The First Sunday in Advent
December 2, 2018
Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel!
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Ever since the days of Martin Luther, the Lutheran Church has been known as a “Singing Church.” Why is that? There are at least a couple of reasons. First, Luther knew that down through the ages God’s grateful people very naturally took the mighty deeds of God and put them into song. Think Moses and Miriam after God safely brought His people through the Red Sea. Think Mary when she went to tell her cousin Elizabeth the Good News that the angel Gabriel had proclaimed to her. Think Zechariah on the day his son was given the name John. Think of the many psalms that put into song the mighty deeds of the Lord, the God of Israel. Secondly, the Lutheran Church has been a “Singing Church” because Martin Luther placed the musical arts right alongside of theology. Luther considered music to be an absolutely wonderful way to teach the Truth of Scripture to other people. For those two reasons singing hymns— hymns that are based on the teachings of the Bible— have been an integral part of Lutheran worship right down to this very day.
Because the Lutheran Church is indeed a “Singing Church” and because there are so many beautiful hymns that we love to sing at this time of the year, I have chosen to do something a little different during this Advent season. The sermon series that we are going to follow during the Season of Advent is based upon the hymn, “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel” (CW #23). On each of the four Sundays in Advent we will focus our attention on one stanza of this hymn and the Scriptural truth it proclaims.
Our theme for today then is the opening words of the first stanza of this hymn: Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel! There are two questions that need to be addressed this morning. The first question is: Who is Emmanuel? The second question is: What did Emmanuel come into this world to do?
Who is Emmanuel? When you and I sing the words, “Oh, Come, Oh, Come Emmanuel”— whom are we addressing? The prophet Isaiah reveals to us who Emmanuel is when he writes in our text for today, “Therefore the LORD himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanu-El.” Did your Gentile ears catch how Isaiah answers the question of who Immanuel is? If not, listen to how these words of Isaiah are used some 700 years later in the Gospel of Matthew, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’— which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:22, 23).
Who is Emmanuel? Who is the Child whose birth we are preparing to celebrate? Who is the One whom we are addressing when we sing the words, “Oh, come, oh, come Emmanuel”? He is “God with us”! He is true God and true Man in one Person! He is the One who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary! Yes, my friends, when we simply take the inspired words of Scripture at face value, when we leave behind all of our own prejudices and all of our own pre-conceived notions there is no question and there is no doubt who Emmanuel is! He is our God! He is our Brother! He is the miracle of Christmas!
But why? Why is it so critically important to know that Emmanuel is in fact, “God with us”? It is critically important, my friends, because of what Emmanuel came into this world to do. In the hymn we sing, “Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel. That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear.” The true Son of God was born into this world as the true Son of Man in order to “ransom” us. He came here to “redeem” us, to “buy us back” from the enemies who had take us “captive”— sin, death and the devil. And how did Emmanuel “ransom” us? How did Emmanuel “buy us back” from the power of sin, death and the devil? Again, when we simply take the inspired words of Scripture at face value the answer to that question is oh so clear and oh so simple and oh so precious! In Matthew 20:28 Emmanuel says to us, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In 1 Peter 1:18, 19 we are told, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” The ransom price that Emmanuel was willing to pay to “redeem” you and me was nothing less than His own holy precious blood. Yes, my friends, you and I cannot celebrate Christmas correctly without remembering that the Child of Bethlehem was born to die— to die on a cross (Pointing to the cross), to die for you, to die for me, to die as the “ransom” price for all the sins of all mankind.
The two questions that we have before us this morning then are really not that complicated, are they! By the grace of God we know who Emmanuel is. He is “God with us”! By the grace of God we know what Emmanuel came into this world to do. He came here to “ransom” us from our “captivity” to sin, death and the devil. It’s that simple! It’s that clear! So, time for me to say, “Amen!” right? Not quite! I would be short-changing you if I did not remind you of why the only One who could save us, why the only One who could “ransom” us from our spiritual “captivity” was and is Emmanuel— “God with us.”
