Archive for the ‘Advent 4A’ Category

He Is Still Immanuel!

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

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

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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!

God is With Us!

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

4th Sunday of Advent A, December 19, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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This illustrates the gospel reading for Pastor Brian's sermon found at www.thegatherings.us

God is with us!

INTRODUCTION: Perhaps the two best gifts I ever received as a child came on my 13th birthday.  One I knew immediately was great and the other took me until just last Friday to value its worth.  They were a 5 speed cross country bike and a Timex wrist watch.  The bike, although it wasn’t what I dreamed of (I wanted a 10 speed) represented my independence.  On that bike I could and did take wonderful trips by myself to places that were up to 10 miles away from my home!  For a teenage boy that independence was exciting.  I took many trips around the lake near my home.  Every Saturday, I would wake up, prepare my bike and take off on my trip after breakfast.  My mother would always pack me a few sandwiches and a thermos of milk, and send me on my way; that is after she gave me some pretty explicit instructions.  “Brian” she would say, “dinner is at 5:00 pm, and so be home no later than 4:30 pm!”  That’s where the other gift came in… the watch.  I learned to hate that thing.  Just as I was in the middle of some wonderful adventure, I would check my watch and discover there was no time to finish it!  Usually, I would mind the time and go home grudgingly, but sometimes I would ignore the impending curfew and continue with my fun.  The result was always the same; when I got home my bike would be taken away for 2 weeks and my adventures would end.  My father would always give me the same lecture.  “Son, until you learn to be mindful of your mother and “obedient” the bike will be put away!”

Now as I said earlier, it wasn’t until just this last Friday that I realized just what that watch represented and what a gift it was.  I have now come to finally appreciate what my parents gave me.  They gave me freedom, but they also taught me responsibility and the need to be obedient to the giver of the gift of freedom.  I learned that obedience isn’t always fun but it is a requirement, a responsibility that comes with freedom!   

I. I think all of us can agree that the best gift that we can receive is one that’s on our list of hopeful treasures.  It comes after someone close to us promises to give us that gift.  In our Old Testament reading, we see God confirming a promise that He made even farther back.  It is the promise of a Savior who would come and conquer the devil, death, and even our own sin!  In Genesis 3:15 God first gave us this promise, when He spoke it to Eve and the devil, after Eve and her husband Adam chose disobedience and independence instead of obedience and dependence on God.  This choice came because they decided to trust the devil instead of God.  In response to this, God promised the devil punishment, but to Adam and Eve He gave the promise of hope and peace for them and all of sinful mankind.  God said: “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.”

Within this promise we should always keep a few things in mind.  First, if God says He’s going to do something it is certain that He will do it exactly as He says.  Second, God’s timing is never as we expect it, but it is always perfect timing!  Third, God speaks as the author and perfecter of our faith, and as the giver of all good gifts.  So when He gives the gift it can never be improved upon and it like the timing when the gift is given is always perfect.

II. So what is the gift that God promised in Genesis 3:15?  What is the one thing that we need, whether we admit it or not, that we could never acquire on our own?  Friends, it is the gift of closeness with God!  It is the gift of a relationship of peace and love with our Creator!  Whether a person admits it or not, each of us has a giant hole in our souls, and emptiness and void that can only be filled by God.  All around us is the evidence of that missing piece.  Why are there sickness, death, destruction, famine, and war?  Because God is missing!  Why are there anger, bitterness, strife, and hostility?  Because someone will not let God change their hearts.  He has promised that He can and will do this… so why isn’t it happening?  Because people are still choosing to be disobedient!  But for you who have been called by God’s grace, like the believers in Rome who Paul addressed in our epistle lesson (Rom. 1:7) you have learned by faith to trust that God has already fulfilled His promise to you and anyone else who will trust in His faithfulness!

This is the same promise that all of the prophets of old have repeated over and over again throughout Holy Scripture.  In our Old Testament lesson this morning (Is. 7:10-17), God made the promise first given to Adam and Eve even clearer.  Through the prophet Isaiah He made it clear to a disobedient and independent King Ahaz that He was coming soon to break into our existence as our mighty champion and Savior!  King Ahaz would not ask for a sign that God would provide; a sign which would prove God’s faithfulness in the hour of King Ahaz weakness and need.  But God would not let Ahaz’s sinfulness stop the coming of His solution to our problem of Sin.  So God speaks and Ahaz and all sinners must listen: “(Very well, since you will not ask for a sign) Therefore the Lord Himself will give you (and all sinful mankind) a sign.  Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel!”

