God with Us 

18 December,
Christ Church, Stannington
Readings:      Isaiah 7:10-16 T
                        Matthew 1 18-end
As we heard in our reading, hundreds of years before Jesus was born, God had told the prophet Isaiah to inform King Ahaz of Judah not to worry about the two armies that were advancing to make war on his kingdom. If Ahaz held onto his faith, the attack wouldn’t take place. God asked Ahaz what sign He should give, that what He was saying would come to pass. Ahaz refused, saying he wouldn’t put the LORD to the test. Israel had been told many times that they shouldn’t do that and had been punished for doing so. Therefore the king’s reluctance was understandable. Isaiah admonished the king because he was disobeying the LORD. No one else in the kingdom would dare to speak to the king in this way. So, Isaiah said to the king that if he wouldn’t choose a sign, then God would choose one for him (Isaiah 7:3-13). That sign is well-known. God said, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 NIV). Immanuel means “God with us.” When this finally happened, many other prophesies, linked to this one, were also fulfilled. Three weeks ago, I gave a talk on all the different strands of events that had to take place, before this prophecy and others would come true at the perfect time and in the perfect place.
And finally, come together they did and the Messiah came into the world. That’s the event we’re supposed to be celebrating next Sunday. Thinking of the Nativity, don’t you think it’s amazing that, even at the time it did happen, so few people knew about it, apart from those actually involved in the event; Mary and Joseph of course; the angels; the shepherds; (Luke’s Gospel) and the innkeeper (Luke’s Gospel ESV). A little later there was the evil King Herod and finally the wise men from the east (Matthew 2:1–13). However, by and large, the incident passed by almost undetected. Why was that? It was because at that time, there was no need for anyone else to know. Also, the child would have been in great danger from many, who’d see His coming as a threat to their own power; not only the king, but the High Priest and all who profited from the status quo with the Roman occupiers. They were quite happy with things as they were thank you very much
And so this has finally come to us today. Christians believe that Jesus will return, on a day that no one expects, to take us to be with Him, forever. There are mockers who say that if Jesus was really coming again, wouldn’t He be here by now?  We just have to remember Saint Peter’s second letter, in which he said, “With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow at keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8–9 NIV). That last phrase is the key. Were it not for that I, and I’m sure many other Christians, would hardly be able to wait for the glorious Second Coming of Jesus, when we could throw off this body that starts to wear out in our fifties. We’d leave behind all the greed, hatred, aggression, lies, profanity, lewdness, idolatry, and selfishness that surrounds and offends us in our daily lives. The thought that as we’re saved, many will perish is what keeps us happy to wait on God’s timing.
What do such a lot of good people think about as Christmas approaches? We hear many say, “Christmas? Well it’s all about the kids isn’t it?” They might sing lots of jolly “Christmas” songs that don’t mention Jesus, or trim up a tree. Alas, some will eat too much and drink themselves silly. But mainly they will think about gifts and angels and shepherds and wise men; animals and a manger and, oh yes, a baby. Most people in our culture really don’t understand why Jesus was born. We’ve seen that even at the time it actually happened, very few people knew and, by and large, the incident passed by almost undetected. Nevertheless, the greatest event the world had ever seen did take place and God was “with us”. This almost unnoticed event came upon the world, which would never be the same again. So what would change?
To understand the change, we have to look back into the Old Testament of our Bible. We’ve heard this morning that Isaiah could communicate directly with God. Others in the history of Israel had that privilege: Abraham, who was called “God’s friend” (James 2:23 NIV); Moses, who led the Children of Israel out from captivity in Egypt and spoke with God on a daily basis; God told Joshua that He would be with him and would exalt him in the eyes of all Israel (Joshua 3:7); Samuel was the last prophet or seer to hold God’s rule over Israel, before they demanded and eventually got a king like all the other peoples around them (1 Samuel 8:6 ? 12:1); Jonah who was swallowed by a fish (Jonah 1:17); Elijah taking on the tyrannical King Ahab and raising a woman’s son from the dead (1 Kings 17:22); Elisha who caused jars of oil never to become empty, thus saving a woman from destitution (2Kings 4:1 – 7). We also know of Jeremiah who was castigated throughout his life for prophesying the truth as God told him and not the more acceptable lies told by the false prophets, which pleased the king and the people.
So that’s a list of nine people who had a very close relationship with our God. I’m sure there were others, some not even mentioned in our Bible but we’re still talking about a very small number in around a couple of thousand years. That was then, this is now. Following the birth, life and death of Jesus, how many people can speak with God today — about anything? All of us, because our God is with us. How could that be if Jesus died, was resurrected and ascended into heaven to be with His Father? When He left His disciples for the final time, He promised them that His Father would send an Advocate in His place, to carry on with their teaching and remind them of everything He’d told them (John 14:26). One of the things He’d want them to remember was the one command He gave them, which was that we should love one another (John 13:34).
Surely the best time of the year for doing that is when we celebrate the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. He gave His followers the Advocate at Pentecost. And we can ask for that same Advocate, better known as the Holy Spirit. He would represent “God with us”. So what does that mean?  Anyone who’s willing to confess their sins to God, promise Him to give them up and genuinely accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour with their heart, not just their mouth, can not only have direct communication with God even closer than that of the prophets but can also look forward to spending eternity in paradise, dwelling in the abode of Jesus; living in perfect peace; being surrounded by love and happiness; having no pain; no worries; no hatred; no tears of sorrow — for ever (Revelation 21:4). Who’d swap that for a Christmas tree and baubles? Amen.

Jim Glynn, 18/12/2016