Fourth Sunday of Advent 12/18/22
Text: Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23
Title: What is in a Name?
A few minutes ago, we heard an Old Testament prophecy from Isaiah, "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel."
Then we hear the same name again some 800 years later in Matthew 1:21-23 where we learn what the name Immanuel means, "She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." Then he says, "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel."Which means God with us."
Why would Saint Matthew tell us what the name Immanuel means? He wants those who read his Gospel to know who Jesus is. He wants all people to know that Jesus did not just come for the Hebrews, that is the people of Israel. He came for all people. This Jesus who is to be born, this Jesus who is to die on the cross, is Immanuel, God with us. He wants us to know that we are invited, and welcome in His kingdom, that God has seen our needs and provided for us, and that now we may freely come, even those who are far off from God!
This concept of God dwelling with us is hard to understand. Ten years ago, I read a book titled"The Jesus I Never Knew "by Philip Yancey. He shares an episode from his youth when the concept of Immanuel, that is"the Word becoming flesh and dwelling with us," dawned on him with profound meaning:
He writes, "I learned about incarnation when I kept a salt-water aquarium. Management of a marine aquarium, I discovered, is a challenging task. I had to run a portable chemical laboratory to monitor the nitrate levels and the ammonia content. I pumped in vitamins, antibodies, and enough enzymes to grow a rock. I filtered the water through filters and charcoal and exposed it to ultraviolet light. Without my care, providing everything they needed to live, they would, at the very least, live a miserable fish life.
"You would think, because of all the energy expended on my fish's behalf, that they would be at the least grateful. Not so. Every time my shadow loomed above the tank, they dived for cover into the nearest shell. They showed me one emotion only: fear. Although I faithfully opened the lid and dropped in food on a regular schedule, three times a day, they responded to each visit as a sure sign of my design to torture them. I could not convince them of my true concern. To my fish, I was a deity. I was too large for them, my actions too incomprehensible. My acts of mercy they saw as cruelty; my attempts at keeping them healthy they viewed as destruction.
"To change their perceptions, I began to see, would require a form of incarnation. I would have to become a fish and 'speak' to them in a language they could understand." (pages 38,39 Strand Publishing 1995).
In this analogy, Jesus became a fish to live among us fishes. Immanuel, God with us. Let us cherish that name, for that name is above all names, for it is our salvation. Jesus is also known by a few other names that are particularly appropriate at this time of the year, 'Wonderful Counselor,' The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace," and, of course, Jesus, which means 'God saves.' He is called all of those names, for they accurately describe who he is and what he does.
There are other verses that speak of him in the same manner, as they describe him as being "God manifest in the flesh." and "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of Grace and truth."
Never let us, for a moment, hesitate as to the Godhead of our Lord Jesus Christ, for his Deity is a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith. We will never fully understand how God and man could unite in one person, for, as we are told, who can, by searching, "discover the mind of God?" These great mysteries of godliness, these "deep things of God," are beyond our understanding. The essence and glory of the birth of Jesus is that he, even while in Mary's womb, was God in human flesh.
Immanuel, God with us, is an exquisite delight! "God with us" means the infinite Jehovah with us! That is why the angel told Mary in Luke 1:30-33, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end."
Jesus is "God with us" now. He is with us in times of joy and times of sorrow. He is with us in the uncertainty of life. Do you feel the sorrows of poverty? He "had not where to lay His head." Do you endure the grief of the death of a loved one? Jesus "wept" at the tomb of Lazarus. Have you been slandered for doing some righteous act, feeling the pain of a broken heart? He has, for he said, "Reproach has broken my heart." Have you been betrayed? Do not forget that he, too, had one of his disciples turn him in for 40 pieces of silver.
On what stormy seas have you been tossed which have not also surrounded him? In the deepest valleys and the darkest places of life, if you will but stoop down to look, you will see the footprints, the drops of blood, the drops of sweat of the crucified Jesus. He is in the wildest of storms, the driest of deserts. He cries out to you, "I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your helper, comforter, companion, and God."
There is nowhere that you are going or will go on this earth that Immanuel will not be there. Even in our death, he has been there. He knew the separation of the tortured spirit from the poor suffering flesh and cried, as we shall, "Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit." Immanuel, God with us knows of the tomb, for there he lay, a place of rest and not decay. Immanuel, God with us, rose from that grave in his glorified body and ascended into heaven from which he will come in the Resurrection, calling us from our graves to newness of life.
We shall be raised up in His likeness, and the first sight our opening eyes shall see shall be the Incarnate God! We can now proclaim with Job, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and though after my skin worms devour this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God." "God with us." You in your flesh will see him as Jesus the man, Immanuel, God with us.
And now, my brothers and sisters in Christ, the last word to you is this; let us be with God since God is with us. I give you a watchword through the year to come, "Emmanuel, God with us." You, the saints redeemed by His blood, have a right to all this in its fullest sense. Drink it in and be filled with courage!
As the people of God, right here in this church, in the city of Emporia, Do not say, "We can do nothing." God is with you! Do not say, "The Church is feeble and fallen upon evil times." No, don't say these things. instead say, "God is with us." We are to be like the General that reportedly said when asked if he believed he could get his troops into an impregnable fortress, "Can the sun enter it?" "Yes, they replied." "Well, where the sun can go, we can enter." Whatever is impossible in our eyes, when God wants it done we can do it, for Immanuel, God is with us!
"God with us" puts impossibility out of all existence. Hardened hearts that could never be softened will be softened if God is with us. Errors that we believe could never be refuted can be overthrown by three words, "God with us." Let us live with that promise burned into our hearts and minds. Blessed Heavenly Father, we thank you for bringing us the Word; Jesus, Immanuel; God with us. Amen.