December 18, 2016

Isaiah 7:10-16

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Romans 1:1-7

Matthew 1:18-25

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.”

[Matthew 1:22-23]

As we read through these familiar birth narratives year after year, we hear the words but they no longer carry any impact.  We know the story, we know the prophecies and so we can easily put our brains into neutral and coast.

It is a challenge both for us as pastors and for our listeners.  How does something that happened 2000 years ago remain meaningful for us in 2010?  What do these words spoken by prophets and angels in some foreign land centuries before mean for us today?

Gaetano Gandolfi, Angel Appears to Joseph in a Dream, c. 1790.
Gaetano Gandolfi, Angel Appears to Joseph in a Dream, c. 1790.

On the Fourth Sunday of Advent we hear the story of the birth of Jesus from Joseph’s perspective, and in the Gospel text we hear a line that is repeated from the prophecy of Isaiah in our first reading (see above).

“God is with us.”

In Hebrew, “Emmanuel” is actually a phrase (`immanu el) which doesn’t contain a verb, so literally the phrase means, “God with us.” 

What do the words mean? 

We humans will always have some difficulty trying to put our experiences with God into mere words. Emmanuel is a name in which God commits himself to be our constant companion…forever; to be with us…always. 

Emmanuel—that name sums up the heart of the gospel.

We human beings are creatures—beautiful, complicated, and intricate creations fashioned by an all-powerful Creator who has revealed Himself to us as our God through Jesus.  Yet we have separated ourselves far away from God by our sin.  And we continue to fool ourselves as we hear in the first letter of John: “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” [1 John 1:8]

“Immanuel” sums up everything there is to say about this baby known as Jesus. God is with us as our savior.

“God with us” were words of hope centuries ago when the Israelites were under siege.  They were words of hope in the Dark Ages when living conditions were almost unbearable.  And they are words of hope to our own fallen and broken world today, a world living in darkness and despair.

Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of God, a time to pay attention to the clues that God is active, that God is with us, and we need to do anything we can, to remember that fact throughout Advent, throughout Christmas, and the rest of the year.

Lord, we thank you that you sent us your only Son and clothed him in human flesh that he might suffer with us, understand our sorrows and our trials and deliver us from sin.  As we celebrate His coming again, prepare us to hear that story once more, that we might hear it with fresh ears and open minds, that we might receive you in gladness and serve you with joy. Amen    

Published by pastorallende

Retired Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Social justice and immigration reform advocate. Micah 6:8. Fluent in English and Spanish. I enjoy music and sports.

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