Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
It can begin in two different ways. One of the ways is slow, steadily, almost like a nagging drip. With each passing day it creeps closer and closer, culminating in a feeling of overwhelmedness. That’s somewhat like Ahaz in this morning’s Old Testament reading. He watched the power shift change in the Middle East. Some things never change, do they? In watching that power shift around in different countries, he wanted to ally himself with that country who would be his protector.
Joseph it came upon much more quickly. Betrothed to Mary, finding out she is pregnant. That didn’t come like a slow drip. That came in your face, as it were. You and I have dealt with either or both being overwhelmed. Slowly it creeps upon us. We see it manifest, state of denial…it’s not really there, and then it keeps coming and then reality finally bites us in the end and we are overwhelmed.
Or we’re facing something very critical and there isn’t time to prepare. It is there in our lap, and we must deal with it. In all sincerity, and in all true humility, we plead to God to give us enlightenment, to lead us to that path that pleases Him and is God pleasing for our lives because all of us hate to be off balance. None of us enjoy being humiliated because we do not have control over our life or our situation, like Joseph and Ahaz, or like you.
God is the one who brings such things upon you and me. He is the one who brought it upon Ahaz and upon Joseph. It is our response to those things that God brings in our lives that is difficult. The things that were brought into Ahaz’ and Joseph’s lives, like yours and mine typically tend to be daily-bread matters, things of the world, things that we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” things that are transitory, and yet they cause us great amount of uncomfortability, leaving us very impotent feeling.
And when God brings such things into our life, it doesn’t take long for His Spirit to work and bring our focus to our spiritual stance before a holy and righteous God because in looking at things happening to us either slowly or abruptly, we quickly ask ourselves, “How do we stand in God’s sight?” Recounting the past, trying to figure out where we mistepped, and really trying to figure out how we should step and lead forward.
Ahaz was given the opportunity. “Ask for a sign, Ahaz, and I’ll give it to you.” “Oh no, no, no. I have it under control.” We can’t look into Ahaz’s heart, but we can look into your and my heart, and we know whenever we are slow to see God, it is because we think we do have it figured out. We think we can take care of and posture ourselves in order to avert whatever may be coming our way or to be able to sidestep this abrupt impact in our life.
Joseph was trying to figure out, “Okay, the best thing I can do would be to divorce her quietly to save her face, keeping her honor intact so then I look like the bad guy who was displeased with her. That’s what I’ll do in all sincerity and all humility.” But God has a way, doesn’t He? His way with Ahaz was, “Here is your sign. The virgin shall conceive.” Now that’s an oxymoronic statement. The virgin shall conceive and bear a son and call His name God With Us, Immanuel. For Joseph it was different. For Joseph it was the angel speaking to him saying, “The child that is conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary is from God and is God in the flesh. Go on and marry her.”
God’s plans are always different than our own. Isn’t it interesting when you consider your and my plans, and how God works things out because we don’t like to be humbled? We’re proud people. We don’t want to seem as if we didn’t plan for it, for then someone could say, “Ah, if only they would have planned correctly.” Or if it’s abrupt, and we don’t handle it wisely, and quickly, and judiciously, “Well, they blinked and they should have acted.”
There are many events in our own personal lives, but if we’re not feeling any of them presently, there is a whole host of others to consider. We live in a nation that has overspent herself and is trillions of dollars in debt. At some point in time, we will have to…the proverbal saying that was said many years ago…pay the preacher. We have other nations rattling their sabers, North Korea, Iran.
Closer to home we have a state that’s got to deal with a budget in just a matter of a month when our state congress goes into session, and many things might have to be cut because there is only so much money to go around. Now those are all daily-bread matters, but they all end up pointing us back to spiritual matters, matters about which God is very concerned. As concerned as He is with daily bread, but much more profoundly concerned or He would not have become God With Us. He would have remained an abstract deity, afar off, a distant.
Now Matthew’s gospel is very interesting. Matthew was a Jew, and he wrote primarily for the Jewish ear because if you read through Matthew you will find over and again his great love of quoting the Old Testament, wanting to draw the Jewish ear back to the words that were spoken to it and have been spoken over and again for thousands of years, find their fulfillment in this one named Jesus.