In His holy Word the Lord God Almighty tells us that if we want to live with Him in His heavenly Home we must meet two requirements. First, we must be holy, we must be perfect— because the Lord your God is holy and because your heavenly Father is perfect. (See Leviticus 19:2 & Matthew 5:48) Second, you must not have any sin whatsoever because each and every sin causes the God of heaven to turn away from us in disgust. (See Isaiah 59:2) You do not meet those two requirements, my friends. Neither do I. The consequence for not meeting both of those requirements is an eternity of suffering in hell. Scripture declares, “The wages of sin = death”— physical death, spiritual death and eternal death (Romans 6:23a). So what do we do? Do we try to make up for the sins that we have committed against God by doing good works? We can try— but Scripture proclaims, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20). And again Scripture says, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). Okay, since it is impossible for us to live the perfect holy life that God requires, do we hope that God will accept the fact that at least we “tried” to live a “good life” or at least we aren’t as “bad” as so-and-so? We can hope— but Scripture declares, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6). And again Scripture says, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law” (Galatians 3:10). On our own there is nothing that we can do but suffer the consequences that we deserve for the sins that we have committed against the Creator of heaven and earth.
But that is not what God wants for you! That is not what God wants for me. That is not what God wants for anyone! So what did God do? In His amazing love He sent Emmanuel into this world! In His amazing love He sent His own Son to serve as our Substitute! That tiny little Baby whose birth we are preparing to celebrate came into this world as your true Brother to fulfill God’s requirement and live an absolutely perfect life for you! As the true Son of Man Jesus always kept all of the Commandments— in our place! And because you and I never keep any of the Commandments perfectly, our Brother Jesus willingly paid the penalty that we deserved to receive (Pointing to the cross) — and He paid that penalty “in full.” And because our Brother is both the true Son of Man and the true Son of God, because our Brother is Emmanuel His perfect life and His innocent suffering and death are sufficient to count for all people of all time— including you and me!
And then, my friends, in order to fulfill God’s requirement that you and I be “holy,” in order to fulfill God’s requirement that you and I be “perfect” Emmanuel, our Brother Jesus, gives us His “holiness,” He gives us His “perfection” as an absolutely free gift— purely by grace through faith in what He has done for us! Scripture declares, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25). And again Scripture says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
That’s why my heart hurts for the people who do not know the true meaning of Christmas. That’s why my heart hurts for the people who attend a church which does not believe what the Scriptures so clearly teach, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet, ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’— which means, ‘God with us.’” If Jesus is just a man, if Jesus is not Emmanuel— then we are lost! Then the debt of our sin has not been paid! Then we will be required to endure the consequences of what we have done— for all of eternity.
What about you? Does your heart hurt because you know someone who does not know the true meaning of Christmas? Does your heart hurt because every year someone you love gets so stressed out about all the gifts and all the parties and all the gifts and all the money and all the gifts that they can’t wait for Christmas to simply be over? What are you going to do about it? How can you help make your heart not hurt? Once again, the answer is quite simple! First, you can set a good example for them. Let them see and hear the joy of Christmas in your heart and in your life. Then you can look for ways to share with them why Christmas is so special to you! Share the true meaning of Christmas with them so that they too can know who Emmanuel is and why He came into this world! And never never lose sight of the fact that Christmas is one of the two best opportunities you have to invite someone to come to church with you!
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Praise God, my friends, that through faith in what the prophet Isaiah proclaims to us we are able to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. Praise God that through faith in the Scriptural truth that the Child of Bethlehem is Emmanuel— “God with us”— that we will be able to celebrate Christmas for all of eternity! Praise God that hundreds of years ago the mighty deed of God prophesied here in Isaiah 7:14 and fulfilled through the virgin Mary was put into song so that we can sing this beautiful hymn with hearts that are overflowing with joy and confidence! Praise God that by His power and by His grace we know, we believe, we trust in who Emmanuel is and what Emmanuel came into this world to do— for us! For then, my friends, we will be able to follow the encouragement found in that beautiful hymn: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to you, O Israel!”
To God be the glory!