Text: Isaiah 7:10-14
Date: Christmas Eve + 11/24/11
How many tyrants in their conquests, how many nations, how many church denominations, or how many football teams or quarterbacks have been convinced that God is on their side? At least the proper cheer would be “Deo Volente,” “God willing,” as St. James advises, “you do not know what tomorrow will bring,” so “you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:14-15). So I suppose to some it would seem rather presumptuous that our Savior and God Jesus Christ would be called “Immanuel,” “God is with us.” But that is not a name we came up with on our own, the product of only of our own loyalty or enthusiasm. It is the amazing, majestic name of the Savior given by God Himself through the prophet Isaiah. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,” literally, “with us God,” God is with us. This is the significance of Christmas.
It was a word given to the prophet Isaiah to convey to Ahaz, the King of Judah, when “the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind” (Is 7:2). They were frightened; frightened at the prospect that Judah was surrounded. The foreign Assyria and traitorous Ephraim threatened from the north and Egypt threatened from the south. So Isaiah was sent with a word of the Lord to assure Ahaz that God had determined that it shall not stand, their defeat shall not come to pass.
Ahaz didn’t believe it. So the Lord commanded him to ask for a sign to confirm God’s promise. After all, this was the mighty God of Moses talking, the One who liberated His people from their bondage in Egypt with mighty signs. When Moses feared that the people would not believe his words the Lord gave him the sign of his staff turning into a serpent and back again (Ex 4:1-5). Then there were the signs of the ten plagues to finally convince Pharaoh to let God’s people go. Through the wilderness God led His people by the signs of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. So Ahaz was told to ask for a sign from God. How often have you asked or wished for some sign from God to help you make a decision?
“But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.’” Was this the answer of an unbeliever? or of one truly humble? You recall how our Lord Jesus was tempted by the devil to test God’s promised angelic protection, and Jesus answered by simply quoting the Law in Deuteronomy 6:16, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” But Ahaz was not here being tempted by the devil, he was being commanded by God. So his refusal amounted to, at least, false humility and at most unbelief.
It was the prophet Isaiah that then spoke and asked the king a question. He calls Ahaz, “O house of David,” as if to remind him of all of God’s promises now invested in him. “Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?” Clearly Isaiah was frustrated. On the one hand Ahaz was one of those who would not believe without seeing. And yet when signs were offered so that he might believe, he wouldn’t look! A person “wearies” God when you do not hear His word or believe and take Him at His word. All our worries and fears, not to mention our doubts and slowness to believe weary the God who would have us hear, believe and be saved.
So the Lord, under the motto, “If you want it done right, do it yourself,” gave Ahaz a sign of His own choosing. But what a mysterious sign! “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Most prophecies have both a short-term and a longer-range fulfillment. This one, however, is a puzzlement and went unsolved for ages. Yet it is one of the most important of the Messianic prophesies in the Old Testament.
That a virgin would conceive and bear a son is, of course, the normal procedure as a chaste bride and groom would not have relations until they were married. That is still God’s will and design today, though our secular society seems not only to have forgotten that but has blatantly replaced chastity before marriage with an expectation of just the opposite.
But the great mystery and miracle of this promise of the virgin conception of the Messiah indicates the chosen woman alone without the cooperation of a husband. Speaking of the virgin it says that she “shall call his name Immanuel.” The right of naming a child was always that of the father. So as we heard in Matthew’s account, it was the Savior’s true Father who instructed both Mary and Joseph the name of the Child.
Matthew makes it clear as he recalls Isaiah 7:14, saying that this prophecy was fulfilled in the Son of Mary of Nazareth, and even giving the meaning of the name “Immanuel” for all to understand that, in Jesus, God is with us.
In Jesus God is with us. He is with us as none other than the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity that took on and assumed our human flesh and blood in the womb of Mary. In Jesus God became man, and thereby exalted our human nature.
But in Jesus God is with us in another way. By our inherited, original sin and our actual sins we are separated from God. The Apostle Paul described this in Ephesians 2, where he says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2:1-3)—“children of wrath,” that is, deserving of God’s wrath and punishment. Apart from salvation, God is apart from us, God is against us.
In Jesus, however, that is, by faith in Him, we can know that God is with us, that is to say, God is for us. We know that God is for us because He “so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And why are we commanded to believe in Him? Because of what He did for us and for our salvation, namely, sacrificed Himself, His holy body and blood on the cross, the one and only sacrifice sufficient to cancel all of God’s wrath against sin and to restore life. It happens by faith because it all depends on the promise and covenant and action of God and on no action on our part.
This life, restored by the forgiveness of our sins, restores our relationship with God so that every day God is with us by faith. He is Immanuel, God with us, in the most intimate reality when we eat sacramentally His very body and blood according to His own testament. Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). And when the end of our age comes, whenever it comes, the promise is, then, that we are with the Lord, never to be separated from Him again, ever.
This eve of Christmas we celebrate God coming to be Immanuel, God with us in the flesh of His Son and Mary’s Son. By faith in Him God is with us and we are with God, the relationship of holiness and life restored. May you be filled with such faith, created by the Holy Spirit through the Christmas Gospel, this night and forever.