“But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’” Matthew 1:20b-21
Students were gathered on a bench outside my classroom working on an assignment. When I checked to see how they were doing, one of the students—here in Greensboro from another country—was crying. In the midst of the Jewish high holy days, when students often travel home to be with their families, she was homesick. She was the oldest child in her family and had never been so far from home for so long a time. All I knew to do was to offer the student a tissue, sit beside her, and tell her my experience. We had reached a difficult point in the year, I said, when school no longer seemed like summer camp. For many students, the workload now appeared insurmountable, and the comings and goings of the holidays only added to the stress many were feeling. Over the years, I had seen many other students experience the sadness that now afflicted her. It would soon pass, I assured her. She was not alone—she had friends and teachers and house parents here at the school, and they would be with her.
As Matthew relates his gospel, the first action to occur comes when an angel speaks to Joseph in a dream. “Do not be afraid,” the angel says, for God has already acted, and Mary will bear a son who will save his people from their sins. And then follows the angel’s command: Joseph shall name the child Jesus.
The name given by the angel was common for that time and place. Jesus would deliver the people while remaining one of them. How could this be? Perhaps his name offers a clue: it means, “Yahweh helps.” Just as Joshua (another form of the name) was Moses’ successor, so, too, would Jesus deliver the people, not to a promised land, but to the Kingdom of God. “I will be with you,” the LORD had assured Joshua. What does the resurrected Jesus tell his followers in the closing words of Matthew’s gospel? “And remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The season of Advent is one of remembrance, not only of what happened centuries ago, but also of a promise faithfully kept. In the dark days of winter, just as in the dark days of our lives, God remains with us.
Dr. Scott Culclasure and his wife, Nancy, joined First Baptist soon after they married, and it is with this congregation that they have raised their children, Alice and David. Scott currently teaches the church’s Covenant Class.