“Is God With Us?” – 12-22-13 – Advent 4 – Cycle 4

Listen to the sermon here:

Scripture: Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25

This is a strange title from one who declares over and over that God is with each of us all the time everywhere. So why the question? Well, where is the peace? Where is the power of goodness over evil that is supposed to be part of Emmanuel With Us? Where is the protection from storms of all sorts – weather storms be they snow, or strong winds; storms of war?

Where oh where is proof of God With Us? Where oh where is this Emmanuel in the world picture? Maybe this will help:

King Ahaz of Judah (the southern kingdom) was being threatened by an Israelite (northern kingdom) and Aramean military might. King Ahaz is thinking about asking the Assyrian military for help. Enter Isaiah, God’s prophet, who advises King Ahaz to take refuge in God, not in human might. Then Isaiah prophesies about this coming baby to be born of a young woman. By that time, both Israel and Aram will be gone, Isaiah says.

Military might comes and goes but God With Us supposedly lasts forever. How can we tell? Do we agree? God With Us; Emmanuel with an E or Immanuel with an I. Same person. A quality of this one God come to earth: our Savior, our Lord, our Jesus, our Jesu, our emancipator, our baby Jesus, our Shepherd, our friend of the lowly and the hurting, our defender, our Christ on the cross under the sign “King of the Jews,” our risen Christ, our ascended Christ, our “sitting on the right hand of the Father” Son. Our anticipated “coming again” Master. Where is friend? Yes, friend. What a friend we have in Jesus? “Take it to the Lord in prayer” friend.

There it is! Our “take it to the Lord in prayer” friend. But Ahaz said to Isaiah and to God, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” But Isaiah replied, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.” Isaiah was referring to this Immanuel. This little baby who shall eat curds and honey. Earthly kingdoms will come and go, but this little baby will always be available, will always be a firm place of safety.

Do you believe this yourself? Have you ever felt that overwhelming shoulder of safety when you remembered to lay everything at the feet of Jesus or more precisely on the shoulders of Jesus? I have. But then there were all those longings and pleadings that never produced my goals! Why not? Was this God With Us walking away and couldn’t hear me? I don’t believe that. I happen to believe that God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can hear even things that are not said aloud. Scary? Very scary!

Then why did not some of my longings fall from the sky into my life? There are so many reasons and yet I don’t know if God lists reasons. It seems to me that God works in ideas but not lists. The ideas form each of our lives. Psalm 139 indicates that God designed each of us. Jeremiah reminds us that God planned good things for us, not things to harm us but to prosper us. So where are our millions if the promise is to prosper us? God does not seem to deal in money. God seems to deal in hopes and right paths, in healthy and rewarding relationships, in commandments and love as a general well-being prescription.

On a grand scale, why are people persecuted for religious beliefs? Why oh why have Jews been persecuted way, way beyond righteousness? Why oh why are Christians being persecuted around the world? And, why oh why are Muslims being persecuted just because a few of their race are extreme radicals? Why were Japanese prisoners persecuted in this land called “the land of the free?” How can we justify to this very day how we have treated our own American Indians simply because they were on this land before the strangers came from abroad, the strangers who are our own ancestors?

Where is God? Well, God is in our hearts. God expects us to be his hands and feet. When God says we should love all people as we love ourselves, he expects us to show it. As I write this thought, I am struck with an awful conscience. What have I ever done about the treatment of American Indians except talk about it? Talking may be fine but it is only the start line. When am I going to get my feet off the start line? Am I waiting for God to shoot the starting sound? Maybe God thinks we should not need a gun shot to get our feet off the starting line.

Maybe God thinks we were created better than that. He may have bigger plans for us than we are allowing. What is God With Us waiting to help us to do? While I am pleading for something in my personal life to happen, God’s ideas for me are much, much bigger. I don’t need to recruit an army, or even a committee, but people may gather to help once I show some action. Once they notice with a slight peek of their eyes that God is with this movement, something stirs in the people around me. What is God calling you to do? What sits in your conscience? That is God With You!

