“Dreaming of a Savior” (Matthew 1:18-25)

Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 22, 2019

“Dreaming of a Savior” (Matthew 1:18-25)

The ancient Romans had a saying, “Nomen est omen.” “Nomen est omen,” which means, “The name,” nomen, “is a sign,” an omen. In other words, a person’s name will sometimes, mysteriously, be a sign of what’s to come for that person. For example, if a baby’s name is George, which means, “one who works the ground,” and that child grows up to be a farmer, well, that’s a case of “Nomen est omen.” The name is a sign of the future for that person.

That saying holds true in our text today, in a way far more important than whether someone named George becomes a farmer. When the angel tells Joseph that his wife is going to have a son and “you shall call his name Jesus,” here too the name is a sign. In fact, you could say that “the name as a sign” thing happens twice in this story. Two names, for two people, bear significance. Their names tell us something about who they are, as God arranges it.

One of these two persons is Joseph. His name indicates how God will work through his life. His name recalls the first Joseph in the Bible, the one in the Book of Genesis. Remember the young man with the coat of many colors? Remember how God spoke to that Joseph through dreams? In fact, his brothers ridiculed him as “Joseph the Dreamer.”

Well, this Joseph also is a dreamer, just like the Joseph of old. And so his name, Joseph, turned out to be a sign of how God would deal with him. For God speaks to this Joseph in a dream, again this time to accomplish his saving purpose. An angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him what to do.

You see, Joseph had a difficult situation on his hands. His betrothed, Mary, turned up pregnant before she and Joseph were married. And Joseph wasn’t the father. What to do? On the one hand, Joseph loved Mary. On the other hand, it seemed that Mary had violated his trust. Therefore, he had decided to break off the marriage. He planned to do this quietly, so as not to embarrass her too much in public. That was his plan.

But God had other plans. For this was not a case of an unfaithful spouse. Mary had not been unfaithful at all. This was an extraordinary case, the most extraordinary there has ever been. And the angel appears to Joseph in a dream to tell him about it: “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.”

In other words: “Don’t be afraid, Joseph, Mary hasn’t been unfaithful to you. No, she’s pregnant in a miraculous way, a unique way that has never happened before. This is God’s doing. What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She’s going to have a son, a baby boy. Oh, you’ll still have a role in this, Joseph. Even though you’re not the father in a physical way, you must take the child for your own. Adopt him legally, by giving him his name.”

Why was it so important that Joseph should adopt the boy legally, making him his legal heir? We get a clue in the way the angel addresses Joseph. He doesn’t just say, “Joseph.” Rather, he calls him “Joseph, son of David.” “Son of David,” that’s significant. David, as you’ll recall, was the great king of Israel. And the Lord made a promise to David that one of his sons would reign on his throne as the greatest king of all, the ultimate king who would bring in God’s everlasting kingdom. The Lord would establish his throne and his kingdom forever. All this would come in the person of one of David’s descendants, a “son of David,” if you will.

Now here the angel calls Joseph “son of David.” Not that Joseph himself would become that king. No, Joseph was a carpenter and would remain so. But Joseph was of the house and lineage of David. Now of course David’s throne had been vacant for hundreds of years. The Romans were ruling the country now. And there were lots of David’s descendants among the citizens of Israel. So it wasn’t like Joseph’s son, and only Joseph’s son, would automatically become king. But if there was going to be a king, it would have to come from the line of David legally. So by adopting the child born of Mary and giving him a name, Joseph would be bestowing on that child a legal right to the throne of David. The legal line was traced through the father. And even though Joseph was not the physical father, he had to become the father legally. In this way, the boy to be born would have a legitimate right to the throne of David.

