A Time to Reconnect: a Prelude to Christmas

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This sermon was originally preached by David Groenenboom at Gateway Community Church on Sunday December 19, 2014 as part of the Making Sense of the Silly Season series

Reading: Matt 1:18-25

It was only a few weeks ago that I started my sermon talking about how the world seemed more of a dark place. I referred to riots in Ferguson, MI, and I talked about the ISIS terrorists.

And now we come out of a week where

• three are dead after the Sydney siege
• 132 children – children mind you – are butchered in a Pakistani school
• 8 children from one family are murdered in Cairns

How do we celebrate Christmas after a week like that?

Immanuel

Matthew’s advice is to remember that Jesus is God with us.
“…an angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).” (Matthew 1:20–23, NIV)

It wasn’t just that Jesus’ birth was a miracle, as Mary was a virgin, or that both she and Joseph were fallen people. It was more that Jesus was born into that world.

There were terrible things happening in the day Jesus was born. Herod the Great was a wicked ruler, killing all the male children in Bethlehem under 2 years old in pursuit of the infant Jesus. Those in authority, typically, were not seen as people who were on your side. Routinely, they were people to be feared.

We read that people were waiting for the consolation of Israel. This was largely because there was a lot to be consoled about. The world was not an easy place. But this is the world Jesus came to.

And it is why the Christmas message is good news:

God is not waiting for you to become holy,
To read your bible more
To live a better life
To love perfectly
To have stronger faith

Jesus’ birth expresses a comforting truth: God is with us! For God’s people, no greater blessing can be conceived than for God to dwell with them.

Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah saw this coming to pass. Speaking of the day Jesus would be born, he wrote:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:1–3, NIV)

A bit over a century later, Ezekiel had a vision of a gloriously restored Israel, and a holy city, whose name will be ‘The Lord is there.’

Then, some 60 years after Jesus’ death and rising, the Lord reveals the same vision to the Apostle John. He sees a new heaven and new earth, a new Jerusalem, and the defining characteristic of this restored world is that

God’s dwelling will be among his people,
and he will dwell with them,
they will be his people,
and God himself will be with them and be their God.

So, when Gabriel says ‘they will call Him Immanuel’, it is not so much another name, but a statement of fact. It was a sign that the words of the prophets and the expectation of the people that God would dwell with them would at last find their fulfilment in Jesus.

Immanuel, Jesus himself, is the greatest proof that God has not forsaken his world. God had not forsaken them. God has not forsaken us.

The Divine Motive

Isn’t that a comforting thought? God has not left us alone! God has come into our world in the person of Jesus Christ! Wat we want to do us understand the purpose of his presence. And on that, the Bible gives us two very succinct statements:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” (1 Timothy 1:15, NIV)

Secondly,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16–17, NIV)

Do you ever find yourself wondering what God is like? What he is really like?

There’s reason to say, of course, because we are mortal human beings that we will never be able fully to understand God or plumb the depths of his nature. But on the other hand, while we cannot fully know, we can truly know. And e can truly know the things God reveals things about himself.

Jesus came to save: God’s nature is about saving those who are undeserving. God is about grace.

And Jesus came as an act of divine love. God is about love. Loving a world where people are perishing, where they deserve condemnation.
He sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for sin, to save the world, not to condemn it. This has always been God’s intention.

You can tell a lot about a person by how they use their energies. Steve Smith, Australia Cricket Captain, when he’s not hitting Indian batsmen all around the cricket ground, spends a lot of his waking life training. Sharpening skills, improving fitness, he focuses all his energies toward that time when he’s out in the middle. Everything he does is directed toward that one great goal.

Think of the way God spend his energies. From the very first thing we read in Genesis, to the very last thing revealed in Revelation, we see God causing life to abound, and after the fall, restoring his creation.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He gave of himself to bring his world into existence. Like grace before its time, he was happy to spend his divine energy bringing life and beauty to light.

Then, when Jesus was born as Immanuel, we see him expending his energy reclaiming his world, bringing love and rescue to undeserving people.

And on the day Jesus returns to consummate the new heavens and the new earth, he will again be bringing life, love and grace but then so perfectly and eternally that all evil, and everything that opposes his rule, will forever be cast out.

Immanuel: God with us

We need to know what this means, and what it doesn’t mean.

What it means is that Jesus as Immanuel was not an afterthought.
Immanuel is the revelation of the Lord’s one plan to love his world,
to save his people by grace, and restore his creation through this child whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

Christianity is, simply, good news. It is the news that something has happened as a result of which the world is a different place [NT Wright].

The something that has happened is Jesus: God with us.

What it does not mean: we should not understand the birth of Immanuel to mean that God thinks everything is OK with our world, for God knows, everything is not OK. And we should certainly know that after the events of this past week.

God is grieved and angered at the sin of those who not only live outside of faith in Jesus, but who bring violence, bloodshed and untold grief to our world.

The events at Martin Place, Peshawar, and Cairns are profoundly confronting and distressing. They show the depth of the fall, the reality of human rebellion. How we weep when we see these things, yet as we do, we remember that God will call all who bring evil and violence and death to account when he judges all the earth.

This is why God calls everyone to turn to him, to have faith in him, to love him and trust him.

When they do, they will meet him not as Judge, but as a loving Father who has already had the claims of his justice satisfied through Jesus Immanuel.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 1:8–2:2, NIV)

Responding to Immanuel

When Gabriel said Jesus would also be called Immanuel, he was declaring God’s plan, right from the beginning, to dwell with his people. This Jesus, God With Us, enters this world as it is, but he is not prepared to leave it that way. The life, birth, sacrificial death, and rising again of Jesus Immanuel demonstrates that.

In days like these people will sometimes wonder whether God cares or knows what is happening. You know, you cannot conceive of the birth of Jesus Immanuel without knowing the love, grace, and saving heart of God, the deep love that he lavishes on people. You cannot celebrate the bible’s message of Christmas without being deeply moved by Immanuel.

The God who is with you.

Even before you knew it.

Even before you had any idea.

Since the beginning of time, God has planned to dwell with you. And now it’s time for you to respond to him. Here’s how:

Repent: that is. Come under Jesus’s rule. He is your King, Lord and Master. Turn around and start walking his way. Acknowledge the wrong in your life, and ask him to live in you, rule your life, and restore you.

Reconnect: Worship God with all you are, and in all you do. Love him with all your heart soul, mind and strength. Love your neighbour as yourself. Obey him every day. Bring his new life to expression. Commit to Worshipping Him with his people more than you do at present.

Trust him: when terrible things happen, remember he is with you. He’s Immanuel, he is with you always, even to the end of the age. There’s much we don’t understand about this, but we are comforted that he is with us and we are not alone.

Pray: Lord, help me bring your life. Help me believe. Help me trust. Help me bring the comfort of the Gospel to others. When there is much darkness, let your word be a lamp to my feet and a light to my path

Love: Show grace to all, even your enemies. Let Jesus’ Spirit move you to compassion. Help the broken. Befriend the lonely. Protect the scared. Bring his grace and love to all who are in need.

Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.

Jesus, Immanuel, is for you. Who can be against you?

Jesus, Immanuel is with you, you are never alone.

Jesus, Immanuel, is in you, dwelling with you. Now in his power and by his grace, bring his good news to your world.

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:18–20, NIV)

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