Christmas Day—25 December 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Our text is Isaiah 7:14: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (ESV)
And also from Matthew’s Gospel (vv. 1:20-23), the words of the angel to Joseph: 20 … behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] in a dream, saying, “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. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (ESV)
The word Immanuel captures the meaning of this holy season perhaps better than any other.
Immanuel—God with us. Pleased as Man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel! (LSB 380:2). Immanuel. This word could be a prayer, reaching to the very limits of our needs and desires—“God, please be with us”. Immanuel. This word could be a benediction, a blessing. In fact, every time we bid someone good-bye, we are sharing that blessing, Immanuel, for “good-bye” is simply an abbreviation of “God be with you.” And now, as we celebrate our Lord’s Incarnation, the truth of God becoming Man, I invite you to contemplate this word—Immanuel—and to ponder it in your heart.
Immanuel might be a frightening word, an awesome and a terrible thing. Because it means God with us, whether we want it or not. In Jeremiah, chapter 23, the Lord asked: Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord (v. 24).
Immanuel means there is no God-forsaken corner where we can escape the presence of our Lord. Even if we should take refuge in our private thoughts, which are exposed to no other person, even there, Jeremiah reminds us, God is with us: I the Lord search the heart and test the mind (17:10).
Immanuel would be a most terrible word if it meant that the Almighty God is here with us now as Judge to keep account of our lives, so close we cannot hide. Indeed it would be such a word of terror if the events of this sacred season did not transform the situation and give new meaning to the thought that God is with us. For here, in the birth foretold by Isaiah and later announced to Joseph, we see that God’s presence among us does not have to result in our destruction and damnation, that God’s presence among sinners is actually a good thing. The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Immanuel—“God with us”—means God as one of us. Born a man to live as a man; talking with sinners, touching them, weeping for them; living as a man and dying as only a man can die. “God with us” means God on our side, taking our part. Here, at the heart of it all, is the truth that makes God a friend and an ally: God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them (2 Corinthians 5:19). God with us, God as one of us, God for us.
Immanuel, then, means we have nothing to fear. God has shown Himself to be our friend, and neither death nor life, … nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38–39). You need not fear that God will condemn you because of your sins, for Christ Jesus is Immanuel, God coming in the flesh to befriend you. You need not despair over all the sorrow and suffering of this life, for Christ Jesus is Immanuel, God coming in the flesh to befriend you.
Immanuel means one more thing, at least. “God with us” means God in control. From all eternity, God has had a plan and a purpose to bring us sinners back to Him. Nowhere is this clearer than in those few verses of prelude to the Christmas story, where the New Testament first picks up the great word of old, Immanuel. All this took place, says Matthew, to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet. From the outset, it was the planning and doing of the Lord. Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. The angel makes it crystal clear that the Child born of Mary is God. Yes, from beginning to end, this central event, “God with us,” was the doing of God. Not by chance, not by human design, not by anything or anybody but God.
Immanuel—God with us. What good news this is for you and me and all sinners. For Immanuel means God came to the place where we are, He descended to earth, He entered His creation in order to save and rescue us from the darkness of sin and death, so that we lost and condemned creatures might know Him and have communion with Him.
This is the great surprise and wondrous mystery of Christmas. God shows up in a place where we certainly do not expect to find Him: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). God the Word, the Son of God, who was there in the beginning and participated in the creation of all things, became Man. The Uncreated became a creature, the Infinite became limited and bound, the Eternal became subject to time. The Word became flesh, Jesus Christ, true God and true man in one person. The glory of God is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. He is the light of the world, the light that shines in our darkness, the light no darkness can overcome.
The One who formed man from the dust has come among us as Immanuel—God with us. Some 2,000 years ago, He came with fingernails, eyebrows, and kneecaps to reclaim His creation. He was born of a woman, Mary His mother, and wrapped in swaddling cloths, and laid in a manger for a bed. He was before Abraham, even before Adam, and yet He can be found in Bethlehem as a tiny babe. O come, let us adore Him.
The one who made the forests and the mountains has come also with arms outstretched on a wooden cross raised up on a hilltop. There the Creator of heaven and earth suffered and bled and died for His creation, to destroy death and damnation and to give us life and salvation. And then, having died, the One in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28) was wrapped in linen and rested in a tomb, bursting forth on the third day as the first bloom of a new creation. O come, let us adore Him.
The one who made the wheat and the vine comes now in bread and wine to you. His true Body and true Blood are present on this altar. Eternal life, the light of the world—it is so near to you that you can touch it and taste it. God is given into your mouth, taken into your body. He makes Himself known to you with forgiveness, life, and salvation. Fall on your knees. Hear the angels’ voices. Join in their song: Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth; heaven and earth are full of Thy glory (LSB, p 195). O come, let us adore Him.
For God the Word, who was in the beginning, is now and forever incarnate. Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, now remains God-in-the-flesh for all eternity. This God-in-the-flesh is Immanuel—God with us, God as one of us, God for us, God in control. That makes Christmas a blessed surprise: the uncreated, eternal, and infinite God comes right here among us as our light and our life. So let us truly and heartily and with full joy give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit. For in His great love for us, the true and only God has not left us dead in our trespasses and sins. Instead, He has brought us to life in Christ Jesus. In Jesus, the Son of God, God is with us in the most profound and deepest sense. He is with us to save us from Adam’s sin and death. He is with us to forgive us our sins. He is with us to comfort us in our troubles and afflictions and to give us patience, peace, and perseverance in the midst of this pandemic. He is with us to raise us from death to life. Immanuel, God is with us—in Baptism, in the Word, in the Body and the Blood, in life, in death—to walk with us through this world’s dark valley of death and to bring us safe to our eternal home in His glorious presence.
Yes, in Jesus, God actually is with us. A virgin actually did conceive and bear a son. The Son actually did die and rise again. And you, trusting like faithful Joseph, will actually live forever in Jesus. The God who is with us is also the God who is for us! Praise be to God! Amen.