The Nativity Is Not Naïveté
Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays. It’s more than the songs, the city lights, or the food. Even in my young adult life, when I was at odds with anything Christian, the Manger Story always drew me in. To my eyes, it looked so peaceful, hopeful, like home. It wasn’t until many years after coming to faith that I realized the warm feeling was my soul longing for Jesus.
As told in Matthew’s Gospel, the Christmas story is a salvation story. We’re narrated into the mind of a man trying to do the best he knows how to do. His betrothed is pregnant, and he’s not the father. This is enough to cause much anguish. To his credit, he doesn’t want to shame her, but the text doesn’t say that he bought into the pregnant by the Holy Spirit explanation when he first heard it either. It took an angel to stop him.
Thanks to the divine intervention, Joseph could hear things from another perspective. This perfectly timed conversation with the right person allowed him to. This wouldn’t be the great scandal that he feared, although obviously, people would talk. Mary was innocent. Her child was conceived of the Holy Spirit. It was true. All of this followed the plan in Isaiah 7:14. The Messiah was to be born, God would walk among His people, and Joseph was given a most privileged place in the salvation story.
The name of Jesus, given to Joseph when he was in doubt, is a name that’s so special to all who know Him. His name, if its meaning is understood, “YHWH is salvation,” is a statement that gives us strength. He is salvation; He will accomplish all He has promised. He will save us. He has saved us from our sin, our shame. Then, understanding what His name means can become a prayer. Lord save. It’s not some strange magic; there’s power in His name. Jesus is the Savior. Personally, as a rebellious twenty-something, I remember finding myself in a life-or-death situation, frightened to my core, beyond trembling. I had only one thought at that moment: the cry of my soul. Jesus, save me. And He did. It is powerful to call out to the Lord.
Decisions, Choices, and Actions
It touches my heart that Joseph received the Lord’s name at such a confusing moment. Life is often unknown, and decisions must be made. How often do the apparent choices we planned for take a sudden, unexpected turn that menace imminent disaster? The threat of public scorn paralyzes in any culture, but in a more shame-based one like first-century Galilee, this would be a terrible blow to the man and his family. The angel says beautifully, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife” (Matthew 1:20). Don’t be afraid, or as the TDNT says, the word translated fear is “ the primary verb phébomai, “to flee.” As emotion transforms into action, being startled and running away suggests “fear.”Joseph’s fears were real, and his proposed action of putting her away discreetly, though a noble, protective act in his time, was also an escape route.
The escape routes we take, while panicked or shamed, can lead us far from stability. At times, they make the most sense, but the long-term perspective reveals their folly. After all, who wants to bear the actual or imagined scorn we might face when our failings go public? The flight or fight instinct has served many during life-threatening danger. But what if the Lord steps into our story as He did for Joseph? What if He invites us to weather the storm because His plan, despite everything we know, will lead to His glory? This requires faith that cannot be blind; otherwise, it’s naïve at best or, at worst, presumption. Joseph was guilty of neither.
Joseph trusted the One who had been watching over his family for a thousand generations, the One who had promised a Savior. His name was to be called Jesus, “YHWH is salvation.” Sure, it was a common name, and sure, the child would blend in, but that was also the plan. Jesus was the name given, even graciously following the rabbinic tradition that the Messiah’s name would be known from all eternity. Joseph did as the angel said; he took Mary as his wife and named her firstborn Jesus.
The Name of Above Every Name
This name is the center of the salvation story. In Philippians 2:9, we read it’s the name above every name. And in Acts 4:12, it’s the name by which we must be saved. For us in the West, this Christmas season is quite uncertain; there seem to be more worries on a global scale than we knew even last year. Will we shrink back in fear of the unknown, seek an escape, or call on His name? Jesus remains the same.
Better than fleeing in times of trouble is being saved. Jesus truly saves. As Joseph resisted the temptation to put away his fiancée quietly, let’s not quietly put away our hope either. Jesus is the Savior, and we’ve yet to see how He will transform the bad into good this time. In the meantime, we have a statement and prayer every time we say His name. So come and let us adore Him.
 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), “Little Kittel” edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Copyright © 1985 by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
 Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13, vol. 33A of Word Biblical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000, 19.