25 December 2013

Homily for Christmas Eve - "Jesus Our Immanuel"

"Jesus Our Immanuel"
Text: Matthew 1:18-25

We can only imagine what it would be like to walk in Joseph’s shoes. Not only that, but what would have been going through the mind of the Virgin Mary? She was told all these things about being the mother of God, giving birth to the Son of the Most High. She pondered all these things in her heart. I suppose we can try to do the same. In fact, that’s why we gather this evening--to ponder these miraculous realities in our hearts. So, we ponder the mystery. Conceived by the Holy Spirit. Born of the Virgin Mary. What deep things!

And Joseph? He was a carpenter. He wanted to live a good life, a holy life, a God-pleasing life. No doubt Joseph wanted to do his work well and make a decent living. He planned to take this young woman, Mary, to be his wife.

For centuries, God’s people had waited for the Messiah, the Anointed One, to come. But who would have expected it to happen now, all of a sudden, and in this way?

Both Joseph and Mary came from the family tree of King David. Certainly they knew the Old Testament scriptures. They certainly knew about the promised Messiah. They knew that someday He would come, sure. But in their time? In their midst? Was it really possible?

We can sympathize with Joseph. He sees that Mary, his fiancee, is pregnant. And he thinks what any of us would think. She was unfaithful. She is no longer a virgin. She committed the horrible sin of adultery.

It’s how we are conditioned to think in this fallen world. We see things. We draw conclusions. We’re not that different from Joseph. But to think and ponder those heavenly things? That’s a different story. When we are told that God loves us--yes, even us--do we really believe it? When God tells us in His Word to live holy lives, do we really hear that and take it to heart as coming from the Lord’s mouth? Or do we hear it as coming only from human mouths?

When we leave God’s House, do we live lives that bear the fruits of repentance and faith? Or do we live like those around us and try to fit in with the world? We all know what happens. We leave the Divine Service. We go home. We return to our various callings. We carry on with our various activities. And we say and do things that go against God’s revealed will and Word. And we all know that if our sins were exposed for all to see, we would rightly hang our heads in shame.

But tonight we lift our heads. Tonight we smile. Tonight there’s joy in the air. We can feel it in the words, in the music, in the decorations, in the celebrations. The world may give many different reasons for the joy. But in the Church we know the true reason for the joy. We know the true fountain and spring of the joy.

It’s like the joy that David showed when the ark of the covenant was brought into his midst. The ark of the covenant was the seat of God in the tabernacle, the place of His presence, the location of His gracious dwelling among His people. It had been captured by the Philistines for a time. David went out to rescue and recover it. As it turns out, David left the ark of the covenant at the house of Obed-edom for a short while. “And the ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the LORD blessed Obed-edom and all his household” (2 Sam. 6:11). God’s dwelling among His people brought abundant blessings and good fruit. “So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing” (2 Sam. 6:12). David knew what it meant to have God’s presence--God dwelling--in the midst of God’s people.

Well, God decided to dwell among His people in another “ark.” This time it was an “ark” made of flesh and blood and bone. God--the Son of God, that is--was born of the virgin mild. There, in space and time, wrapped up in the very real body of a baby, was the eternal, glorious, magnificent God. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Just as the ark of the covenant brought great joy for David, this miraculous birth from a virgin brings great joy for us!

Pay attention to all that the Gospel-writers record for us. Pay attention to the great blessings that God brings to your house. They’re much better than the blessings He gave to Obed-edom.

Jesus is tempted and conquers the tempter and is served by angels. Jesus heals every sickness and infirmity. He gives life to the dead. Remember Lazarus? Jesus drives out demons, and with a few loaves of bread and some fish He feeds thousands.  Jesus walks on the sea and commands the wind and the waves, and they obey Him.  And even though He’s still the all-powerful God, Jesus is betrayed, arrested, beaten, crucified, and buried. But then He rises from the dead! Then He demonstrates His Godhead and displays His victory over sin and grave. Then Jesus ascends into heaven and sits at the right hand of His heavenly Father in glory.

What amazing things! What unsearchable mysteries! What glorious things to ponder tonight! Why does our gracious God tell us such amazing mysteries? He wants to rescue us from sin and grave. He wants to restore us to a perfect humanity. He wants to make each one of us and all of us together complete in Christ. The life of Christ--everything from conception to incarnation, to birth, to death, to resurrection, to ascension--all of it happens to restore us to the condition of Adam and Eve before the fall. Here’s how God Himself saves you and makes you holy. Here’s how your Savior restores you and His whole creation.

Now ponder the name “Immanuel.” “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).” The name “Immanuel” carries deep meaning for our lives. It does not mean that God was with His people. It does not mean that, at one point in time, a long time ago, in a country far, far away, God was with us. No, it means He IS with us, even here, even now. Your Savior Jesus lives and dwells with you through the mouth of the pastor as he preaches the Gospel. Your Savior lives and dwells among you through the water of your Baptism, washing you clean and making you pure. He lives and dwells with you through the bread and wine that are also His Body and Blood. They are the participation in the Body and Blood of your Infant Savior. When you see the host and the cup being raised up for all to see, you want to think “God with us, right here, right now.” That’s your joy in “Immanuel.”

So tonight we lift our heads. Tonight we smile. Tonight there’s joy in the air. We can feel it in the words, in the music, in the decorations, in the celebrations.

So, lift your heads and smile with joy! Enjoy the music, the decorations, and the celebrations! Rejoice in God dwelling with you and among you! God is in your midst. On this holy night, you have the holiness of Christ’s forgiveness. You rest in His love. He heals you of your illness of sin. He declares you holy. Jesus comes to dwell with you--wrapped in flesh and blood, dying as your Savior, rising as your Life-Giver. Jesus is your Immanuel.

As one pastor proclaimed it several decades ago: “It is Christmas. Have you found the way to Bethlehem? It is important to make straight the pathway of the Lord into your hearts. That duty is now done. Now take your pilgrim-staff and your gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. You will not have to stop off at Jerusalem to inquire the way. The Altar is your Star. There you will find Bethlehem…. Bethlehem means ‘house of bread.’ Indeed, ‘bread of life,’ ‘staff of life.’ You will come, then, as the shepherds came. You will kneel as they did in adoration. And if your vision of faith is clear enough, you will see at the Altar not merely bread and wine, but the Christ-Child, the Word made flesh…. Christmas will be an experience. You will truly understand the truth of the angelic words: ‘They shall call His Name Immanuel, which is, being interpreted, God with us,’ aye, Immanuel--at the Altar.” (Berthold von Schenk, The Presence, p. 55) Amen.

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