Who is this Immanuel?  It is Jesus!  How can we know for sure?  Because His name describes the miracle of God’s coming to us as our champion and our Savior!  What does Immanuel mean?  It means God is with us!  And to assure us of this truth, God assigns Him a proper name that explains His ministry.  “You shall call His name Jesus!” [Matt. 1:21]  What does Jesus mean?  God saves; He saves His people from their sins!  What sins?  All sins; sins that come because of our disobedience and desire to be independent of our Saving God!

This dear friends is the true gift that God foretold for us long ago in the promise of defeat and victory which was given to the devil and to Adam and Eve!  It is a gift that you haven’t earned nor deserved; it comes purely out of God’s love for you and His desire to have you back into a relationship of love and dependence upon Him!  It is His gift of grace that gives back to you His gift of presence and dependence and it comes only through a child, a God-child born of the virgin promised long ago.  How can a virgin, a young woman who has never known a man give birth with no earthly husband?  She cannot unless God breaks into our physical reality!

This Christmas season God is declaring to each of us that He has broken into our reality.  Whether you sense it or not makes no difference to the reality that God is with us!  Do you have doubts or worries?  Don’t you think that Mary and Joseph did?  And it is to these doubts and worries that God assures us with these Words: “Do not fear… for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  (Mary has) conceived and (bore) a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (even your sins).” [Matt. 1:20-22] 

III. Dear friends, do you truly understand what this promise means?  It means that in spite of what your present circumstances may look like, God has not left you and He never will; He is with you always even in times of darkness, even at death!  When we grab onto the promises of God’s Word and trust and believe that He is with us always, we realize that the true gift that God has given to us is Himself through Jesus Christ!  He surely was born a man child in a humble stable, but He was also God in our flesh!  He was conceived not of man but by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.  He was miraculously made of a woman as was promised long ago.  By His birth, Jesus who is the living Word of God with us as our Savior came to us in a real body and soul.  He had a human will and He ate, drank, grew weary, and He died a real death!  And it’s in this reality where so many fall from faith because they cannot believe!  They cannot accept that God was born and they cannot accept that God chose to die a real death!  But remember that God’s ways are not our ways.  Just as we can never understand His timing, we can never understand the way He acts, because He is the author and source of both the promise of a Savior and the miraculous way the Savior comes and breaks into our reality!

Dear friends, doubts are nothing new; all of us have them!  Think of how dear Mary must have felt when the angel first spoke to her!  “Why me?  Couldn’t God find someone better and more deserving?”  And what about dear Abraham?  When God spoke to Him and promised that He would be the father of an uncountable nation of people who would be God’s own children simply because they related to Him by faith, don’t you think that He doubted?  When God told Him to leave his homeland and head out into an unknown territory don’t you think he was afraid?  And what about Joseph, who was a righteous and good man who discovered that his virgin bride was pregnant?  How must he have felt when he discovered that the child that he was to adopt was the Son of God?  How would He be a Father to God Himself?  How indeed?  How can any of us make it through this world of sin, surrounded by the darkness of death and the attacks of the devil?  How can any of us be God’s own light in a world of darkness?  Dear friends we do it the very same way that Adam and Eve, Abraham, Mary and Joseph did it; we cling to the promises of God found in His Word and by faith we trust and obey; we follow where ever God leads knowing that He is with us always.  We believe that all things will work together for the good for those who like Saint Paul says in our epistle lesson are “called to belong to Jesus Christ!” [Rom. 1:6]

CONCLUSION: By faith friends, Jesus calls us to follow Him; follow Him to the cross.  Like our Savior Immanuel, we too were born to die, but were also born to know that because we die to ourselves we shall live forever with God.  And we can only do this by faith, through the gift of God giving Himself, which comes to us in the promises of His Word.  And then through that same Word we are enabled to obediently follow where ever He leads.  And where does He lead us?  He leads us out into a world darkened by sin, misery, and death, so that we can be His light of hope! 

Dear friends, when we follow Him wherever He leads, we are doing it for the sake of making His name known among all of the nations, even within our own sinful community.  Why do we do this?  So that others may know that God, through Jesus Christ has broken into their reality too!  He sends us out as His ambassadors to live out the cross that He has given to us so that through our witness of Him we might bear fruit.  And what is that fruit?  It is seeing others become sons and daughters of God by grace through the gift of faith so that they too may experience the double gift of freedom and obedience.  This is the fruit of the Gospel promise that God first made long ago; it is the promise and the work of the God-man Jesus Christ.  This is your mission that God sends you out on.  He has given you your freedom from sin, death, and the devil and He asks you to be obedient to your calling to walk by faith with Him, cling to His Word, and tell everyone who will listen what He has done for you and for them!  I pray that by faith you will be obedient to this mission, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!