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife. Don’t be afraid to take her child as yours. In fact, make it official. Go ahead, give him his name. And here is the name you are to give him: Jesus.” Now when we hear this, we may think, “Wow! Jesus! What a special name! I wonder what Joseph must have thought when he heard that this little boy was going to be Jesus!” Well, what he might have thought was, “Big deal! What’s so special about that name? It’s fairly common.” And it was. Just as “Joseph” was a common name, honoring one of the heroes from Israel’s past, so was the name “Jesus.” Only they wouldn’t have pronounced it, “Jesus.” Yeshua was more like it, in the Hebrew of the day. Yeshua is a shortened form of the name Yehoshua, or, as you’d recognize it in English, “Joshua.” You see, “Jesus” is simply another way to say “Joshua.” So this name in itself was nothing extraordinary. There must have been lots of little boys running around with the name Joshua, just as there are today. Joshua was a big hero to the people of Israel, and his name would have been fairly popular.

You remember Joshua from the Old Testament, don’t you? The military hero who succeeded Moses as the leader of Israel? Joshua was the one who actually brought the people into the promised land. So for this child to be given the name Joshua–Nomen est omen, the name is a sign. For this child Jesus will grow up to be the one who brings us into the true promised land, the perfect place of rest and peace in God’s presence.

My friends, Jesus is our Joshua, our victorious general who wins the battle for us, who clears out the enemy in front of us. He leads us forward and brings us into the place where we will live in safety forever in the presence of God. That’s what Jesus, our Joshua, does for us. He lives up to his name and then some, surpassing the greatness of his illustrious predecessor.

Jesus is greater than Joshua. He’s greater than David. Martin Luther says of this Savior: “Be comforted and undaunted, be brave and glad, renewed in courage by him, for it is not Joshua or David whom you have, but the one and only Savior, who is Christ and Lord indeed. He will not cast you into hell; nor judge you and condemn you because of sin, but will forgive you your sins; nor be angry with you, but will greet you with friendly laughter. He is your brother and kinsman, and on top of it, your Savior, King, and Lord. He dies for you and redeems you from sin, death and the devil. Whoever believes on him and rejoices in his birth is saved.”

Yes, Jesus is your Savior. Even his name gives it away. Whether you say Jesus, Joshua, Yeshua, or Yehoshua, it all means the same thing: “Savior.” The Hebrew Yehoshua means “Yahweh saves,” “The Lord saves.” So “Jesus” literally means “Savior.”

And so the angel tells Joseph, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” His name is his job description: Savior. This is the mission God sent him to do–to save us from our sins. Our sins are what we need saving from. They cause us great distress and danger. They condemn us to death. They consign us to the devil. And you and I are unable to save ourselves.

In order for us to be saved, it must be God’s doing, from start to finish. And that’s what God does by sending this child into the world. God is giving us the one who will save us from our sins. So God makes sure he gets a name that fits his mission: Jesus, “The Lord saves.”

Jesus did live up to his name. The little baby grew up to be the Savior of the world. He saved us from our sins by taking them on himself, carrying them to the cross, and dying for our sins. The one who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary went on to suffer under Pontius Pilate and be crucified, die, and be buried. His saving death was shown to be a victory, not a defeat, when this same Jesus rose from the dead. Christ’s death was sufficient to pay for all sins and to remove the sting of death. Forgiveness and life come with the death of Jesus, now risen and ascended into heaven, and that means eternal salvation for you and me and for all who trust in his saving name.

This Jesus is your Savior. His name gives it away. His name, Jesus, gives away all the gifts he has to give you: Salvation. Rescue from sin, death, and the devil. And a safe haven forever in God’s kingdom. Nomen est omen. The name is a sign. The name is Jesus, a sign that this child is your Savior. He saves you from your sins. He saves you for life together with God.

That’s what Joseph’s dream was all about. He was dreaming of a Savior. And so, when he woke up from his dream, I imagine Joseph could have sung this song:

I’m dreaming of a great Savior,
Just like the one that’s prophesied;
With this name that’s given
We’ll be forgiven:
For “Jesus”–that’s what’s signified.

I’m dreaming of a great Savior,
Just like the angel said tonight;
So I’ll still make Mary my wife,
And may Jesus “Savior” be your life.

Published in: on December 21, 2019 at 8:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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