I love the name of our church: Emmanuel. In Hebrew, it means “God is with us.” What a powerful name for a church. What better name could a church have? Emmanuel. God is with us.
What does that mean? It means that no matter where, no matter when, no matter why: God is as close as our next breath. God is our next breath. “They who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,” Psalm 91 says, “They who dwell in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. They will say of the LORD, ‘God is my refuge and my fortress.’” (Psalm 91:1-2)
Emmanuel means we need never be afraid. In the eighth chapter of Romans, Paul writes, “If God is for us, who is against us?… Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… No, but in all these things we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us.” (Romans 8:31, 35-37)
Do you sense the power, the hope, the future in these words? That in Christ, with Christ, God will make our lives into lives of hope no matter what may happen to us.
Back in the book of Isaiah (7:10-16), God tells the Jewish people that a child is going to be born, and our choice is to trust God’s action through this child, or not. Trust that God is with us, and we shall live. Look to find the presence of God, and we will know which path will bring life.
We buried our sister Fran Szymkowski yesterday. The core of the funeral service are in these words from Romans: “I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, no height nor depth, 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)
Emmanuel. God is with us. And nothing can separate us from this God of justice and compassion.
Now this may or may not be a good thing! The first time the name Emmanuel is used is in Isaiah 7:14: “The Lord will give you a sign. Behold, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)
That’s where the Gospel of Matthew gets it prophecy: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name Him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:25)
Now, the baby spoken of in Isaiah is not Jesus. Isaiah was talking about a different child, an actual child, born around 825BC- not Jesus. His mother was an actual young pregnant woman living 800 years before Mary.
What’s happening in this Isaiah story is that a Jewish ruler, the wicked King Ahaz, has been worshipping idols and making alliances with foreign nations. He has forsaken the worship and work of God.
And this child that is foretold? Before he reaches the age where he can eat curds and honey…before he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good …before this child reaches that age (oh, let’s call it 3 years old!)… the Lord will raise up the empire of Assyria, and King Ahaz and the land of Israel shall be cut down.
God will be with them in their idolatry and faithlessness, and it’s not good news. Abraham Lincoln once said, “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”
No, it’s not that God is on our side, but that God is at our side. And like the Dept. of Motor Vehicles sign above I-94 says this week: “He sees you when you’re speeding…” Our goal is to be on God’s side.
And so the birth of Jesus, meek and mild… the One who will throw over the tables of the money changers who were scamming the poor; the One who will rain down the threat of Hades upon those who will not feed the hungry, or shelter the homeless, or clothe the naked; the One causing the wheat to be harvested and the chaff to be burned…
The birth of that Jesus means that God is indeed among us. The God of both compassion and justice. The God who both holds us close, and the God who will not let us off the hook. The God who will never let us go, because God remembers how God created us, there in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. We were good. That’s what the book of Genesis says. We were created good. And not just good, but very good.
And God is determined that we shall live into our true humanity once again, by both judgment and mercy, by both discipline and kindness. God is a loving God who will bring God’s creation into its first life of justice and compassion. And a Child will be born “…and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. And He shall reign forever and ever…”
And His name shall be Emmanuel, God is with us. And He will never let us go. And because of that, we will become what God always meant for us to be: God’s people, of justice and compassion. God’s deeply loved people.
In the Name of the One who will never let us go, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
SCRIPTURE FOR DECEMBER 22, 2019 MATTHEW 1:18-25
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, (but before they lived together,) she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
Her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the Child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son, and you are to name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name Him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.