18 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. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
I once heard of a community somewhere in the Midwest, I cannot recollect the name of the town. It has two Lutheran churches, Emmanuel and Immanuel. Apparently, there was a division in the original congregation and so they split, but the group which broke off simply named their congregation the same thing with an alternate spelling. I gather the people distinguish their church membership by exaggerating the pronunciation of the first syllable. “I am a member of Eeemmanuel.” Ironically, the name means: God with us.
The name is no lie, it was and is true, but we call it true not because one group was right and the other wrong, they both had plenty of sin to go around. It was true because God was true and faithful. Joseph lying on his bed, his world turned upside down by the unexpected pregnancy of his fiancé, a pregnancy which he had not caused, was pondering what to do. The angel tells him that this child is holy and God with us. For Joseph, accepting a pregnant Mary as his wife would have involved some raised eyebrows in his community. Could he really have told people about this angelic vision and his trust of this promise? Did he have to simply absorb the shame and judgment of his neighbors?
Do not look to our own righteousness and success to hear the promise of Isaiah and of this Child born to Mary and Joseph. Look instead to the One who makes the promise. You, your church, your life, the whole of you does not likely look entirely godly today. Joseph’s life looked like a man marrying a woman who was already pregnant with all that it implied to the people who saw this wedding. Your life is surely just as unlikely a scene for God’s presence. Yet, by the promise of your baptism, by the working of His Holy Spirit, your words of forgiveness are God’s words to the sinner. You are an instrument of God’s love to this world. He is “God with us” no matter how you spell it.