December 24, 2019 God with Us
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ,
When Adam & Eve disobeyed God, it was a violation of His command; they broke His Law. They were spiritual criminals subject to death, and they needed a rescuer. That’s just the reality of it. In Genesis 3:15, that rescuer was referred to as ‘the seed of the woman.’ That phrase would describe the person & work of mankind’s Savior, whose Father is God, & being born of a human mother. From that time on, God’s promised Messiah is referred to by many descriptors such as: /‘God’s right hand,’ /‘the righteous branch,’ /& ‘the prince of peace.’
As the time drew near to His arrival, His names became more personalized, such as /‘Son of David’, /‘root of Jesse’s stem’, /& the ‘better Joshua’ = or in Hebrew ~‘Yeshua.’ When He was announced to His birth-mother Mary & to His guardian-father Joseph,
they were told that His name would be ‘Jesus,’ meaning ‘savior.’
There is another name WE are very familiar with in this church; a name referred to just twice in Holy Scripture, once in prophecy & once in fulfillment. It’s revealed in Isaiah 7 and requoted in Matt.1, where it says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name — …Immanuel.”
At the time of Isaiah 7 it was a bad time in Israel’s history. King Ahaz was resistant to God’s Word & Will, and so he was grumpy with God’s prophet. But God gives Isaiah that unique message to the king, and one of the most amazing words ever to be used by the human tongue = ‘Immanuel.’
So, that message was delivered, and for 700 years God’s people pondered it, without comprehending the wonderful mystery of it. It was like a seed falling into dry ground; it just sat there = unfruitful; until God spoke the word once again. But this time, the word was spoken to that particular God-fearing couple from Nazareth; and the right time finally came. That name was now fulfilled in human history; the day of Immanuel had arrived.
We Christians love the name ‘Jesus,’ and say that He’s the ‘reason for the season.’
Most of the world relates Jesus & His birth to Christmas; but many don’t know the real ‘why.’
The name Immanuel actually captures the whole meaning of this holy season better than any other word; because Immanu~el means “God with us.” As we sing with the Herold Angels: “Pleased AS Man WITH man to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel!” God with us.
In this Christian faith, +‘Immanuel’ can be a greeting; it’s part of the Church’s worship language when we say: ‘The Lord be with you.’ +It can also be a prayer; we desire that God not forsake us, tho we often forsake Him. So we pray: ‘God, please be with me.’ +And that word can also be a benediction, a farewell & blessing; we say: ‘God be with you,’ which is the origin of the abbreviated word =‘good-bye’= ‘God be with Ye.’ So, a greeting, a prayer, a blessing; & we would have none of those without the word ‘Immanuel’.
Immanuel is a philosophy & a theology in itself = a way to view this life & to view God. Properly using & believing that word sets us apart from all other world religions. We are confessing that God is with us. This divides ‘deism’ from ‘theism.’ You may know some ‘deists’, tho they won’t call themselves that. I’m sure we know more ‘deists’ than ‘atheists.’
Deists believe there is a Supreme Being; a ‘higher power’ which somehow made & set this universe in motion, like winding up a clock, with its laws of nature like gears interacting together. And this ‘god’ just lets the universe run its course, while the creatures all make the best of it = ‘survival of the fittest’ & all that.
This is a belief in a god ‘out there, somewhere’, who doesn’t really care about you, unless you can get ‘Its’ attention. A deist does not believe this god used the Bible to tell us about ‘itself’; that’s just man’s guesses. So, to the deist, they believe in a god, but their god isn’t ‘personal’; it’s up to you if you want to worship or please this god, & there’s no one right religious way. A lot of people believe this way.
But to celebrate Christmas is to reject that idea totally. The promise & presence of Jesus is ‘theism’, not deism. The Holy Babe of Bethlehem, foretold by the prophets, announced by the angels, sought by the shepherds & magi = in God’s own words & promise, Jesus is Immanuel ~ God with us. Not ‘out there, somewhere’; but God came here, & still with us.
He IS the Only God; 3-in-1. He IS a real Being, & has made Himself known by His own Word. God cares enough to be with us. And with this truth, there’s good news and bad news.
