David E. Little preached "New Beginnings – With Us is God" on December 20, 2020 at Sunset Canyon Baptist Church in Drippins Springs, Texas. It was based on Matt 1:18-23, 2020 and the name Immanuel.
The video is for the entire service. Enjoy! If you just want to see the sermon, it's about 30 minutes into the video.
New Beginnings – With Us is God
Dec 20, 2020
Babies – and New Beginnings [Sunrise clouds]
Have you ever smelled a baby? Some of the gifts I have been given as a Stroke Survivor are empathy and smell. It is a wonder as a Stroke Survivor that often some parts of your body don’t work (or take a long time to work), while other parts are enhanced. In other words, there are some differences in your view, your feelings, your inhibitors, and even your senses that simply were not there before the stroke, or not as prominent.
But babies smell was one that I could smell before and after the stroke, and wonder at its aroma. Have you ever smelled a newborn? There is nothing like it – at least in the smell of humans. We have got perfume, cologne, after shave, deodorant, and the list goes on and on to mask the smell of humans. Yet, babies – especially young babies, smell wonderful. Or at least most of the time…
It is almost as if God said – I’m making something new, and it will be perfect – at least in my eyes – everything about it will be masterful. A baby’s feet, it’s hands, it’s warmth, it’s coziness, it’s lovability, and it’s smell.
But is there more? Is something bigger happening with the babies we bring into the world? At least, some babies? Is there a grander purpose that our human eyes cannot see?
Babies in the Bible
If you look in the Bible, there are stories of babies being conceived and born that are in the story of God and will see it through to the next phase of God’s redemptive plan.
In chronological order: Ismael (Genesis 16:7-14), Isaac (Genesis 21:1-7); Moses (Exodus 2:1-10), Sampson (Judges 13:2-25); John the Baptist (Luke 1:18-23) and Jesus (Luke 1:26-38), are examples of this. There are several elements that most of the names or stories have in common: (1) God or an angel of God comes; (2) they greet the recipient of the message – often by name; (3) give news of a child that is or will be conceived; (4) the messenger gives the name and the name’s explanation; and (5) the future role or destiny of the child. Central to the good news in announcement stories is the word that God has intervened or will intervene to make possible the birth of someone important for God's purposes.
I spend part of my days as a Chaplain at a local hospital. At North Austin Medical Center, where I minister, there is a Women’s Center, which has a labor and delivery department. Some of the ministry I do there is tough, with what medicine calls fetal demises, but it is mostly miscarriages and genetic issues that don’t allow the baby to live – either in the womb or outside – where they are born, but can’t last long. There is nothing to say to a family that can help in that situation; so, I care, comfort, and love them in the crisis, just as I believe Jesus would do. For Christians, there is the hope that they will all be together again in glory. At the time, though, it usually means little in the moment. It’s a privilege to be with them in what Chaplain’s call “sacred space.”
But there is also joy and celebration! The sight of a baby and their mother, just after birth – with the mom tired from giving birth, but happy that the pain is – mostly over with – and she has a little boy or girl to have, nurse, and be with… the ambiance of that scene is majestic. It is a blessing to be with the mom, baby, and sometimes the father, blessing the babies and ministering to them in the name of the Creator who made that all happen. I went one morning after I escorted a probably single mom to the L&D section the day before. While I was there to minister to a family that needed it because of death, I stopped by to see the girl and her baby. I still have the picture in my head – the girl with the baby on her chest, after nursing – it was so sweet and almost angelic. There was a feeling or sense that filled the room – a baby’s presence. It was joy and love; I prayed and blessed the baby and her mom, and then left; but the photo is still there in my head to this day. The two of them, the smell of newborn baby and the atmosphere – I go there sometimes to escape, if only for a while!
Jesus’ story [Mary and Jesus – which ever of the two works]
Matthew the Writer:
The Jesus story is in the Gospels. It comes at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, in Chapter 1, just after the genealogy. Jesus is the royal Son of David and Son of God, and He is Moses’s successor in Matthew’s eyes. Even the name Jesus – the name given to Joseph by the angel that appeared to him - is from the Greek Isous or the Hebrew Yeshua/Yesua which is translated in English as Joshua (like the Joshua who actually did take the reins from Moses in the Old Testament). The words "I [God] will be with you" from the book of Joshua (e.g., Josh 1:9) is now the jumping off point in Jesus who will be called Immanuel. It is “With us is God” – Hebrew; “With us God” – Koine Greek; and “God with Us” - English). Pretty high praise! But Jesus was a common name in 1st Century Israel – a human name that was coming to earth to be relational among us. God was coming to be with us; but with us because He was human, too.
The Story of Jesus is maybe more commonplace that it was at the time of Mary and Joseph. Living about 2020 years ago in 1st Century Israel, the two were joined together and betrothed or married before living together as husband and wife. So it was actually a divorce to go their separate ways, since the consents that were given was a marriage. So, if a woman became pregnant during this betrothal as Mary did – and it was not her husband’s baby – both the woman and the father of the child were to be publicly stoned to death. This was in Deuteronomy – Moses’s Law! Whether that happened in 1st Century Israel is another story, but it gives you the gravity of the situation. The entry of Jesus was to be messy – in terms of human’s understanding of it – and Jesus began as an outsider.
