Pastor Chris Matthis
Epiphany Lutheran Church, Castle Rock, Colorado Advent Midweek 1
Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
Sermon: Child of Promise: Immanuel Text: Isaiah 7:10-14; Matthew 1:18-23
Focus: God is always with us in the flesh of Jesus Christ.
Function: That they would be reassured that God is for them, even in tough times.
Structure: Multiple Stories
Locus: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord…” (SC, 1st Article of Apostles’ Creed).
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. The sign of Immanuel: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14, ESV).1 The name Immanuel means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). God is with us. Is that a promise or a threat? Well, that depends. Immanuel spelled judgment for King Ahaz in our Old Testament lesson. Yet Immanuel was a wonderful promise for Joseph and Mary in the Gospel. When you hear that God is with you, does your heart leap for joy, or does a shiver go down your spine? What does the sign of Immanuel mean for you?
For Ahaz, king of Judah, the sign of Immanuel was a sign of judgment. Ahaz faced a terrible situation. Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel threatened him with war. The superpower of Assyria was rising in the east, and Ahaz thought to throw in his lot with the Assyrians to ward off his enemies. Some trust in horses and some in chariots, and Ahaz did not trust in the name of the Lord his God (Ps. 20:7).
So Yahweh, the Lord God of Israel, sent the prophet Isaiah to encourage Ahaz and turn his eyes from military and political solutions to spiritual ones. “Ask a sign of the Lord your
1 All Scripture references, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
God; let it be as deep as Sheol or high as heaven” (Isa. 7:11). What an amazing offer—a once in a lifetime opportunity! It reminds me of the time that God offered King Solomon anything his heart desired, and he asked for wisdom (1 Kings 3). Like Solomon, Ahaz could’ve asked for anything in order for God to prove his faithfulness: an earthquake or firestorm, or even the proverbial handwriting on the wall.
But Ahaz didn’t believe in Yahweh, and he didn’t want a sign. He put on airs and replied with false piety, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test” (v. 12).
But Yahweh was going to give him a sign whether he wanted it or not! You do not trifle with the God of Israel, the Creator of the Universe!
Isaiah spoke for Yahweh: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (vv. 13-14). The sign of Immanuel!
The near fulfillment of this prophecy in Ahaz’s time was that a young maiden2 would get married and give birth to a son. His name would be Immanuel, which means “God with us.” And before the boy would be old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, Ahaz’s enemies of Syria and Israel would be wiped off the face of the map. But in their place would be an even more frightening foe: the king of Assyria (Isa. 7:15-17). The very nation to which Judah looked for aid would become its worst enemy. After his enemies were dead and gone, Ahaz would be next on the chopping block. So it goes when we put our trust in princes, in a son of man in whom there is no salvation (Ps. 146:3). “God with us” is a threat to all who disobey God’s will and don’t believe his Word.
2 Hebrew: alma.
Now fast forward in time nearly 700 years to the grand fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: the birth of Jesus Christ. In our Gospel lesson, we hear about Joseph, a Jewish carpenter engaged to be married to a girl named Mary. They lived in Roman occupied Judea—a grievous burden and affront to Jewish religious sensitivities. Roman soldiers stationed in the Holy Land ensured that Roman taxes were collected to pay for Roman roads and keep the Roman Pax, or “peace,” of the Roman emperor.
But Joseph had no peace of mind when his fiancée turned up pregnant—and not by him! Assuming that she had cheated on him with another man, he decided to divorce her quietly. A public divorce would shame Mary and bring the sentence of death by stoning. But even as much as he felt betrayed, Joseph still loved Mary and didn’t want any harm to befall her. So he resolved to do it quietly.
But just before he called his attorney and drew up the papers, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.
“Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” In other words: Joseph, don’t worry! Everything is fine. It’s more than fine—it’s wonderful! What’s taking place in Mary’s body is an amazing miracle. Her child is the Son of God! “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus [which means ‘the Lord saves’], for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
And then St. Matthew, the narrator of our gospel, tells us why this wonderful thing happened the way it did: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet [Isaiah]: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matt. 1:22-23).
Joseph woke up and did exactly what God told him to do. He married Mary. Why? Because he was no longer afraid. Because he heard and believed the Word of God. Mary’s baby would save his people from their sins (including Joseph)! He was the fulfillment of God’s promises, the sign of Immanuel: God with us in human flesh, in the womb of Mary, growing each day through the fission of cells and developing fetus of the unborn Son of God. As Mary’s belly ballooned, her feet swelled, and she began to waddle, Joseph knew that God’s Word was coming true. For believers like Joseph and Mary, the sign of Immanuel was a wonderful promise.
So what about you? Is the sign of Immanuel—“God with us”—a promise or a threat? It depends on who you are and what you’re doing. Sometimes when people go through difficult circumstances, they wonder, “Where is God in all of this?” When we are troubled by cancer, disease, the death of a loved one, depression, financial distress, guilt, or shame, it’s easy for us to think that God has abandoned us and withdrawn his hand or—even worse—turned against us! Very few people question the existence of God. (Only the fool says in his heart, “There is no God!” [Ps. 14:1]). So when we ask, “Where is God?” what we are really wondering is if God is for us.
2011 was a very tough year for me in life and ministry. In the middle of trying times, I boldly prayed and asked God to show me a sign of his favor. And you know what? He did! He sent me a new call to Epiphany Lutheran Church, and by year’s end Lisa was pregnant with our first child, Benjamin. God gave me not one, but two signs of his favor. God proved that he was with me and for me even at one of my lowest points.
So what about you? Is God with you? The Good News is: Yes, he is! When God gives the sign of Immanuel and sends his Son to be born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem
those of us who are under the law (Gal. 4:4-5), he proves not only that God is with us, but that God is for us! Through the wonderful miracle of the incarnation, God took on human flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1, 14). He came down to be with us precisely because he is for us. And if God is for us, who can be against us (Rom. 8:31)?
So where is God? God is in Mary’s swelling belly. God is in the manger. God is being baptized in the Jordan River and tempted in the wilderness. And, above all, God is on the cross, bleeding and dying for you, proving with every drop of blood and every gasp for air that he truly is Immanuel, “God with us”—and God for us. In the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, God is with us in blood and bone and skin, saving us from our sins (Matt. 1:21). God is always present where he promises to be: in water and the Word (Matt. 28:19-20), in bread and wine (Matt. 26:26-28), and in the fellowship of his Church (Matt. 18:20). God is with us in the flesh of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. He is our Immanuel: God with us and God for us. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Pastor Chris Matthis