Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "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 Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife,  but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV)
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. Jesus, it means God saves. It was the same name as Joshua, just the Greek pronunciation of it. Same way the Spanish pronounce it Heyzeus. But no longer would his name be a prayer as it was for Joshua, but a reality, a statement of mission. His name is what he would do, God saves. And in Jesus God would save his people from their sins. For he will save his people from theirs sins. And so he has. Jesus is the fulfillment of ancient prophecy. He would be the one God spoke of in the Garden of Eden, the one who would bruise his heal while bruising the head of the serpent; a curse for Satan and a promise of salvation for man. And he is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he spoke in Isaiah 7: “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear as Son and they shall call his name Immanuel,” which means God with us. God with us, God saves, for he will save his people from their sins.
You know this is the Christian faith, believing that Jesus is the man, conceived by the holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, true God and true man, come to save us from our sins. That is it. That is what it means to be Christian, to believe that. For the Christian, faith really isn’t about morality, being kind to your neighbor, loving others as ourselves. It isn’t about the law. Oh to be sure the law plays a part in it. But it is much smaller than one would suppose. You don’t have to be a Christian to be good, or even to know you ought to be good, by worldly standards. You don’t have to be a Christian to know that fornication is wrong. You don’t have to be a Christian to know murder is wrong, or to see how destructive gossip can be. Everyone seems to know these things, even as no one really follows along with the law. We all end up doing things we know to be wrong. We call this sin.
Sin, he shall save his people from their sins. We need to be saved from it, from sin. We need to be saved from our sins. And that is what Christianity is about, and has been about from the very beginning, salvation from sin. Salvation that comes to us in a little baby boy, begotten of the father from all eternity, but born of a Virgin Mary in our time, in our space, in our world, in our history if you will, in a little town of Bethlehem, about 2,000 years ago. Christianity is about a Boy who came and fulfilled thousands of years worth of prophecies, but more than that who came to save us from our sins.
Christianity is about salvation, about life, about forgiveness found in a boy born of a Virgin, God who saves. This is what makes it so different from all other religions. Christianity is about a God who wants to reconcile with sinners, when so many others are about sinners trying to reconcile with a god. Christianity is about a God who saves sinners, by becoming human, and dying for them, when other religions are about sinners trying to save themselves.
And I am not just talking about Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism or Islam here. Too often you find this religion of works, this religion of “save yourself,” in those who ought to know better. You find people who call themselves Christians you believe almost anything but that this little child born to the Virgin Mary came to save his people from their sins. Too often Christianity becomes about the self-righteous trying to save society from sin, with some legal proposition. Or Christianity becomes a self-help list. A set of laws that go above and beyond what is normative in society. Christianity becomes about trying to mimic as close as possible the perfect life that Jesus lived for us, so that we can become like him. The problem is it isn’t Christianity, and it gives Christianity a bad name. Here God sent his only begotten son to die for us, that we might live, to save us from our sins. But we get so stuck on ourselves that we don’t even see what Jesus is about, saving us from our sins. Instead people think Christianity is about a God wanting to punish us for our sins. We think Christianity is about a new list of rules, supposedly easier and different from the Old Testament, but rules none the less. And people no longer want to believe in God at all. They go to extremes trying to explain God away. They become too afraid of God, to believe in God, because they never let God speak to them.
Yet tonight he speaks, through an angel, who tells us this baby boy, whose birth we celebrate tonight, is our God, who has come to save us from our sins. There is nothing to be afraid of here. There is only Joy in the birth of our God, a little boy named Jesus, who came to save us from our sin. Save us from our sin with forgiveness he bought for us with his precious blood and innocent suffering and death.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.