God With Us.

December 20, 2015   Matthew 1:18 – 25Immanuel – God with Us. 

 

      A woman was doing her last-minute Christmas shopping at a crowded mall. She was tired of fighting the crowds. She was tired of standing in lines. She was tired of fighting her way down long aisles looking for a gift that had sold out days before.  Her arms were full of bulky packages when an elevator door opened. It was full. The occupants of the elevator grudgingly tightened ranks to allow a small space for her and her load.  As the doors closed, she blurted out, “Whoever is responsible for this whole Christmas thing ought to be arrested, strung up, and shot!”   A few others nodded their heads or grunted in agreement.   Then, from somewhere in the back of the elevator, came a single voice that said: “Don’t worry. They already crucified him.”   I guess we got some of it right folks in that Jesus was and is a gift. 

     There has been a lot of talk about being politically correct and saying happy holidays instead of merry Christmas.  What is the big deal?   Why are people offended?   One of my pastor friends wrote an article suggesting that it is fear.  Why would folks be afraid?   Well Christmas is a witness from God to the world.  There certainly is power in the name of Jesus.  I suspect that Satan stirs up all of this to silence the message.  The Jewish leaders in Acts said do not speak any more in the name of Jesus.  Why were they upset?  The disciples went around and said this man was healed in the name of Jesus.  Well the leaders believed and wanted others to believe that Jesus was dead and dead men do not heal folks.  I do not think that God made man to fear the story of Christmas or the story of Jesus.  It is a wonderful story but I suppose it is not a pleasant story for those that want to sin or those that want to deny that there is a God.  Sin does drive us away from God and Satan stirs up resistance to God.  There is something powerful and wonderful about that name and the story of Jesus.   The angels said it is good news of great joy. 

    Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 which says, therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.  Matthew adds which means God with us.  That prophecy was given for Israel’s benefit.   They were about to be overrun by Assyria and it was a promise of deliverance and God states that man could do whatever he wanted but God’s plan would prevail and God was with his people.   In Chapter 8 Immanuel is mentioned again.  In chapter 9 of Isaiah for to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.   And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Matthew claims that Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise.  Matthew tells it straight up or strait on. 

    God with us – what a thought and who would have thought?   I think one person wrote God pitched his tent in our neighborhood.  God with us that is amazing.  What does that mean?  Well what did it mean for Noah when the ark is loaded and it starts to rain and flood?   God shut the door.  What did God’s presence mean for Moses when he goes back to Egypt to set God’s people free and had to face Pharaoh?   Pharaoh could have just had him killed.  What did God’s presence mean to David when he faced a lion, bear, and then Goliath?   I love David’s attitude.  David said who is this that defies the army of the living God?  David tells Goliath you are going to die and the whole world will know there is a God in Israel.   In Daniel we see Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will not bow down to the King’s god.   The king is enraged and tells them what god can protect you from my fire?  They are thrown into the fiery furnace.  The fire was so hot it killed the soldiers that threw them in.  Nebuchadnezzar jumps up and said didn’t we throw 3 men in the fire?  Yes O king there were just three of them.  Well I see 4 men walking around in there and the fourth looks like the son of God.  The king said come on out and they could not find anything singed on them and no smell of fire on them.  What do you think God’s presence meant to them?   That will make you a believer.  God says I will be with my people.  God is with us what a thought. 

    Jesus was with his disciples and they are in a storm at sea.  Jesus speaks peace be still and the storm stops immediately.  Jesus is with his disciples and the crowds that have been following him for a couple of days.  They are out of food and there are thousands of them.   The people needed to be fed.  God likes to feed thousands of people with a couple of loaves of bread.  Stephen is being tried before the religious leaders and they are mad at Stephen.  They are gnashing their teeth and Stephen sees the glory of God and Jesus standing on his right hand.  What a taste of glory and then it is time to leave this ole world behind.  There is no better friend to have at the point of death then Jesus.   Jesus told his disciples the Holy Spirit is with you but he will be in you.  I believe that the disciples did better when the Holy Spirit was in them.  They did miracles and their witness was stronger and bolder.  God is not only with us but in us.  What wonderful words of comfort. 

    What does it mean to you that walk with God to know that we have his presence?  How has that made life better for you this year?  How many times has God answered your prayers?   Have you been blessed by his presence?  In his presence there is love, joy and peace.  Yes peace even in this messy world.  Have you heard his voice this year speaking to you to protect you?   How has God given you direction in your difficult decisions this year?   In Isaiah 30 you will hear a voice behind you saying this is the way to walk.  This is the path way.  God can speak to the dry bones and say come alive.  God can change that person’s heart and attitude that we have struggled with.   God can change our attitude also.   God can save that marriage.  Immanuel meaning God is with us.   He is the God of miracles.  He is the God of blessing.  He knows the way through this wilderness.  God knows the way through the desert.

