“Immanuel – God with Us” – Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:22-25
Advent 4 – December 17/18, 2016
Pretend with me that it is this coming Tuesday, the last day of school before Christmas break. The teacher has left the room for a few minutes. Suddenly someone announces in an excited whisper: “The Teacher is coming!” Would this be “good news” or “bad news?” It would depend on the “situation,” wouldn’t it? If the class had been fooling around then the teacher’s “coming” would be bad news. But if the teacher had promised that they would begin the Christmas party when she returned, then the teacher’s “coming” would be exciting good news!
The name “Immanuel / God with us” is both good news and bad news, depending on the situation.
We begin with the “bad news” situation as we read in Isaiah 7. The historical “situation” was that the powerful nation of Assyria was threatening to take by force the land and nations of Israel, Judah and Syria. King Ahaz, the weak and disobedient king of Judah, was unwilling to join forces with the other two smaller nations to fight Assyria, so Israel & Syria were threatening war on Judah. And so King Ahaz, was faced with two options: 1) trust in the LORD; or 2) trust in his own opinion – appeal to Assyria to rescue Jerusalem from Israel & Syria, but in exchange agree to pay tribute money to Assyria! God in His mercy sent His prophet Isaiah to assure King Ahaz that he should trust in the LORD; saying: “Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid… It will not take place, it will not happen” (Isaiah 7:4,7) – Israel & Syria will not take Jerusalem; and the much more important warning: “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” (Isaiah 7:9)
But weak and disobedient, King Ahaz was just like all of us today, he was tempted to trust more in what he could see immediately (the armies of Israel & Syria threatening Jerusalem). Yet God, in His grace, wanting Ahaz to trust in Him, made a most gracious offer – “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” (Isaiah 7:10) But Ahaz showed his rejection of faith. [Like Ebenezer Scrooge in Dicken’s ‘Christmas Carol.’ The promises that God gave through Isaiah were just so much “Bah, Humbug!”] King Ahaz replied: “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.” (He was blatantly rejecting the Lord’s offer of salvation!) Then Isaiah (spoke God’s words of Law), “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel… before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right (within 3 or 4 years) the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim (the 10 N. tribes) broke away from Judah – He will bring the king of Assyria!” (Isaiah7:12-17)
God “laid down the Law” to weak and disobedient king Ahaz. The immediate fulfillment of this promise of “Immanuel” would be that someone close to King Ahaz (maybe even his own wife?) would give birth to a son, and the coming victories in battle would be so wonderful that the child would be named – “Immanuel” as a reminder that “God IS with us!” God DOES what He says even when there is total disbelief! Within 3 years, God sent Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria to defeat Israel and Syria! Judah, too, because of their continued rejection of doing God’s will – was also carried into captivity, many years later, by the Babylonians; JUST as GOD HAD SAID.
“Immanuel” – “God with us” – is a message of Law to all those who REJECT His gracious offer of rescue and salvation!
For over 700 years, the GOSPEL fulfillment of the promise: THE virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel’ waited to be literally fulfilled!
Then, “In the fullness of time God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law.” (Galatians 4:4-5a)
NOTE the similarities and differences in the Gospel reading as we compare Joseph to King Ahaz. Joseph was also a “Son of David” at a CRISIS point in his life – a seemingly “impossible” situation. Joseph was not faced with military battles, but his future, his reputation, his life! Joseph also could have taken matters into his own hands – Matthew records for us: Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered 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 home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. This took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the Prophet: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel – which means, God with us.” (Matthew 2:18-23)
One of the many “miracles” of Christmas is that God worked the gift of “faith” in Joseph to believe this unbelievable message (from an angel, in his dream!), and Matthew records for us: “Joseph …did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”
“God with us – Immanuel” is really good news! especially in our lives of trouble, disappointments, loneliness, sickness and death.
“God with us – Immanuel,” as we are reminded in the words of the Invocation: In the name… and in the Absolution: “I forgive you all your sins, in the name of …”
“God with us – Immanuel,” as He promises: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
“God with us – Immanuel” as He invites: “Take eat, this is My body… take drink, this is My blood.” as we celebrate “the Real Presence” in the Lord’s Supper.
“God with us – Immanuel,” as we confess in those familiar words: “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” (Psalm 23:4)
On this 4th weekend in Advent – each and every day of our lives, we pray: O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray; Cast out our sin and enter in; Be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell, Oh, come to us, abide with us, our Lord (and Savior, Jesus) – Immanuel – God with us! Amen.
Please join us for special Christmas services this coming weekend: 4:00 p.m. the Sunday School Christmas program in the fellowship hall; 6:00 and 10:00 p.m. for Communion services in the Worship Center; and then Christmas Day, 8:15 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. communion services with a Birthday Party for Jesus at 9:45 a.m. in the fellowship hall.