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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!