Developed to coincide with "From Heaven Above, A Christmas Service for School-age Children"
TLH Hymn #85, Stanza 5
These are the signs that you shall mark:
The swaddling clothes and manger dark.
There you will find the infant laid
By whom the heav'ns and earth were made.
[Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23] Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
You can find that verse in two places. The Holy Spirit first inspired the prophet Isaiah to include these words in the prophecy we recently read and the Holy Spirit also inspired Matthew to quote Isaiah's prophecy in his Gospel. I have heard these words at least once (and usually two or three times) every Christmas season for as far back as I can remember. I am sure that many of you can say the same thing.
The virgin birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is a basic article of Christian faith. Anyone who claims to be a Christian must believe in the virgin birth of the savior. These words that Matthew quotes from Isaiah are a part of the support for that article of faith. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Matthew joined Isaiah's prophetic words to the Savior's birth narrative in order to express the wonder of God's plan for our salvation.
The original context of these words in Isaiah, however, is something that most people do not expect. These words are a sign that God sent through His prophet Isaiah. They are a sign against a king named Ahaz and a sign against all fallen flesh. That is not how we are used to hearing the verse. But it is true. The virgin's conception of Jesus the Christ is a sign against our inability to save ourselves. Everything we conceive is full of sin and death, even, saddest of all, our children. Everything conceived in our image dies. Our malice and our greed, our lust and our violence, are passed on to our children, and the wages of those sins is death. Yet, like Ahaz before us, we are too afraid to ask for a signótoo afraid of what God may say or too afraid of what His Word may demand of us.
The politics of the Middle East has changed little since the days of Ahaz. Ahaz was the king of Judah and Judah was surrounded by hostile nations. They were all forming coalitions against Judah - against Ahaz.
Ahaz was afraid for his life and for his country. But he had a strategy. Although the surrounding nations were hostile to Judah, many of them were also hostile to each other. Ahaz hoped to play his enemies off against each other. He would outsmart them. He figured he needed real and pragmatic help. A sign from God was sort of nebulous; the steel of Syria's swords was not. Ahaz preferred an alliance with the swords of Syria rather than a sign from God. So he refused a sign. He rejected God's Word and gracious invitation because he did not want God to interfere with his plans.
Too often we weary God with false piety as Ahaz did. False piety is a life that only appears righteous to this world. We rely upon philosophy and human wisdom to guide us. We twist His Word to bring it into conformity with our thinking instead of bringing our thinking into conformity with His Word. God calls on us to repent.
However, God does not wait for us to act. He acts in spite of us. What Ahaz would not ask, God gave, and gave better than Ahaz could have imagined or hoped. The Virgin's Son is born; the Word is made flesh, to rescue us not from a pagan oppressor, a military conqueror or enslaver, but from Satan himself. Despite our lies, our rebellion, and our hatred, Immanuel, God is with us. God loves us. He has taken up our flesh and made His dwelling among us.
He wears our skin. Joined to the stuff of Mary's womb, He moves about with the muscles, bones, and cartilage of a man. He has a soul like ours, but pure.
He has that body that it might be bruised and crucified. He has that soul that it would be separated from His body, that He would endure physical death. He is one of us. He is with us. And He dies our death in our place.
He has come into this world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not receive Him. He has come into this rebellious and deadly place to die and to rise again to make us His, to make us one with Him.
He carried our sins to hell. He crushed the head of the serpent. He conquered Satan and his image and the number of his name. In dying, He has broken down the prison bars that held us captive. In rising, He has paved the way to heaven. Not because we asked, not because we prayed, not even because we believedóbut because He is good and His mercy endures forever! He loves us because that is who He is and what He does.
He has died our death, instituted our resurrection, and elevated our nature in His ascension to the Father's right hand. There He is our eternal advocate. But He is not contained or trapped there, for He is ever Immanuel. He is with us.
He is God from eternity to eternity and He is now and forever man. He is with us forever!
He comes to us and is with us in His Word and in His Sacrament. He carries Good News from Godóthe proclamation of His love, our adoption, and His eternal fidelity. He carries our prayers to His Father. He joins them to the company of heaven. He declares us righteous. He forgives and sanctifies us, encourages and restores us. He is with us.
Ahaz is long gone, but his evil attitude still struggles against us. Wherever Satan raises that attitude against us, he will not succeed. He cannot stop the Virgin's Son. This sign óthe Virgin conceiving and bearing a Son, our Immanuel, God with usówill not be stopped by vanity, violence, or lies. The Virgin's Son has conquered sin.
All children of God, all believers, are thus conceivedóborn not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. For all go the way of Christ. We are not only born of the flesh, but we are reborn in water and in Word, born from above, and by His grace we are now Virgin-pure, even as He, our Bridegroom and our Brother, is. And we shall follow Him.
We will follow Him through death, but He has taken away the sting of death. Because He has taken away the sting of death, the grave is not the end, nor the goal. We will follow Him in the resurrection and the ascension to come. For He is Emmanuel; He is God and He is with us always. Amen.
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