Isaiah 7:14, 1 John 4:9-10, Matthew 1:23
Focus: God is with us.
Function: that the hearers would rejoice in the depth of God’s presence.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We’ve been working our way through the verses of O Come O Come Emmanuel, translations of the Great O Antiphons, fixing our eyes in this Advent season on Jesus, who is Wisdom from on high, who comes to teach the way of prudence, who is Adonai / Lord of lords coming to save us from slavery to sin, who is Root and Branch of Jesse, doing what he promises to do, who is Key of David with joy in His heart forgiving the sins of the penitent and with tears in His eyes retains the sins of the impenitent, who is the rising sun who chases away the darkness every time He visits and then last week, Jesus who is the King of Nations drawing all people to himself….
And now Emmanuel. Hear the Antiphon, summing up all the other antiphons: O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord / The anointed for the nations / and their savior / Come and save us, O Lord our God.
We speak of Jesus tonight as Emmanuel, which means God with us… and this little word “with.” What does it mean that he is with us?
And when I think of the word, “With,” I first think of my bouncing bubbly baby boy Benjamin, (it only took me a minute to get to him, it’s getting worse) and how in the last few weeks he’s gone from not particularly caring about toys to swatting them around like a pro, how he has gone from not particularly caring what’s around him to getting his head on a swivel, and how in these most recent days he’s has started to recognize his momma and his poppa’s faces and turns toward our voices, which is really cute, except that it means specifically he’s realized at bedtime when he is in the presence of his parents and when he’s not, when they’re standing right next to him and when they’ve tried to creep out of the room because they are certain he’s asleep. Now that he knows us, he desires greatly to be in our presence, to be with us.
Three ways that we think about the word “with” when we hear about Immanuel, God with us, first that he is against us, second that he is for us, and third that he is in us and three lessons, one from each of these ways.
First, with means “against.” In Seminary school we had intramural teams, where you could choose to play the sport of the season, or you could choose sit out. Now, I’m not much of a football player (if you look at me you can see why), but one fall, I decided to go out and play for a day, and they stuck me at receiver and told me to stretch it out. So on first down, the guy opposite to me stayed in close, and, for at least one time in my life, I blew past him, he couldn’t stay with me, so much so that the next down he said “This guy’s fast! He’s got legs!” so he took a couple steps back, and for the next three downs, he gave me a cushion. And because of that he was able to stay with me and keep me from getting open.
The point is, he was with me, and as long as he was with me, he was against me. It was the same thing that happened in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve had sinned in the Garden, God with them – Immanuel -- came among them in the midst of the garden and with him came judgment. When Isaiah spoke to the wicked king Ahaz, the wicked king rejected God’s offer of a sign, and Isaiah said to him he said, hear this, God will give you a sign, and when this Immanuel comes, God will come with him, and it will not go well with you. Your army will be decimated. Your capital will be destroyed. Your land will not be your own anymore.
Lesson number one is to spend your days knowing that God would be near you, and that he does not abide your sin. Just kind of like when you are in the presence of a snarky friend, it’s pretty hard not to talk smart. Just like when your roommate eats salads on a regular basis, it’s hard not to eat salads. He is against our sin. God is absolutely perfect, and when you are in his presence our sinful nature cannot stand.
He will not stop until he is with us, and when he is with us, he would tear away from us all that is broken so that he might heal us. He takes the broom of his justice and would sweep away all the mess of our lives. He is Wisdom and all foolishness turns away. He is the light of men, and darkness flees. He is the redeemer, and all slave drivers get driven into the sea. He is the forgiver and no sin can stand to be in his presence. He will break us of our sin, because that’s who he is, and as much as it might hurt, he does it for your good.
Second, with means “for.” Last year I had been running pretty consistently in the spring, and I wanted to run the Hay Daze 5k, and I asked Laura if she would run it, and for the first time of my life, Laura actually agreed. If you know my wife, you know that she is many things, but a runner is not particularly one of them. To this day, she isn’t sure why she did. But, we found a training program; we trained, and then came the Hay Daze race. Laura, the first thing she said to me when we were at the starting line was, “You know if you want to go faster, you can.” And then after a mile and a half, she said again, “You know you should just go.” And then about two and half miles in she said, “Paul, you’re going to get a bad time. You should just get going.” But I said, “I wanted to run this race with you. I’m running this to be with you.”
