Sunday the 18th of December 2016
During the last week we had a parish council meeting at Devonport. During this meeting we discussed things that had occurred in the past months since we met, but we also looked ahead to what we need to do to plan for the future; which includes adjusting to some things that are difficult and which we have no control over. It is important to plan things and have strategies for dealing with situations in life. Plans can be good and very helpful in keeping things on track; but plans can also be necessary when dealing with a crisis. When it comes to planning we as a church need prayer and guidance because, all too often, we fall into the trap of putting into place our own plans, rather than what God would have us do.
The world that God created was (and still is) in a great state of crisis. Sin was everywhere; people were doing their own thing, committing their own evils against God. Everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes. All people that God created were rebelling against him and his authority and trying to deal with things their own way. Even God’s own chosen people were doing this. The world was out of control. But God had a plan.
God made known his plan to his prophet Isaiah hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. As it says in today’s Isaiah reading: “Behold, the virgin is about to become pregnant and bear a son, and will call his name Immanuel” (Is 7:14). And as Matthew tells us, after the angel had spoken to Joseph about Mary: 22 “All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).” Christmas day is about celebrating the beginning of a plan, a plan to save us from our sins; a plan that involved God acting where we could not.
Ahaz, the King of Judah and God’s chosen leader for his people, found himself in a very difficult and stressful situation. He was afraid that the kings of the other countries around him, the kings of Israel and Syria, would come together and bring destruction on God’s people in Judah. God’s prophet Isaiah comes to Ahaz with news that should have filled him with confidence. He was told: “It will not happen. They will not stand. Ask for a sign to know that God is with you to deliver you.” God had the situation in hand. Instead of trusting in God for help and deliverance, Ahaz had already determined to seek help in an alliance with Assyria to the north. So instead of asking for a sign, since he was not trusting in God for help anyway, he piously states that he will ‘not test the Lord.’ Did he not realize that God can see into his heart? So God gives his own sign: Immanuel.
I can’t help but wonder whether people today think a lot like Ahaz. He had already made up his mind; he was not interested in what God was doing. He had already decided what his plan was. It is like he was saying: “I have already made up my mind; don’t confuse me with the facts.”
You don’t have to look far to see that people are blinded by a world view that opposes a biblical view. They want to explain the existence of the world without giving credit to the Creator God who made it. They desperately look for assistance and support from everyone and everything, other than their loving Father who provides for all their needs. They look for salvation and peace, in man-made religions or the things they have done instead of from the gracious Lord who already provided for eternity in Christ. They have already made up their minds and for some, I think, it will be difficult for even the truth to convince them otherwise. They have their own plans.
But the question is: what about us? Do we have our own plans? Whether we like to admit it or not, we also find ourselves trusting in our own strength or the strength of our own allies rather than trusting in the Lord. We tend to think and make our plans as though we have control of the future, sometimes we even do this without even praying and consulting God for direction and guidance. Because of our sinful natures, we trust our income, bank accounts, retirement funds, the government, to provide for all our needs, and we can easily become anxious and panic when these things fail us.
The fact is that for you and me, God’s promise is that he is with us, and gives us the sign of Immanuel. A virgin became pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the child born was truly God and truly man. She called him Jesus because he would save his people from their sins, and he is truly Immanuel, God with us. All this has happened for us, but have we already made up our minds and don’t want to change them? Maybe like Ahaz we might think “Don’t confuse me with the facts.” The question is how teachable are we? How open are we to letting God and his word shape our lives and guide our decisions?
God is indeed with us through the virgin birth—the incarnation of Jesus, which we celebrate this coming week. The word became flesh and dwelt among us. And he continues to be ‘God with us’ as he comes into our lives through his Word and Spirit, as he continues to journey with us in our lives with him. This is the blessing of living on the other side of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
But the fact that God is with us through Jesus also has an uncomfortable side to it, as his presence brings a call to repentance for all who trust in their own strength, their own way, their own works, their own world view; for, apart from Jesus, God with us, there is no other way, no other rock, no other salvation.
That Jesus is God with us is also a call to repentance for you and me, who want to trust in Jesus and follow as his disciples. It is a reminder that we need to take inventory of our own alliances and friendships; to be aware of where we place our hope and trust; to make sure that we bring those back to Christ alone.
Christmas is a time to celebrate. To celebrate that Jesus Christ is our Immanuel, he is ‘our God with us’. Because of this we have hope and the promise of grace and mercy to us, for Jesus has indeed truly come to be with us; and he brings us forgiveness, life, and salvation. He is with us in the good times and the bad, but we really need to know and be confident that he is with us in the bad times. He is with us when everyone and everything is against us. He is with us when the bottom falls out and we are falling into despair or brokenness. He is with us through the tragedies of life, and through the valley of the shadow of death. He will take us through death to share the glory of heaven with him. Trusting in him and his promises, we are truly secure in this life and in the life to come.
Christmas is about the beginning of God’s plan, a reminder of what he did through the birth of his Son Jesus, but also a reminder of what he is still doing, as he is still working his plan of salvation in this world, of which we are a part. It is a reminder of the way that God has taken action into his own hands that he came up with a plan to save us, when we could not save ourselves. His plan is not yet complete as this will happen when Jesus returns again, but one thing we know is that until this happens, we are to trust in him, knowing that he is with us.
As we come into Christmas week I encourage each of you to take time, in amongst the busyness and distractions, to consider what Jesus ‘our God with us’ means for your life and your plans for the future.