   Douglas LeBlanc shares one of my fondest memories of Christmas Eve is singing “Angels We Have Heard on High” alongside my father when I was about nine years old. Dad was a shy man, so he normally would sing hymns very softly. On this night, though, he sang it full bore, off-key, and with the deepest yearning that I had ever heard in him. Dad was drunk that night.  He was a melancholic, battered man, a World War II army veteran who saw many of his friends blown to bits.  He sought refuge in alcohol, which made life pretty frightening for mom, my older brother, Randy, and me.   But in church I saw the gentle Cajun who grew up Catholic and who still feared God.   Only a few years after this Christmas Eve Service, my brother became a Jesus freak.  Dad began reading the Bible to help my brother realize how far he had stepped off the deep end into religious extremism.  Within a year Dad realized that my brother had found a relationship with Jesus that Dad had not discovered. So Dad surrendered to Jesus. 

     Then his drinking simply stopped.  He still struggled with anger.  We still argued about the length of my hair, my failure to practice the piano, and my halfhearted efforts at homework.   Still, I began associating Dad more with love than with fear.   I spent nearly every Christmas with Dad until his death in 1992.  We sang “Angels We Have Heard on High” together many times, but somehow my keenest memory is of Dad singing it with such yearning.  Now, when I sing this carol, I know a small measure of the yearning Dad felt when I was a boy.  I close my eyes and imagine Dad in heaven, singing along at the top of his redeemed lungs, feeling drunk on his adoration for God.   Douglas LeBlancAs we draw near to God the things of the world go away.  God changes us. 

     What a sweet thought that God is with us.  God was with me in Viet Nam.  God was with me when I got married.  God was with Sally and me when our sons were born.  God was with us when we took them to College.  God is with me when I pray.  God is with me when I minister.  God is with me and others when there are needs in the church that I cannot solve.  God is with me when I get up in the morning and when I go to bed at night.  God is with me when I step into this pulpit and preach.  He better be or you will not get anything.   God is with me when I am afraid. 

     A tribe of Native Americans had a unique practice for training young braves.  On the night of a boy’s thirteenth birthday, he was blindfolded and taken miles away.   When he took off the blindfold, he was in the midst of thick woods. He had to stay there all night by himself.   Every time a twig snapped, he probably visualized a wild animal ready to pounce.   Every time an animal howled, he imagined a wolf leaping out of the darkness.  Every time the wind blew, he wondered what more sinister sound it masked.   After what seemed like an eternity, the first rays of sunlight lightened the interior of the forest.   Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path.  Then, to his utter astonishment, he saw the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow.  It was the boy’s father, who had been there all night long.  Likewise, God is always present with us in our trials. His presence is unseen, but it is more real than life itself.  — Leonard Sweet, Soul Salsa (Zondervan, 2000)

    The world is a better place because God is with us.  In I Chronicles 4 in the amplified bible it says and they found good rich pasture and the cleared land was wide quiet and peaceful because the people of Ham had dwelt there of old and had left it a better place for those who came after them.  I was taught as a young man to always leave a place when you leave better than when you came.  I want to leave the world better than it was when I came.    I want to leave this church in a better place then when I came.  Some of us work at people’s homes and you leave them better than when you came.  But you can also leave it better spiritually.  You can bring God’s blessing to the home and to the family.  I want my children and grand children to accomplish more for Jesus than I have.  At the end of a day you can have the assurance that something is better because of your life.   You prayed for someone or something or you helped someone.  The world may not like Jesus but the world is a better place because God pitched his tent in our neck of the woods. 

    Jesus came not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved.  II Corinthians 5 God was reconciling the world onto himself in Christ not counting men’s sins against them.  God is with those who have received him.   God is with me when I am sick.  God is with me when I don’t want to get out of bed.  God is with me when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Jesus is good news.  Christmas is good news.  I feel bad that the world does not want good news.  What is good news for some is not good news for others.  Consider that in light of ISIS.  Good news for some is the next dollar earned or the next drink.  God is with me and Jesus has gone before me.   Jesus - God came as a baby and entered Jerusalem at the end on a donkey but he will come back to reign and rule.  God with us that is a blessing.   Amen.