Christmas Day - Isaiah 7.10-14 - December 25, 2014
1) “The Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” King Ahaz did not want the Lord to give him a sign. Ahaz, king of Judah, was not the most faithful man to sit on his father David’s throne. He was quite wicked actually. So when his enemies form a military alliance against his small nation, the prophet describes Ahaz’s reaction, that Ahaz’s “heart and the heart of his people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind.” (Isaiah 7:2) Having abandoned trust in the Lord for confidence in mute idols and his own imagined might, Ahaz quails in fear at the thought of his enemy at the gates. The Lord sends the prophet Isaiah to meet Ahaz with this promise, “Take heed, and be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted for these two stubs of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and the son of Remaliah.” (Isaiah 7:4) Though Ahaz had been faithless, the Lord would remain faithful to His promise to uphold for David a man on his throne in spite of all outward circumstances. Ahaz refuses to believe this promise of protection from the Lord. The Lord, desiring to create faith in Ahaz’s heart, calls to His heart and offers his weak faith a sign. The Lord says, “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God, ask it either in the depth or in the height above. But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord.” Ahaz, having departed from faith in the true God, did not want a sign from God. He still wanted to rest on his own strength and on false gods. The sign that the Lord promised anyway must’ve terrified Ahaz all the more. “The Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”
2) Immanuel means ‘God with us.’ The reason this sign would be so terrifying to Ahaz was that he had abandoned faith in God, so ‘God with us’ would not be a comfort but a terror. Ahaz didn’t want a God who is with us. He wanted a God who would remain far away. God ‘over there,’ out of the way, is much easier to ignore. God ‘over there’ can’t condemn my sinful behavior. God ‘over there’ can’t cramp my style, my weekend plans, or my favorite activities. But a God who is with us is dangerous to people who would rather trust their own imaginations, in their own versions of god (which are really idols), and in their own power. This is why atheists this year put up billboards encouraging atheists to skip church on Christmas! They have no use for God at all, especially a God who is with us. Atheism is just another attempt to swat God away from us and keep Him ‘over there’ so He cannot make any claims on people’s behaviors or beliefs. Since the fall into sin in Genesis 3, Adams and Eves have ever since been hiding from God, covering their shame with fading fig leaves, and demanding that He stay at a comfortable distance. The sinful flesh is the same in every generation, for Adam and Eve, Ahaz, and we, by nature, don’t want God with us, it wants God far away from us.
3) But Ahaz, and we, do not get our way because getting our way would mean that God agrees with us and agrees to stay at comfortable distance away from us. He does not. He never has. The Lord would not leave Adam and Eve in their sin, allowing them to cover themselves with inadequate coverings of their own design. The Lord promised them a Messiah to redeem them from their sin. And they believed that promise and moved on with their lives, living by trust in God’s promised Messiah. The Lord also loved wicked Ahaz and, through His prophet, made many attempts to bring him to repent of his sins bring him back to confidence in His promises. Ahaz would not relent from his unbelief though and would find no comfort in a God who is with us. Throughout the Scriptures, the Lord is Immanuel, God with us, in so many ways. The Lord was with His people in the Tabernacle and later the Temple, dwelling between the Cherubim in the Most Holy Place. He dwelt with His people there to atone for their sins by the bloody sacrifices. The Lord was with His people by His Word, which He made known to them through the prophets, through angelic messengers, and through the Priests who were to teach the doctrine given to them by God. The entire Old Testament is not a story of a God who remains far away but a God who continues to come close, so close that He dwells in the midst of His people through Word and Temple.
4) The sign given to Ahaz ups the ante though. The sign isn’t just that God will be us, but that a child will be born to a virgin and His name will be “God with us.” This is a most miraculous sign. A child would be born outside of the natural order. A virgin would conceive! Throughout the Old Testament the Lord gave conception to barren women: Sarah, Hannah, and at last Elizabeth. But these miracles would pale in comparison to this great act. A virgin conceives, and not for no purpose, but to bear a child who is Immanuel, “God with us.” This is the child’s name, given because it tells us who He is. St. John teaches us this great mystery in the opening of his Gospel when He writes, “The Word became 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.” (John 1:14) Of this Word of God, St. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) The child born to the virgin is the Word of God in human flesh, so He is fully God and fully man, as St. Paul teaches in Colossians 2:9, “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” The child is God with us because He is God Himself, in human flesh. What better way to be with us than to assume our nature, to live our life, to know the weaknesses of our flesh and the frailty of our nature?
5) This child is God Himself, for this child is how God will be with His people from this time forward. No more temple is needed, for this child is the temple were God meets man to dole out forgiveness. No more animal sacrifices for sins are needed. For this child will be THE sacrifice for sins of many, even the sins of the entire world! No more Ark of the Covenant. For this child is the mercy seat which sat on top of that sacred box, the propitiation and very thing that turns away God’s wrath from all who put their trust in Him. No more prophets to speak God’s word to us. For this child will be the final word from God to all mankind. We are not seek God’s Word, His approval, or His counsel in any other place than in this child. This child, who is true God and true man, is the culmination of all the ways God was with His people in the Old Testament, which is why the author of Hebrew begins His beautiful epistle with the words heard moments ago, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)
5) Dear people of God, baptized into His Triune Name, God is with you in Christ Jesus. He is not far but near. He is not ‘over there’ and out of the way. He is with you in His Word preached into your ears and that Word pondered over in your hearts. God is with you in Christ Jesus to forgive your sins when you confess them, for He is merciful to sinners. He proves that taking on our human flesh. God is with you in Christ Jesus, understanding all your weaknesses, for He has borne them in the days of His earthly ministry and yet overcame temptation for your sake. God is with you in Christ Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, in baptismal water to rebirth you ever day by faith in His baptismal promises. God is with you in Christ Jesus, true God and true man, in this Sacred Meal of the Lord’s Supper, physically present with you in this bread and wine, to absolve you of your sins, to feed and strengthen your faith, and to put His sacred body into yours. He is still the same God the Old Testament who desires to be with His people to give His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Do not be as wicked Ahaz was, denying God and pushing Him to the furthest corners of your life. Do not be as terror-stricken Adam and Eve, hiding from Him and covering your sins with your own devices. Believe the sign the Lord gives to Ahaz, and to all sinners, on this Holy Day, that the virgin has conceived and has born a Son. She has called Him Immanuel and He remains Immanuel, God with us, in His Word and in His Sacraments, and will remain with us by faith through all trials, tribulations, in every cross and each adversity. Place your confidence in this child, in who He is, and what He does for you and your salvation. His work accomplished at the cross cannot fail. His Gospel message to you will never falter. His promises will not fade. For He is, on the day of His nativity and forevermore Immanuel, God with us. Amen.