Archive for December 22nd, 2013

He Is Still Immanuel!

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Advent 4A, December 22nd, 2013

Click here for audio of this message

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” [Isaiah 14a & Matthew 1:23]

What is in a name?  Well in today’s culture, evidently very little.  People name their children just about every crazy name that is under the sun, with very little reason other than novelty.  But back in the time of our Old Testament reading, names meant quite a bit.  They were both a glimpse into the family’s religion and their faith.  Names had a purpose!

The name Jesus had a purpose as well.  His Father put a lot of time into presenting and empowering that name.  But here is where things get a little interesting; the Son helped pick, define, and empower that name along with the Father, long before He was born.  You see this is no ordinary name.  It is a name that defines the purpose for the coming of the Son of God.  Together with the Holy Spirit, the Father and Son chose the name Jesus for He who would come to save God’s children of faith from their mortal enemies, sin, death, and the devil.  What does the name Jesus mean?  “Yahweh Saves.”  This name chosen from the beginning of time and promised after the first sin of Adam and Eve is the descriptive and prophetic act of God, which promises that He Himself through the sending of the Son would bring sinful and fallen man back into a right relationship with their Creator God.

In the name of Jesus, God reminds His children of faith of the promise He made long ago to Adam and Eve, and then to all people who would relate rightly to Him by faith in His promise to defeat the devil and save fallen mankind.  Listen: “The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” [Genesis 3:14, 15] These Word’s were a promise from God that He would send a champion to us, the Christ, which means Messiah, and He alone would defeat the devil, end the captivity of sin, and restore man’s privilege of living with their Creator God eternally in paradise.
So you see, there is a lot to receive in the name of Jesus.  This little boy child who was growing within the womb of His mother, the Virgin Mary, was not just a boy, He was very God of very God.  Mary knew this truth before Joseph.  How she must have longed to tell her husband Joseph the truth about her child.  But she could not, because God Himself who conceived this child through the work of the Holy Spirit would be the One to inform Joseph about both the nature of this child and His mission.

His nature was that He was both God and man.  What an impossible concept this is for our sinful minds to understand; minds that are by nature so separated from God because of our sins.  And what a ridiculous mission for sinful minds to receive as well; how do you save someone who does not know or care that they are trapped?  So God delivered the truth of the child through a prophetic dream; God’s own angel delivered the news.  “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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” [Matthew 1:20a, 21]

Joseph, was then and there surround by the power of the Holy Spirit who  through the Word of God, gave Him the gift of faith to hear the prophecy fulfilled in the Words that were spoken next: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” [Vs. 22, 23]

If I may be so bold as to speak for God, allow me to say simply this.  Here, God is saying to Joseph and to us, “Jesus is my Son.  His name has been chosen for a great purpose, to save you and all of humanity from your great fall from grace.  You will call Him Jesus, because He really does save you from your sins, but they who do not yet know Him as their Savior, will one day call Him Immanuel, because they too will one day see that their God is with them.”

Immanuel.  What a wonderful name!  It really does mean, “God is with us!”  But God’s presence and work in our lives is difficult for people of faith to hold onto, and an even harder thing for people of no faith.  A good example of this can be seen in King Ahaz, as presented in our Old Testament reading. [Isaiah 7:10-17]  King Ahaz of Judah, was afraid of many things.  He was afraid that the Kings of Israel and Syria would unite and attack his kingdom.  And he was afraid of losing his reign and his legacy.  Yes, he was afraid of many things accept the one thing that he should have been fearful of… the anger and punishment of God.  He did not have the fear of God because he lacked faith in God.

When God discovered that Ahaz was secretly making a pact with a foreign nation for protection instead of trusting in His protection, He sent His prophet Isaiah to speak words of faith and hope.  The prophet told him to not be afraid of foreign threats, for the Lord was with him.  And to prove it, God led Isaiah to speak these words: “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”  And how did Ahaz answer the prophet?  He said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.”  Wait, what?  What are you talking about?  God Himself said that you could ask so that He can strengthen your faith!  So why won’t you ask?  What is going on here Ahaz?!

What was going on then is the same thing that is going on today.  People still choose their way, society’s way over God’s way.  By nature, that is on our own we are still blinded by a world view that is the complete opposite of the way of faith; a way that is both described and enabled throughout God’s Word.  People today, like Ahaz then, still want to explain the existence of the world and their own life circumstances in a way that minimizes or removes their Creator God.  They look for help and love in all of the wrong places.  They refuse to see the God who not only made their hearts but sees in them.  And what does God see?  He sees a heart that is alone; a heart that is afraid and full of hopelessness; hopelessness that comes from the darkness of sin.

So how does God deal with our sinful hearts?  He gives us a sign.  He tells us about the prophecy concerning the son of a virgin.  That son is His Son, and the virgin was the Virgin Mary, who becomes mysteriously the mother of the Son of God!

The Son of God is both Jesus (Yahweh Saves) and Immanuel (God is with us)!  We receive both of these names gladly when we see everything about this child.  But our vision is not just from the womb to the tomb; no, it starts with God the eternal Son leaving Heaven itself and then, proceeding to earth, He begins His life of humility as a helpless fetus.  So His humility is for us our first glimpse into God’s way of salvation.

God being born?  Who would ever think of that?  No one but God Himself.  God chose to mature in the womb of a simple young virgin.  He chose to be born, suffer, and die upon a cross.  Why?  So that He could be your Champion; your Savior!  He was conceived and born to die on a cross for your sins.  But if your sins simply ended with His death, then where would our hope be; in death too?  No, not in death, but in eternal life!  You see, the name Jesus, God Saves is only half of the message.  Now you must hear the other half.  God saves because God is with you.  He is with you to help you see that He has gone from the cross to the grave, and from the grave to the empty tomb and the resurrection, from the resurrection to His ascension in order to redeem you; that is through all of those things he has provided salvation for all of mankind.  Because He lives, we are assured that we too will live as well!  But there is another great work, which He has done in you and for you so that you can know for certain that forgiveness of sins and eternal life truly are yours.  He has washed you clean.

In your baptism, God Himself was with you as He put His mark upon you and infused you with the presence of His Holy Spirit.  Through this real presence of God, Jesus is truly with you.  By faith He allows you to experience and live out this Immanuel presence.

So, the sign of Immanuel is your invitation and ability to live out your baptismal life, which is a life of repentance.  It is a call to turn to Jesus your Savior and away from the things that separate you from His Immanuel presence.  It is a call of repentance for those of us who are prone to trust in our own way or the way of society, instead of following God’s way, which is the way of the cross and the waters of baptism.

The sign of Immanuel is our call to repentance for those of us who now want to trust in Jesus and follow Him as His disciples.  It’s a wonderful reminder that we need to truthfully examine ourselves every day and examine all of the relationships and institutions that are present in our lives and see if we have allowed them to replace our trust in Jesus alone.

Finally, the sign of Immanuel is a sign of hope that comes wrapped in promises of grace and mercy.  It is a gift that declares Jesus has not only come, but He has come for you!  He has come to be with us, and give forgiveness, life, and salvation.  He is with us when everything else is against us.  He is with us even when our world seems to be falling apart and everything that we use to count on is crumbling around us.  He is with us in the tragedies of life when the dark valley of death is upon us and our sin and the devil seem to overpower us.  It is then when we can say by faith, “He is still a God who saves.  He is still Immanuel… God with me!”

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And may each of us continue to call out to God along with the entire church… Come Lord Jesus… Come!  AMEN!