Sunday, December 25, 2016

Immanuel

A seminary student once asked David Gordon about preaching on Jesus’ Advent. The student was thinking that after a while a pastor would run out of things to say. David’s answer went something like this. ‘There is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to preaching on Jesus’ Coming.’ After thirty-one years of preaching here, I have to agree. We will never run out of things to consider when we meditate on the coming of our Savior. So, this morning we return to a familiar bit of Scripture to see what else it has to say to us.


Listen to this from Matthew.

 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:23

Because Jesus has come, God is with us, Immanuel. There are many truths included in that thought. I’d like to help you consider just one. To get at that I’m going to read something Jesus said.

If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14:23

I want you to connect the idea of Immanuel with the idea of home. When you do that, Immanuel is no longer just some theological truth that you’re supposed to believe. It becomes something that you feel. And that’s what I want to happen to you. I want you to feel what it means that God is with you.

I was very close to my mother. Oh, we had our moments, especially during my teenage years. But once we got through all of that, it was good again. It was my mother who taught me about life. She expected me to honor my father, to obey those in authority over me and to be courteous with other people. And if I faltered in any of these sorts of things she never hesitated to let me know about it in the clearest of ways. And because of all of that, and lots more, she created in me a sense of stability. So, though there were many things about life that I still had to figure out once I left home, beneath it all was a solid foundation. That has been a gift from my mother that has made a huge difference in my life. After we moved all the way out here to Erie, so far from NJ, I would call home weekly, and my mother and I would chat about this or that for thirty or forty minutes. It seemed the obvious thing to do. I was very close to my mother.

I said all of that so that you’ll understand me when I say that for me the idea of ‘home’ is full of warmth and safety and flourishing. Home is about love.

The kind of home that my mother created prepared me to grasp the idea that God has made His home in me. That fact is not mere theology for me. It is instead a great comfort to me, providing me with a sense of warmth and safety and flourishing. It’s about being loved. That’s what Immanuel is about: warmth and safety and flourishing. It is my desire that all of you enjoy this sense of God and that it grow. I want you to feel it. Jesus has come, and God has made His home in us. Immanuel.

Now, it’s just a fact that the reality of Immanuel is a gift of Jesus for all His saints. But a gift offered is not the same as a gift received. Immanuel isn’t something that we enjoy automatically. Actually, it is something that we need to fight for. And it really is a battle. Remember, we have an enemy who hates us. And he persists in telling us lies to undo us. And one of those lies is that this whole Immanuel thing just isn’t true. Oh, he doesn’t care if you can say that you believe the Bible when it talks about ‘God with us’. He’ll let you be as orthodox in your statements as you like. It’s just that he doesn’t want you to live it. So, it’s when you really need to depend on the notion that God is with you that he will tell you his lies. Belief in Immanuel, in some theoretical way, is fine with him. Belief in the midst of life - well that’s another matter. Enjoying God’s presence, and all that it means, is something that you will need to fight for.

So, let’s talk about this battle. What is the battle, and how do we fight it so that we can enjoy, more and more fully, Immanuel?

There are three fronts to this warfare that I’ll mention, three places where the battles are fought. Here’s the first: God’s power. You frequently hear the language of sovereignty. God is sovereign. He rules over all things. He’s in control. We’ve heard that sort of thing and said that sort of thing too many times to count. And we do believe it. But it is a place where many battles take place. How many times, when confronted with some really difficult situation, are we tempted to think that fixing it is impossible? Even God can’t do anything about this problem. So, instead of holding fast to an expectant hope, there is resignation. ‘Oh well, that’s life. What are you going to do?’ And another battle is lost. Satan wins, because we listen to his lies.

Consider Jeremiah’s faith, instead.

Ah, Lord Yahweh! It is You who have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for You. Jeremiah 32:17

Every time you see the sun set or the stars twinkle or the winds churn the lake remind yourself that God made all of that. He’s the one who created it all and keeps it going. Knowing that, do you really think that your problem is too much for Him to handle? This is where the battle is fought. This is where you need to believe the Gospel.

Here’s a second battle front. This one’s about love, the love that God has for us. There’s so much included in that idea, but let me just focus on one thing about God’s love: He cares. He cares about you. He cares about all the different things that are going on in your life. All of it, from your greatest need down to the smallest. Paul Miller wrote about his mother in his book, A Praying Life, which we read together. She prayed for something that she really needed, a parking spot. She did that - and found the parking spot - because she believed in Immanuel, even when it came to the little details of her life. She believed that God cares. If He cares about relatively little things like parking spots, how much more does He care about the big things?

A problem that some of you have is that you think that you can forfeit His love - at least temporarily - by doing something stupid. God can’t love you now, at least not until you make up for whatever foolishness that you’ve done. What is that but believing the lie. You assume that it’s impossible that God will still care about you after what you just did. You just assume that Satan must be right. Really? So, we have to always be good enough for God to care? Is that how it works? No. Immanuel means that He loves, He cares, even in the midst - or better - especially in the midst of our doing terrible things. This is where the battle is fought. This is where you need to believe the Gospel.

Then, there’s the third battle front: God’s wisdom. He understands it all. And that means that He knows the best route to get to His final goal. He knows this because He is the all-wise God. And that means that He knows what He’s doing with our lives. That includes those times when He sends those terrible things our way. And let’s be honest. That’s exactly what He does. He sends terrible things our way. It’s okay to struggle to understand what’s going on when He does that. There are plenty of Psalms that do that exact thing. ‘What in the world are You doing, Lord?’ It’s fine to raise the question, but at the end of the day, even before there are any answers to the questions, we need to come to this conclusion. ‘I really don’t know what You’re up to, Father. But I do know that You know what You’re doing with my life. This is the best route to Your goal. I’ll still ask lots of questions and struggle to understand You, but I trust You. You know what You’re doing because You’re the all-wise God.’ This is where the battle is fought. This is where you need to believe the Gospel.

Three battle fronts when it comes to enjoying Immanuel: God’s power, God’s love, God’s wisdom. Fight the battles. Don’t believe the lies. Believe the Gospel.

God is with you, Immanuel. But He’s not with you like some distant deity calling the shots from way over there. He’s more like a mother who holds you tenderly in her arms. He is with you. And you can enjoy His being with you if you fight for it. And really, the battle always boils down to this. Will you believe what the Gospel has to say about your situation? Satan will do all that he can to get you to answer that question with a ‘No’. But, in humble reliance on the grace of the Holy Spirit, you can answer it with a ‘Yes’. It might be a faint ‘Yes’, but that’s still a ‘Yes’. Fight the battles so that you can enjoy the reality of Immanuel. Jesus has come; God is with us. Believe the Gospel and enjoy it.

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