"Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel."
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
We tremble on the brink of Christmas as we worship together tonight. The day which has scrambled our calendars and changed our lives so much in these last few weeks is finally upon us. Just a couple hours to go. Every year people ask themselves why they do it. Is it worth all the hustle and hubbub and upheaval and busy-ness? Very few people really stop to answer the question. They just live through it and forget about it until next year when Christmas throws their lives into a turmoil again.
Christmas really has changed our lives. It has changed our lives in ways that we don̓t often stop to consider. The modern idea of personality flows out of Christmas, and out of that One singular Person. The concept of human rights originated in the value of the individual found only in the grace of God which we know because of that Person. He has thrown every life in the world into a turmoil. We no longer know slavery in America because of Him, whose birth we will celebrate tomorrow. We are no longer ciphers and pawns, but individuals of dignity and importance because of Him and what He has done in the world through His people. Sadly, we note that we are allowing ourselves to become statistics again, quickly slipping into classes and being counted only as "pawns" again as our society fights to reject the Babe of Bethlehem - and all that He stands for - and all that He is. Our name of Advent for tonight is "Immanuel"
King Ahaz, a wicked king in Judah, was frightened by all that he saw in the politics of his day. The northern kingdom, Israel, had made a pact with Syria to go and plunder the southern kingdom of Judah. But God sent the Prophet Isaiah to comfort Ahaz and Judah and to assure them all that there would be no such attack. King Ahaz refused to believe the prophet, so God invited Ahaz to ask for a sign to prove that this comfort was from God and that it was to be believed. The sign could be anything - as deep as sheol or as high as heaven.
Ahaz pretended humility and piety and refused to ask for a sign - "Oh, I couldn't put the Lord to the test!" - so God Himself appointed the sign, Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. The sign of the goodwill and blessing of God was not for Ahaz alone. It was for all of God's people. It was the sign of the Messiah - that God would be born as a man to live among His people.
The name "Immanuel" means "God with us." We learn that fact from Matthew̓s gospel. He translates it for us so that we can understand how a child named Jesus would be the fulfillment of a prophecy which says He would be called "Immanuel". The name Jesus means "The Lord is Savior." In His birth, because he was the Son of God, Jesus became Immanuel. He was God Himself living among us.
He still is God with us, for He promised that He would be with us always, and that wherever two or three are gathered together in [His] name, He would be present in our midst. But most clearly in His life among men before His crucifixion, Jesus was God living and walking among His people.
Jesus robbed of respectability forever the idea that God was somewhere "up there" and detached from our existence. Now God was among us. God wore human flesh and blood and lived as we must live, in the same world in which we live, the same sort of life we live. He ate, He slept, He loved, He cried. He understood human life not as an dispassionate observer on the cosmic plane, but as a fellow participant. He lived it.
Now we know that God can sympathize. Now we can see that God understands. There are two words in Greek for knowing. One means I have learned it, the other means I have experienced it. Now, in Christ, God has tasted all that it is to be human - except He has not sinned. So when we pray in our sorrow, in our pains, in our oh-so-human troubles, God knows what it is all about. We can no longer pretend that God just doesn't get it. He has been one of us - still is. He understands. He sympathizes.
More than that, He has rescued us through that One, Immanuel. God walked among us, and our own kind seized Him and beat Him and spit upon Him and crucified Him. He could have stopped it with a thought. He could have destroyed them with a word. But He endured it all for us, so that He might die innocent and full of life in our place, in exchange for us who are guilty and full of death. On the cross, He was not just God with us, or God among us, but God for us and God in our place.
Immanuel. Born of a Virgin to fulfill the prophecy spoken in the garden of Eden that the Woman's seed would crush the head of the serpent. Born of a woman to be able to take our place as man - born under the Law to redeem those - that means us - who are under the Law. He is God with us and God among us and God on our behalf.
It isn't so much who He is that has made Christmas what it is, but what He has done. We celebrate not because God was born as a male child in a stable, but because that male child grew into a man who died for us and rose again. The wonder of Immanuel at Bethlehem those hundreds of years ago should be enough, but they pale into insignificance next to the glory of the plan of salvation which He would work out in His flesh.
It isn't just what He did back then that threw the whole world into turmoil, it is what He has done in and among and through men and women who knew Him and loved Him and believed in Him. Christ lives through us and works through us - and always has worked through His people. Immanuel, God in us and through us. He has changed the world. His grace has made us all aware that each one of us is precious to Him.
He has elevated the person into significance. Before Christ, people were only significant to themselves, and not always even to themselves. But Immanuel taught us that God created each one of us individually, and He redeemed each one of us, and He calls us to be His own. He is the one who determines our true value, not us. Even the things and the people whom we might consider insignificant are precious in His sight. We are now more than merely instances of a caste. Because of His grace, we are not simply position-holders of a station in life. We are individual people, of worth simply because God created us and Immanuel has redeemed us!
Life has purpose, because God had His purpose in creating us. Our lives have meaning because God has a plan, and because God has chosen to love us. We are worth something because God has chosen to love us and to die for us and to count us as worth something. He counted us worth the life of His only begotten son - Immanuel, and has claimed us as members of His family.
Great works of charity have been worked by Immanuel through His people: schools, hospitals, orphanages. Great music has been composed. Great works of art have been written and painted and sung and played. Human rights have been discovered and declared. A Nation has been founded on truths declared to be self evident in the light of our God.
All of these things have happened because God did the impossible, and took on human flesh and human nature for us and for our salvation. We celebrate that specific mystery, the mystery of the Incarnation, tonight. The Babe of Bethlehem is the most miraculous of signs. He is the beginning of the Salvation of our God, worked out in full view of all mankind.
Is the hustle and the trouble of Christmas necessary? No. That part is human choice. But is Christmas worth all the hoopla and hubbub and upheaval and activity? Absolutely! Because of this little baby, we have life and hope, and peace and joy. His name is Jesus. His title is Christ. He is called by our name of Advent for tonight - Immanuel, God with us. O Come, Let us Adore Him!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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