Of all the Old Testament prophesies, the very first one that is quoted by Matthew is this text from Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin shall conceive and bear a Son and you shall call His name Immanuel.” The very first Old Testament, and God makes sure Matthew records the very last words spoken by Immanuel. Jesus speaks of His Immanuel-ness when He says, “Lo, I shall be with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Those are beautiful bookends that weren’t by chance or coincidence, but by divine design for you and me to see God’s great hand in His proclamation of His Immanuel to us, for us, more importantly, with us. Because being overwhelmed in all these happenstances of our own life or of Ahaz’ and Joseph’s lives, you don’t feel as if God is near you.
When you see your bodily systems and functions begin to fade and before your very eyes, it doesn’t seem like God is very close. When you see finances go away, it doesn’t seem as if God is very close. When loved ones aren’t around who once were around, God doesn’t seem very close. The concept of Immanuel becomes very abstract. There is a lot of preaching going on in Christian churches about encountering the presence of God, experiencing the presence of God, coming into contact with God, but all of that remains abstract if it’s not brought to concreteness as theology of the Scriptures bring it to concreteness in Immanuel being proclaimed right now through words.
Without them, it is abstract. It is pious platitudes spoken up in the air. There are all kinds of ways that are preached about how to encounter and experience this God, and they always lead to an empty rabbit’s hole, nothing at the end of that trail. But not you. You’ve been brought here because God has allowed things in your life that keep you dependent upon Him. Whether it has been abruptly brought upon you or whether it has been a slow drip, God has brought you back here because it’s here that Immanuel is encountered. Here you feast upon Immanuel for you. Here it is impregnated in you through the hearing of it. It is not abstract. It is done to you. As we speak, it’s being done to you.
Ahaz had God speak to him through the prophet Isaiah, but he had it all under control. Joseph was spoken to directly by an angel, and Joseph gave into God’s will. Now of the two characters here, Ahaz we know so much more about than we do Joseph. But consider for a moment Joseph, who we don’t know all that much about and how the Scriptures paint him, it’s pretty much in a beautiful light, but you have got to put yourself into his shoes not to bring him down, but to bring yourself into his situation that he, as a mere mortal, would be given the utmost responsibility to be father to God.
You fathers already know how you regret sometimes the things you fail to do with your own children, how you see sins of yourself in your children’s lives, and you say in those reflective moments all sorts of manners of things to yourself about yourself. Then can you imagine being entrusted with God in the flesh? Why? And yet God entrusted you with your own flesh and blood, and we have to ask ourselves, “Why?”
When Joseph was told to name Him Jesus, it was a big thing. He told Joseph this promise to strengthen him with Immanuel-ness. That this one named Jesus would be Savior, but not just save the people from their sins, notice the possessive pronoun, save His people from their sins. Not the people, some abstract group of people, some sort of abstract humanity, but His flesh and blood humanity that He shares. His people will He save from their sins. He will not bring them daily-bread nirvana. He will not bring them things in this world that will cause them never to question or wonder about God. He will bring them rest for their soul. He will bring them Himself in His Immanuel-ness.
He saves His people. He doesn’t save the people. He brings you, He doesn’t bring them. You have been brought. You have been called. You have been “Immanueled” this morning. God has come unto you. God is with you right now, hence all of the physical movement we do in our service. The standing and the sitting and the kneeling and the bowing isn’t for simple etiquette; it is about acknowledging your belief that He is here among us, with us, not some abstract thing.
It is not simply tradition that the altar is smack in the middle of our entire architecture. It is God saying our confession of faith that God is with us here, not symbolism or memorialism. There is Immanuel now. You have known and experienced and have encountered God today, and each time you come into contact with that holy Word of promise as Joseph came into contact that night, you have walked away believing many times, and you and I have walked away in doubt and with fear, but your Immanuel keeps calling you back, doesn’t He?
In the name of the one who is Savior for your sins and mine, who became flesh to save His people from their sins, Jesus, Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds on Christ Jesus to life everlasting.