As Isaiah prophesied earlier and Paul affirmed later, this person, in the lineage of David but conceived by the Holy Spirit, appeared on earth as a little baby born in a stable and laid in straw in a feeding manger with the animals as reverent witnesses. Here is this Emmanuel: God With Us! This little baby may have started life in swaddling clothes, but would become wrapped in the banner that declares all the ways we will know this Jesus, all the ways we now receive the blessing of God With Us.

Paul describes this Son of God as the one prophesied by prophets of old and recorded in the holy scriptures, now appearing on earth, both in the line of David the King and in the line of the Holy Spirit. The power of the conception and the power of the resurrection are awesome. Paul teaches that this baby comes to earth for all people and it is the responsibility of all believers to spread the word of welcome.

Doesn’t that scare you and me? We are charged with spreading this invitation of welcome. This is no welcome to a party. This is no welcome to a family Christmas dinner although this idea can be expanded. No that’s wrong. A family dinner is rather exclusive. Usually it is limited to family members and maybe a few close friends. But the invitation to come to the God With Us banquet is inclusive. If you know God Is With You, come to the banquet. Don’t come alone. If you have a friend or family member who does not yet know the God With Us experience, extend the invitation, take the person by the hand, introduce the person to the God With Us people. Then go find a person you do not know but who is waiting for your invitation. Walk the path with this one.

You know Joseph, Mary’s soon-to-be husband, was very hurt when he learned that Mary was expecting a child that was not his child. You may know the feeling. It may have happened to you. Rejection and deception is still alive today. But God’s plan included a dream-like experience for Joseph and God sent an angel to explain this good news to Joseph. Joseph has been chosen as the father of God. This child Joseph will raise, will teach to carpenter, will teach to be a good citizen, is God. Joseph will watch Mary diaper and feed and kiss God. This person of God is one of three – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The son is nurtured in a simple, modest, faithful-to-the-Jewish-religion home.

As believers, we can feel the presence of God With Us, but think how it would be to have a child in our home who will know all the scriptures in mind and heart, who can converse authoritatively with the learned people in the temple, who forgets that we are wanting to leave Jerusalem for the long, long trek north to Nazareth. And on top of everything, this 12-year-old child can’t believe that we don’t know that he needs to be doing what he is doing – being about his Father’s business.

Yes, we don’t know. We don’t know what God has up his sleeve for us. We don’t know God’s plan for the world and how we fit into the plans. But I know that God Is With Me. I know I am his child also, not just Jesus. I know that the ragged looking person who is freezing on the street is a child of God’s also. Why am I in a warm house and that frozen person is in the shelter-less cold? If God Is With Us we need to extend our hand in welcome into a warm place and a place with a dinner, a banquet.

Of course, praying for our own children, our friends, our missions, is good. But it is like having our feet on the start line. The gun sounds the start, God calls us, why are we stuck on the prayer line? That is mostly where I am? Almost every sermon I write declares our mission of feeding the hungry, etc. All words. I dabble in helping with this mission. I dabble from afar. Oh, once in a while I get close only to find that I would rather be behind my computer or sitting on a Board or sending a check through the mail. Oh, I even transport goods to shelters and pantries. Where is the love gene that I observe in other people? “Where is my love gene,” I say to myself and partly to God. The God Who Is With Me.

The Psalmist of Psalm 80 says, “O Lord God of hosts, how long will your anger fume when your people pray? This God With Me will soon shove me off my prayer line and it will be sink or swim. Since God Is With Me, I expect it to be swim. God With Us supports us as we take fitful arm flails in the water, as we take little steps and big steps and yes even some backward steps. Can you and I invite ourselves to step together into this kingdom, the kingdom of swim, the kingdom of active love, the kingdom of disappointment because God loves humble activists. If I sound a lot like James, the brother of Jesus, so let it be.

Let us say to each other and to the world, “Emmanuel, God With Us!” As the Psalmist of Psalm 80 says, “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.” Amen.