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“Words and Sayings of the Season: Immanuel, Incarnation, & Nativity”
Isaiah 7:14

Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Second Sunday in Advent—December 9, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

During Advent this year our sermon series is on “Words and Sayings of the Season,” explaining the Biblical background and meaning of words and sayings that we commonly hear, and say ourselves, this time of year.  We continue this morning with, “Immanuel, Incarnation, and Nativity.”

The first word we’re considering today is actually a name, one of dozens of names and titles given to Jesus in the Bible.  This name comes from the amazing prophecy in today’s Old Testament Reading, about 700 years before Jesus’ birth: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:  Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

The setting for today’s Old Testament Reading is a confrontation between the great prophet Isaiah and Ahaz, one of the worst, most apostate kings in the Bible.  Just as we hear so much in the news today about constant conflicts in the Middle East, already back in Bible times there were never-ending battles among those countries, even a civil war that split the Hebrew people into two separate kingdoms. 

Ahaz rules over the Southern Hebrew Kingdom of Judah, and he is at war against an alliance of Syria and the Northern Hebrew Kingdom of Israel.  Word has just come that the Syrian army is encamped only three days from Jerusalem.  Isaiah reports that when they heard this terrifying news, “the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.”

But, the Lord sends Isaiah to Ahaz, to announce Good News: Judah will not be defeated, Jerusalem will not be conquered.  The Lord even invites Ahaz to ask for a sign of this, “whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

“But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.’”  Ahaz refuses to seek a sign from the Lord simply because he does not believe in the Lord, or his promises.  He has fallen away; he worships other gods, false gods.

There is an instructive contrast presented to us in today’s Old Testament and Gospel Readings.  King Ahaz in the Old Testament and the Virgin Mary in the New Testament are both confronted with crises in their lives, calling for faith and trust in God: Ahaz the imminent attack on his kingdom, and Mary the startling news that as an unmarried young women she will miraculously be with child, and among all the women in history she has been chosen to bear the Messiah.  In response to these crises in their lives, King Ahaz is a bad example of being faithless, but the Virgin Mary is a good example of being faithful: “‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’”

We must confess that in our own lives we are often more like Ahaz than Mary, turning away from the Lord, and his will; doubting the Lord, and his promises; not faithful, like Mary, but faithless, like Ahaz.  But, Paul promises in 2nd Timothy, “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful.”

Isaiah announces the Good News that God himself will give an amazing sign of his love and our salvation: The coming Messiah will be born of a virgin!  “Then Isaiah said, ‘Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also?  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

In a patriarchal society, that was the worst possible humiliation the Lord could inflict upon Ahaz and his descendents.  For, the great glory of the kings of Judah was the very fact that the Messiah would one day be born from their line, a Branch of King David’s family tree.  But, because of the unfaithfulness of Ahaz and the other Hebrew kings, the Lord proclaims that, although the great King of Kings will still be born of the house of David, be will be of female lineage only, miraculously born of a virgin. 

In today’s Gospel Reading, when the angel announces to Mary that she will be with child and give birth to a Son, she replies, “How will this be since I am a virgin?”  The angel answers, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. . .  for nothing is impossible with God.”

The Gospel of Matthew says, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call him Immanuel”’—which means, ‘God with us.’”  That is the meaning of the Hebrew name “Immanuel”: “God-with-Us.”  By this prophetic name the Lord proclaims that is who the Messiah, conceived and born in this miraculous manner, will be: “God-with-Us.”  Paul puts it this way in 1st Timothy: “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: he appeared in a body.”

A clue to the meaning of the Latin word “incarnation” can be found in the Spanish name for the popular dish “chili con carne.”  They both share the same Latin root, “carnem,” which means “meat” or “flesh.”  “Chili con carne” is “chili with meat.” And the word “incarnation” literally means “to become meat,” “to become flesh.”  So, you could say that at Christmas we celebrate “God con carne,” God with flesh.  As John’s Gospel says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

The book of Hebrews says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy . . . the power of death.”  We couldn’t be saved without “God con carne,” God with flesh.  Christ’s incarnation was absolutely essential for our salvation, because it was the incarnation that made it possible for the very Son of God to die on the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.  As Paul says in Colossians, “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. . .  for God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things . . . by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” 

The Messiah had to be both fully God and fully humanGod so that he would be a perfect sacrifice, worthy to pay for our sins, as Peter says, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed . . . but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”  And, it was necessary for the Messiah to be human so that he could live on earth a life of perfect obedience, fulfilling for us every requirement of the divine Law.  As Paul says in today’s Epistle Reading from Galatians, “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law.” 

It was also necessary for the Messiah to be human so that our sins would be paid for through the sacrifice of his human body, as Hebrews says, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  Peter puts it this way, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross.”  Trust in Jesus as your Savior.  Because of his sacrifice, because of his blood shed the cross, your sins are all forgiven.  As Paul says in Romans, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.”

Finally, the word “nativity” is from the Latin word for “birth.”  In modern English “nativity” is used almost exclusively a Christian religious term, referring to Jesus’ birth.  The irony is that “nativity” comes from the same root word as “native.”  That’s ironic because Jesus was not native to this world.  As Paul says in Philippians, “Though being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”  The Nicene Creed sums it up this way: “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.”

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”  The sign prophesied by Isaiah came to fulfillment in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  God himself came to be with us in Jesus of Nazareth.  He is true God, begotten of His Father from all eternity.  He is true man, born of the Virgin Mary.  “God con carne,” God with flesh, divinity and humanity, united in one person, the God-man Jesus Christ. 

That’s what Christmas is all about: the incarnation and nativity of Immanuel, God-with-Us.  Rejoice, rejoice, Immanuel has come—to you!


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