Christmas Eve – Evening Service (7 PM)
“Immanuel, Virgin Born”
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
St. Matthew 1.18-25; Isaiah 7.10-14
24 December 2020
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Immanuel, we sing Thy praise,
Thou Prince of life and fount of grace
Thou flower of heaven and Star of morn,
Thou Lord of Lords, Thou Virgin-Born. Hallelujah!
Immanuel – God with us – is the name of this congregation. Evangelische-Lutherische Immanuel’s Kirche it says in German on the cornerstone facing Poplar Street. The fathers who founded this congregation were impressed and comforted by the idea of God being with them, for them, in fellowship with them. There’s comfort in this blessed Christmas name for our Savior. Immanuel.
The name comes from the first Christmas sermon of the prophet Isaiah, which we heard in our Old Testament reading tonight, given roughly 750 years before our Savior’s birth in Bethlehem.
Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz: “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Is. 7.10-14; ESV)
King Ahaz was of the house and lineage of David. He was at the time of this sermon thirty years old, and Judah, the southern tribe of God’s ancient people, was under threat of attack by the King of Syria in league with the King of Israel, the northern tribes. They openly intended to once and for all end the house of David.
But we remember that the Lord had promised David that a son of his would sit on the throne for all eternity (2 Samuel 7.14) – I will establish the throne of His Kingdom forever. This was yet another promise of Christ, the Savior. So if any king of Judah in David’s line, like King Ahaz, had just a mustard seed of faith in that promise, they could have lived and ruled comfortably relying on the Lord’s promise.
But Ahaz and all his household shook at the threat from their north “as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.” (Is. 7.2) The Lord sent Isaiah and his son to preach to the king. Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, let not your heart faint. This invasion plan against you shall not stand. But still the king did not believe.
So the Lord invites Ahaz to ask him for any sign – an occurrence or action which served as a pledge of the divine certainty of something else – in this case, a sign through which God would prove to Ahaz that He was good to His Word, the king had nothing to fear. And notice how tenderly God approaches Ahaz despite his doubts and unbelief, God is not ashamed to call Himself Ahaz’s God: “ask a sign of the Lord your God…” God invites him to ask for any kind of miracle, either in the world above or in the lower world of the dead – God would have even raised the dead for Ahaz. Of course, many years later, God would indeed do just that.
But Ahaz feigns modesty and rejects the loving invitation of the Lord. The truth was that the king of Judah had a hardened heart towards God. He preferred to try to make his own alliances with other pagan kings, to try to save himself. A miracle from God was not enough for him. And so for the rest of Isaiah’s book the house of Jesse is so often referred to as a “stump” – a dead, cut off, lifeless remnant of a once great tree.
Do you see hard times all around you – the forces of evil and wickedness, of unrest and civil tumult, of plague and sickness lurking around every corner – or maybe lurking on every page of the newspaper and on every cable news report? Maybe not an imminent enemy invasion as ancient Judah faced. But dark times abound this night. It’s not just the disintegrating country and terrible politicians and senseless rioting and a terrifying plague. It’s more than even those things: for who isn’t afraid for the future, jobs uncertain, family members not always getting along as they ought, people saying and doing hateful things towards each other, your own daily struggles with sin and temptation and a guilty conscience – love and concern we fail to show to those who need it from us.
If the Lord told you He would give you a sign to bolster your flagging spirit and get you to believe His promises to be your God, would you take Him up on it? Or would you feign modesty like Ahaz and brush God’s offer off and choose to solve things yourself?
Isaiah’s Christmas sermon is this: God loves you enough to give you a sign anyway! Whether you will take Him up on it or not, the sign is coming. He comes to tenderly invite you this holy night to put aside the weight of all that burdens you and to trust the sign that God gave to us sinners, from Ahaz to the kings of today, from prophets of old through the apostles and evangelists to pastors today, and to men and women of every status and nation, a sign God gave seven hundred fifty years after God promised it through Isaiah, and brought to fruition now some two thousand-twenty years ago this night in the Judean countryside outside of Bethlehem:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
St. Matthew translates that blessed Christmas name of our Lord: Immanuel, that is, “God with us.”
We know the virgin’s son is God in the flesh. The angel has preached to Mary and Joseph too: this child shall be called holy, the Son of God – that which was conceived in Mary, dear Joseph, and dear world, is conceived from the Holy Spirit. You shall call His name Jesus – for He is the Lord in all capital letters, who will save His people from their sins.
This miraculous birth, accompanied by the angels singing and the glory of heaven reflecting all around, with shepherds trembling and then running to see their sign – the babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger – this is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s Christmas sermon sign. The babe of Bethlehem is indeed Immanuel, God with us. And the babe’s birth is so amazing, the prophet Isaiah will call Him another name in his second Christmas sermon in Isaiah chapter nine, heard tonight at our 11 pm service: “Wonderful” or “Wondrous”…
So with God, we learn this Christmas night, nothing is impossible. God once created the first man, Adam, from the ground, who had no human ancestor, and so could be called the “Son of God” (Luke 3.38). Now we celebrate and give thanks for the coming of the Second Adam, Christ, who has no human father, but is the eternal Son begotten of His Father from before all worlds, God of God, light of light, very God of very God, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, incarnate of the Holy Spirit by the Virgin Mary – and was made man. Immanuel. God with us, God made manifest in the flesh of the Virgin Mary.
And born for a purpose – to not only be a sign to the ancient house of David – and Jesus is indeed David’s son and Lord at the same time. But the son of the Virgin, Immanuel, came from heaven above to fulfill the ultimate promise – to be the woman’s offspring who would bruise the serpent’s head, even while the serpent would strike His heal – to take up the sign of the cross, to be the sinless Savior born to one day be lifted up to atone for our sins, to do that which is truly wonderful and wondrous – to restore your eternal future, resurrected with Him in heaven, to bless your every vocation for His glory, to bring back together His adopted family of baptized believers, a people made holy to say and sing His praises in the world, a people forgiven and relieved of the burden of sin and temptation and a guilty conscience by giving you His body broken and His blood shed to eat and drink. He came to show love and concern to you, to those who needed it most from Him.
With all Thy saints Thee, Lord, we sing,
Praise, honor, thanks to Thee we bring,
That Thou, O long-expected Guest,
Hast come at last to make us blest! Hallelujah!
That’s what the name of the virgin’s son, Immanuel means: God is with you, God is for you, God is one with you. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, Immanuel, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know, through Isaiah’s first Christmas sermon, to know and to believe the love God has for us. That love, that Son of God, that Immanuel born on Christmas night – we live through Him, and all things – even those sufferings of this present time which are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us – all things for those who love God all work together for good. God did not spare His only begotten Son, but gave Him over for us all. At the last day, we will see Immanuel, redeeming love incarnate, with our own eyes, and nothing will ever separate us for all eternity from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord, the Virgin born Immanuel.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of + the Son, and of the Holy Spirit +