Key Verse: 1:23
“’The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’-which means, ‘God with us.’”
Tomorrow is finals week for UIC. For some of you, Happy Finals doesn’t seem appropriate. It can be downright stressful and scary. So I want to say to you Merry Christmas. But do you know that for some, Merry Christmas is not so merry but depressing. This time of year many people find themselves dissatisfied, unfulfilled, anxious, heart-broken and lonely. So what do we do, we try to fill our days with family gatherings, shopping, social clubbing, all night video playing and for those after finals, binge watching, overeating and yes, oversleeping! But no matter what we do, we can’t shake that feeling of emptiness. Well, I have good news for you. Perhaps in God’s wisdom, we celebrate Jesus birth at the end of the year. As the season of advent suggests, we are all longing for his coming, an eager expectation of an arrival. We long for a new birth in our hearts that will fill us with truth and grace. We are reminded of the reason for the season, which is represented by his name, Jesus, the saving of our sins and Immanuel, the grace of being with us. Friends, Christmas is not about presents, but the presence of God.
First, O come, O come Immanuel. A few years ago, here in Westloop we began the study of Isaiah. In it we discovered several prophesies concerning the Messiah. Isa 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Also in Isa 9:6,7 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” It was a very beautiful and hopeful promise especially to a nation that was falling apart and in the face of judgment through invading countries such as Assyria and Babylon. To the recipients of this Messianic prophesy, they not only waited 10 years but 20, 50, 100 and over 400 years. They went through the valleys of shadow and death and faced dark times of exile and God’s judgment. As we fast forward to the times of Jesus birth we see Israel under oppression by Roman rule. Where is this King who would uphold David’s throne with justice and righteousness? The people of God may have felt abandoned but there were those who silently waited and in their heart of hearts prayed, “O come, O come, Immanuel…”
Second, the fulfillment of prophesy. Matt 1:18-23 reads, “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means, “God with us.”
In these verses we have the full Christmas story. But that is for another time. Today, I want to focus on the 2 names that are given to the Messiah. Jesus and Immanuel. According to the footnote: Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua, which means the Lord saves and Immanuel defines as ‘God with us.’ Now these names are very significant for it teaches us the meaning/purpose of the birth of Christ, and in essence why Christian’s celebrate Christmas. The angel said that Jesus will save his people from their sins. There may have been many things that the people of Israel wanted to be saved from. They wanted to be saved from their oppressors which at that time were the Romans. They wanted to be saved from poverty. Perhaps some wanted to be saved from their acne, fat stomach or balding head. We all want to be saved from something.
From God’s point of view, all people need is to be saved from their sins. To God, sin is the real problem. Yet there are so many who have no idea about the sin problem. In fact, they think sinning is really fun. They say, Hey, buddy, last night I sinned a lot, if you know what I mean, and nothing happened to me. In fact, I feel great! Yeah, I’m going to do it again…But the reality is sin seperates us from God and breaks our relationship w/ God thru disobedience. The bible says, that the wages of sin is death. If you are truly honest with yourself, after sinning we begin to experience the symptoms of sin which are meaninglessness, depression, guilt, shame, and fear. I bet none of these things are fun. If sin separates us from God, how then can we be reconciled to God? How does Jesus save us from our sins? Jesus saves us from our sins through his death and resurrection. Isaiah 53:4-5 says: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Jesus’ death is the sacrifice of atonement that God accepted for our sins. On the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34a). Then Jesus bowed his head and breathed his last. Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. On the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection opened the way for us to have eternal life in the kingdom of God. While on earth, we can live as God’s precious children and serve his holy purpose. Luke 1:74,75 explains that Jesus came “...to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” In this way Jesus saves us from our sins. Praise Jesus! Jesus birth was not only to fulfill the prophesy concerning the Messiah but in essence to fulfill the law. As Christians we celebrate Jesus who is our Savior.
