4th Sunday of Advent—Sermon
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The beginning of the end of the beginning. Waiting at the end, before the beginning, all while the end is here, but not yet fully ended, when the final beginning will indeed begin. Past, present, and future all collide with each other as we stand on at the Church’s new year. No, you have not stepped back into the TARDIS this morning, even though we still are dressed in blue and this box that we gather in is bigger on the inside than it is on the out, filled with the saints, angels and presence of God. So no, I am sorry to say, we have not traveled back in time, only borrowing old words to further illustrate the season. If you’re hearing them for the first time, let me just say, we missed you three Sundays ago. We began Advent by looking to the end of all things, when Christ will come in clouds descending and now we conclude it, having lit our 4 candles, looking to the beginning of our Christian faith, in the first Advent of our Lord. We await that heavenly day, by looking back to when our Lord came not in power and glory, but in humility and fleshy weakness. It is in looking to the past, remembering Immanuel, that grounds our hope in the present and makes us wait with joyful anticipation for our future.
Such remembrance of Immanuel, not only in personified deity, but in etymological reality, God-with-us, is woven throughout the story of our ancestors in the faith. I would not wager to do a pop quiz on the Ten Commandments right now, but does anyone know how they begin? They do not being immediately with a commandment, but rather with a word of remembrance, I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. Before the Law is revealed it is grounded in the remembrance of who exactly is the One who gives this Law. It is the One that threw chariot and rider into the sea, who did signs and wonders before Pharaoh, who instituted the Passover and saved His people. Before the Lord reveals the Law, He reminds Israel of Himself, what He has done for them, and that He is with them. Moses later preaches to Israel in Deuteronomy 5 and agains remind them by setting the scene, “Hear, O Israel, the statues and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them, The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our Fathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of fire, while I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord.” He brings to their memory how the Lord redeemed them out of Egypt, gave them His promise and His covenant. In doing so, he calls Israel to remember.
Such words of remembrance weave throughout the Old Testament. The Torah, the books of History, and especially the Psalms, such as 135 & 136 are filled with calling Israel to remember that the God whom they worship is Immanuel. The One who gave manna in the wilderness, who made them victorious over the pagan kings, and who gave them the Promised Land. He is the One who opens wide His hand and satisfies the desires of every living creature. God is with Israel through the patriarchs. God is with them in the Ark and Tabernacle, the giving of His Law and the sacrifices of Old. He is with them in the the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. He is with them in the Temple and the Holy of Holies. He is with them in the midst of their enemies, when even their own kin will turn against them, which is the scene of Isaiah’s prophecy. Syria and Ephraim (that is the Northern Kingdom) have joined forces and are at Judah’s doorstep. The kingdoms are divided and king Ahaz of Judah is given a sign; Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He is give a sign to remember the the faithfulness of God, that the Lord is with them.
Israel is told again and again to remember and we are given a son and Savior who himself will call us to remembrance at His new Passover, all because we are so deftly able to forget. Our first parents forgot the commandment of God. Israel forgot the goodness of God and His deliverance as they grumbled and mumbled and stumbled their way through the wilderness. King Solomon forgot the Sixth commandment and thus the first, giving into the pagan gods of his many wives; and Ahaz will forget and the promise of Immanuel meant to be for all, will be given only to a faithful remnant. We too quickly forget as we lose sight of the commandments of God and fall into sin, temptation, and err. We quickly forget as we curse our sister, withhold our offering to the poor, and fail to love our brothers. We quickly forget when our enemies stand at the door step waiting to sweep us away, when the darkness comes and we are surrounded by uncertainty and doubt. We are quick to forget when we don’t have the right answer or see clearly a path out of our trials and tribulations, out of our diseases, out of the bondage of our financial problems. We fallen sinners are quick to forget the reality of Immanuel.
Thus the Law is given with the proclamation of the Lord’s prior work, the prophet’s prophesy of what was and what will be, and the child conceived and born of the Virgin institutes a meal and fellowship grounded and surrounded in remembrance of Him who died and rose again. Why else do we Christians greet one another so many times throughout the service, “The Lord be with you”? Because the very mission of the Church is to have our forgetful minds renewed and replenished by the presence of God. To remember that there is One who forgives sin, who enters into the mess of the world in order to save and redeem it. To remember that this One who came as flesh and blood into the world, was there before the worlds began, and is now Immanuel with us; in Bread and Wine blessed, broken and poured, in the prayers offered in His name and wherever His body gathers to worship Him. We are brought together each Sunday that He is with us as His word is read and proclaimed, that He comes to save us and give us His eternal life. To remember that He is Lord of all things, that He leads us out of the darkness of our sins, trials and tribulations, threats of our enemies, and even out of the problems that we face personally and as a parish all by the light of His resurrection, the Lamp of His word, and the illumination of His sacraments. Behold, before us this day the prophet’s words, Matthew’s words’ are fulfilled as God is with us, in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the midst of trial it is hard to see exactly where He is, as we often fail to see the forest because of the trees, yet He is there. As they say, hindsight is 20-20. On the edge of the Promised Land, Israel could see clearly the Lord’s deliverance and his hand throughout the wilderness, but that only become clearer after they went through the journey. It was only after the Angel’s message that the Lord’s will became clear to Joseph. And in our own lives it will become clearer of where our Lord’s hand has been once we have reached the end. Undoubtedly, we can all look back to our own lives and the struggles and challenges that we faced, and with faith see the fingerprints of Immanuel everywhere. Leading us, holding us, correcting us, admonishing us and forgiving us, and always working His good for our betterment.
Last week at the end of worship we were faced with a clear picture of the hardship that our parish is facing. What has been a long while in the making is now on our front doorstep, as Syria and Israel were at Judah’s. We too are looking for a path of deliverance. As our council met Tuesday night, we read today’s Gospel lesson spoke of the Lord’s vision to Joseph in a dream. When he thought he had come to the best solution in his own mind, the Lord made it clear to him of another way, the Lord’s own way. He gave Him the assurance and hope of Immanuel. My brothers and sisters we are on a journey of our own and once through I am sure we will see God’s hand much clearer than we might at this time, but nonetheless He is with us. Though it might be easy to forget, because we always think we can save us from ourselves, Isaiah, Matthew, and our Lord Jesus calls us this day to remember. To remember how He has delivered us through personal times of hardship, how He has freed us from the bondage to our sins, how He has led Reformation in the past through other hardships, and to trust that He will lead and guide us through this one. That He is always and forever Immanuel. Therefore let us always and constantly remind one another, “The Lord is With you!”