First, the bad news. Immanuel is a frightening word to the sinner inside all of us.
Our sin doesn’t want to accept God’s rule over us, /doesn’t want to listen to the Almighty, or worship Him on The Lord’s Day, /doesn’t want to obey His teachings, /& doesn’t want to think about -one day- standing before The Holy One, accountable for all our actions in how we lived our life on His earth. But, Immanuel means that God is with us, whether we want Him or not. Thru the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord said, *”Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? *Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (ch.23)
Immanuel means there is NO corner of this world where we can run-away & escape the Lord. We can hide our private thoughts from another person, but not from God-with-us.
Thru Jeremiah, God says, “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind.” (ch.17)
Yes, to our fallen nature, Immanuel is a dreadful word; the Almighty hears, sees, & knows all things about us, and the Holy Judge is keeping account of both our visible and our secret lives; we are measured against His perfect standard of life: which is His Holy Scripture. For His Bible declares these truths: “the soul that sins shall die,” and “your sins have separated you from your God.”
Immanuel would remain a terrifying word IF… Christmas hadn’t happened.
But it DID; the actions of God himself has transformed our situation, & given a good meaning to the thought that God is with us. In faith, we celebrate that the promise to Adam & Eve came true. God’s word thru the prophet about a virgin-birth ~ happened. The promise of the messiah was fulfilled thru that faithful couple – Mary & Joseph. And so we celebrate an end
to the threat that God is only an angry judge for sinners. His name was given as Good News
for us: The Lord Himself has come to save us.
Church teachers call this the ‘divine defection’ = God crossing the border to take our side, to wear our human uniform of weakness & mortality. ‘God with us’ meant God AS US.
Born a man, to live as a man; teaching us humans, weeping with us, blessing & comforting us. He shared this life in being hungry or satisfied, tired or refreshed. Living as a human being;
BUT THEN taking our sin so as to be able to offer His life for ours. For our soul, The Son of God came to stand-in for us in front of the Judge’s bench & was pronounced ‘guilty’ with our sin.
That’s the heart & center of it all; that’s the truth that makes God an ally, our rescuer & hero. As said thru Paul in 2Cor.5: God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting our trespasses against us. Because of Jesus, there’s no better news than Immanuel ==
God with us, / God as us, / and God for us.
Immanuel, then, means ‘peace’, not fear. God has shown Himself as our soul’s defender, guardian, & protector. So that: ‘neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom.8)
And Immanuel means even MORE; but we’ll just ponder one more thing. It means God is in control; He’s master, teacher & guide for our life. Yes, we have some freedom & choices in our lives; but He has defined for us what are good & bad choices, what is holiness & what is sin. His ‘control’ of all of this creation means that God has a plan & a purpose & a future for those who are His people. He demonstrated that with Mary & Joseph, who were willing servants. He told them that Immanuel was the Lord’s doing = they only needed to trust & obey Him. As the angel explained to Joseph, “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
Christmas didn’t come from religious people inventing & reinterpreting spiritual ideas thru the years; Jesus’ nativity was an action of God upon human history; man couldn’t do it, and man couldn’t stop it, either. God coming to us was His action; so that our lives would have His forgiveness, His peace, and His future.
It may be, as you celebrate this Christmas, that not everything IS as you would want it to be. +Relationships can be strained at this time of the year. +Separations are more painful at Christmas, as our loved ones have died, or maybe just happen to live far away.
+Uncertainties and anxieties can spoil the season of peace on earth ==things like /poor health,
/the troubles of work, /the immorality of our culture, /the challenges of growing up or of being parents; /even our faulty cars and leaking roofs. All these troubles, & our own resistance to God, can be clutter that gets in the way of us hearing the good news that God has come to be with us.
But God is gracious, and He is always reaching out to us again. Throughout all of history, God has proven that He cares about us, and overcame all the obstacles in order to dwell with us, to rescue & save us. God IS with us, and nothing can stop Him.
Instead, as He promises, He works all things for some good for those who trust Him. *IS IT more clear to us now, that the word Immanuel captures the true meaning of this holy season better than any other word?
“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;
/O come to us, abide with us, our Lord ~ Immanuel. Amen