The point is, I ran with her because I wanted to be with her. Now look at the God that we’ve been talking about in the last four weeks. He didn’t have to create Adam and Eve. He didn’t have to save Israel. He didn’t have to seek out David. He didn’t have to come to his people again and again and again, but he did. He did it. He follows them around like a shepherd wherever they would wander, even to the point that he’d enter into his creation as both God and man. Matthew writes in chapter 1, Jesus’ title is Immanuel, and that means he is God with us. The one called Immanuel promises in chapter 18, “Wherever there are two or three gathered, I am with them,” The one called Immanuel promises in chapter 28, “I will be with you always, even unto the very end of the ages.” He promises in the water of Holy Baptism and in the bread and wine body and blood of the Lord’s Supper, so that there can be no doubt that when the water touches your head, when your tongue tastes the bread and wine that you are indeed touching forgiveness incarnate that died on the cross, and died that death for you.
Lesson number two for tonight is that you would know that your God is eager, absolutely eager to walk with you in every deep, dark valley where the sun doesn’t seem to shine, and every tall and lofty peak. There is nothing he hasn’t seen before, and he knows your heart even before you do. He is eager to walk with you when you make the worst mistakes of your life, and even when you are better than you’ve ever been. The little one born in a manger was born in order to be tempted in every way that you’ve been tempted; he’s been born to live even to death so that he could redeem every single soul from death itself.
Third, and finally, with means “in.” During premarital counseling sessions, we end the first session with a few questions, first what are the top three qualities you love in your fiancé? What do you see as your three biggest weaknesses? And then, finally, as they get tired of Pastor Muther asking them questions and as they look to pick up their coats, I ask them the last question of the session, “What is love?”
And usually I ask the man first, because he’s the man, and they usually hem and haw a little bit like I did when I was first asked, until they land on something like “She’s really beautiful, I like to provide for her. I like to be with her.” And then I turn to the girl, and usually by this time the girl has something a little more put together to say, and I do remember that the best response I’ve gotten so far is this: “Love is multi-faceted, interconnected dependency.” What does that mean? It’d take another 20 minutes for us to figure that out, but I end the first session by saying this, by saying the same thing that John says in his letter. In this is the love of God made manifest: Jesus Christ.
The point is, for the Christian, love is Jesus Christ. John says, “In this, not that we have loved God but that while we were still enemies he loved us and sent to us his son. In this, that when we love each other, it is not we who love but God who loves others through us. God is love and love is this: Christ has died; Christ is raised; Christ will come again. It is in Christ we find love, and it is Christ who is in you.
Do you remember that final verse of the reading from John’s letter? Love is perfected with us – the word there is the same one that Jesus spoke on the cross, teleo, It is finished. It is completed, it is made perfect and made whole, it is love, fully orbed and fully known. It’s in your baptism that his love sets up shop. It’s in the words of absolution that we stir embers of his love. It’s in the Lord’s Supper that we add more fuel to the fire that is Christ in you.
Lesson number three for tonight is that if you are a Christian, and if you want to know what love is, then you would spend your days following around love incarnate. If you want to learn how to love, if you want to fill your life and your marriage, your friendships with good things, then follow around the man, Jesus Christ, as we see him save his people. Hear him speak truth that hurts to people who need to hear it. Watch him dole out unconditional love when he sits in the dust next to those who’ve really screwed up. Let his grace first wash over you and all your imperfections and then, and then, when you recognize yourself as a redeemed Child of God, then take up your role to look like Christ in the life of others.
As we sit at the edge of the manger tonight, let’s remember that the manger leads to the cross, and the cross leads to the empty tomb, and the empty tomb leads to a people longing for Christ to come back and set all things right. Let’s remember that when God is with us, he breaks us of our sins, he walks with us on whatever path we wander down, and that his love has set up shop within us. Immanuel means God is with us, and for the Christian, that is good news. Amen and Amen.
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