Third, God’s presence. If the name of Jesus is the fulfillment of the law which is the fulfillment of truth, then Immanuel is the fulfillment of grace. Let me explain. John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
What does Immanuel—God with us, mean personally? From a practical perspective, it means that you are never alone. This is truly good news! Do you know that a person can be married or be in a relationship or just be surrounded by friends and family and still feel lonely? This is spiritual loneliness. Friends, we are living in the “age of loneliness” It has been estimated that 1 out of 5 Americans suffer from persistent loneliness even though we are more connected than ever before due to the internet and social media? (Huffington Post, Why loneliness is a growing health concern) In 2016 the American Osteopathic Association took a survey of 2,000 Americans which showed 72% of them experiencing loneliness. (CBS news, Feeling Lonely) Loneliness is an invisible epidemic.
Immanuel God with us is the solution to our loneliness problem. When you’re lonely, where is God? He’s where he has always been: right beside you. He is with you even if you don’t feel it. The bible says over and over that if you have a relationship with Christ, then God is with you all the time. Matt 28:20b says, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus promised to be with his people always, to the very end of the age. Jesus is not a fair weather friend. He doesn’t say, “OMG, your so disgusting!” When things get rough, he doesn’t jump overboard or better yet, push us overboard. No, Jesus is with us always, in good times and bad times; in times of struggle as well as times of blessing. Jesus is with us when no one else can be with us. Jesus is with us until he completes the work he began in us (Php 1:6). Jesus is with us until he comes again in his Father’s glory as King of kings. How is he with us? Jesus is with us through the Holy Spirit. Through his death and resurrection Jesus solved our sin problem, yes, but that’s not all. He sends his Holy Spirit to be with us, to guide us, to counsel us, to strengthen us when we are tempted and to enable us to live a life pleasing to God. In other words, the Holy Spirit enables us to be in the presence of God.
To be in the presence of God makes all the difference in the world. When we are in the presence of God we realize I’m not alone. God has my back. God understands what I’m going through. God loves me. In 2013, I heard a very beautiful story from a guest speaker named Libby Little. She and her husband Tom moved to Afghanistan where he worked in a hospital as a Medical Eye Doctor. Some days he traveled to remote towns that were in war zones to care for the needy and the helpless. Libby shared how she could hear gun shots and bombs going off, and that when 100 rockets went off that was considered a good day. Then she said something that I never forgot. She said she would go to the US embassy and there was this janitor closet where she would go to pray and sing hymns. She did so until she was in the presence of God. And you know what she said, it didn’t matter if it took 5 mins or several hours, she did not leave until she was in the presence of God. When she felt God’s presence with her, then everything seemed alright, even though the world around her was literally falling apart. God’s presence was heaven to her.
When I was young my parents persecuted us for going to bible study because it was not a Catholic Church. Once in high school my mom demanded I stop studying the bible. I refused because I knew bible study was important. Then she told me, “You have no mother, and I have no daughter Elena” I was hurt and I remember going to my bedroom closet and crying. But strangely, I remembered the word of God, Immanuel “God with us.” And in bible study I studied John 4 Jesus speaks to the Samaritan Woman. When Jesus offered her the living water welling up to eternal life, I felt God speaking to me personally. I wanted human love, especially from my mom, but no love from anyone satisfied me…only God with me truly loved me.
That was 30 years ago…What about today? Many Christians believe that Jesus saves them from their sins. But do we live our lives in his presence? May God help us to remember and accept he is Immanuel God with us…When I know God is with me, then I want to live in his presence. But sometimes we don’t want God to be with us…usually that is the times when we are enjoying some idol or sin in our hearts. We are no different than the adulterous woman in Ezekiel going around here and there. When we read about it, it was disgusting to think about but that is exactly how we are before God. Yet he loves us despite our disgusting sins. He still wants to be with us…that is grace.
I want to challenge you with this question, Do you know that God is with you? Do you truly live with God’s presence in your life?
The Christmas message is this: Jesus came to save us from our sins so that we can be reconciled with God in order that God can be with us. If you have an ache in your heart, a feeling of emptiness, or feel something is off, know this, nothing is ever going to compensate for that—no person, no thing, no drug, no success, no possession, no experience. Only God can fill it, and when he does we know we have just opened up the best present ever, His Presence in our lives!