Because we are sinners. We are all people of “unclean lips who dwell among a people of unclean lips.” God is holy. How can we ever get close to him—how can we enjoy the kind of intimate communion with him that we were created to have—that Adam and Eve had at one time in the Garden—if being close to him will kill us?
Christmas solves this problem, as Matthew makes clear in today’s scripture when he tells us that the prophecy in Isaiah has been fulfilled: This baby that will be born to Mary and Joseph is none other than Immanuel, “God with us.” Imagine picking up this baby; imagine cradling him in your arms; imagine kissing him; imagine rocking him to sleep.
Now imagine telling yourself, “This child is none other than God himself!” It’s breathtaking if you think about it.
But God doesn’t take on flesh just so his parents, his family, and all the people that encountered Jesus could stand shoulder to shoulder with God. He took on flesh—he became human—in large part so that he could die. Take our sins upon himself on the cross and die for us. Pay the penalty that we are unable to pay. Suffer the hell that God doesn’t want us to suffer.
And when we place our faith in God’s Son Jesus, confess him as Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, we receive his Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of Christ. So he will be with us now—and for eternity.
Now I’m going to play Sleater-Kinney from their 2016 album, Live in Paris. This is a song called “Modern Girl.”