Let’s go to the Scripture:
Matt 1:18-23 [scripture]
English Standard Version
The Birth of Jesus Christ
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ[a] took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed[b] to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just (or righteous) man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us).
The Word of the Lord; thanks be to God.
1:21– Joseph had already decided his course of action – to not be betrothed to Mary since she was pregnant with a child that was not his – but to divorce her quietly. .Hear that Matthew calls Joseph “righteous” in verse 19, even though the Torah (Deuteronomy 22:22-25) demanded publicly disgracing Mary and her lover by stoning them for adultery. Does love or compassion sometimes outweigh the Law? It did here, and Matthew calls it just or righteous (in the NIV) in God’s eyes. And Joseph, then, “adopts” Jesus. I will get to “adoption” later in this sermon.
But getting back to the story, God intervenes – just as He does at times in our lives. God send an angel to speak to Joseph and tell him it is God’s action, and to not be afraid. The Holy Spirit has conceived a son with Mary, it is not the equivalent of adultery, and Joseph should get married (verse 20) and name the son Jesus, who will save his people from their sins. Jesus from the Greek Isous is translated “God’s help” or “God’s salvation.” We have a child who will do what the people of Israel could not – adequately – and it is God’s actions that bring it about.
1:23 – “his name Immanuel.” Matthew pulls the Isaiah verse (7:14) from the time that Judah (King Ahaz) was facing the Syro-Ephraimitic War (or war with the Assyrians), and the promises that Judah would be clear of the War by the time the child of an already pregnant woman would reach the age of moral discernment, or before the child could “refuse the evil and choose good.” So, in its Old Testament context, then, it is not predicting the future, but dealing with the immediate times. Deliverance will come then, not through alliances or military might, but through divine intervention. This by a God who keeps promises and delivers hope.
However, Matthew gives it new – or additional meaning – by tying it to Jesus and His birth. Immanuel means – again – With us is God! In the Old Testament, there was a meaning of the young woman (almah, in Hebrew) in Isaiah that in Greek was translated differently. This was done in the Septuagint – the Greek Old Testament – which was around in Matthew’s times. Remember, Greek was the common language in Israel then. The almah was translated it into Parthenos (koine Greek) or “virgin.” And Matthew ties all this into the conception and birth of Jesus – the pinnacle of God’s Story with humans. If you believe that the Holy Bible was divinely inspired – including the translations – then you have a God-thing going on!
And hear this – it is relational! That is, God came down – as a Son – and did a mighty thing (through His grace) to bring humans – you and me – and the Triune God together – but now and forever! Hallelujah or the English translation “God be praised!”
Jesus then, brings the Word of God to life (John 1), the message that God wants people to hear, and brings the church (ekklesia) into being to carry on His mission when He ascends. God wants all of humankind to hear about His love, and relationship as God brings His kingdom through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Story – Three Men and a Baby [three men and a baby – whichever one works]
Have you ever seen “Three Men and a Baby?” It’s a 1987 movie – I know I’m dating myself here - about three 30-something men who share an apartment in New York City. It had Tom Selleck, Ted Danson, and Steve Guttenberg, who were pretty big actors at the time. The men are single and proud of it, with frequent parties and dating lots of women. As I recall, it isn’t a Christian movie, though it is PG. It was a hit back in the day, and centered around a baby that got left at the apartment, supposedly from a woman who had a fling with one of the men who now was out of the country. There are a bunch of twists and turns, and it is an entertaining comedy.
The point I want to make is the beautiful way the movie takes a baby – a flesh and blood baby and relational ties – and changes these worldly men into caring, loving, “surrogate” fathers. Most of all, it changes their view on the world, on what’s important, and ultimately changes their hearts. Today, we would say it changes their spirits.
The movie did what babies do – in my opinion - softens the men up, changes their view, and makes them more selfless and relational. Love wins out over worldly things – at least in the movies.
Immanuel – with us is God [scripture – Isaiah 7:14]
Did Jesus do that?
Jesus was Immanuel, or “with us is God.” In these days, maybe that is just what the proverbial doctor ordered. I don’t know about you, but I want a friend with me in crisis – especially a savior, comforter, protector, and a Triune God who loves me and sacrificed to have a relationship with me.
What does “with us is God” mean? Salvation, for one thing. One scholar talks about salvation as God renewing or remaking the world – kingdom of heaven talk! Or, you can talk about salvation the way most Westerners do – individually, or communal as the eastern folks envision it. But Jesus came for our salvation!
In other words, Jesus came in human form in part to pay the penalty of sin – something we brought into the relationship between God and us. What did God do after we betrayed Him in the Garden. Did He leave us, or forget us? No. He took care of us; clothed us; befriended us (as much as He could); and then, when even His chosen people could not commune with Him, gave us a part of Himself in this baby Jesus to bridge the gap over sin to right the situation and be with us forever.
That is relationship, if I ever heard of it. God making things new, for us! God bridging the chasm caused by us to have a relationship with us – both now and forever, sounds pretty good. But doing it by having a piece of Himself enter the world as a baby, an illegitimate child at that is astonishing. Living poor and an outsider from His own people is a humbling experience for a human being. Think about it as someone who was the Creator Himself. And a child – sweet and lovable – yes – but awfully vulnerable, too. We have a Triune God that wants us so much that He gave us His son – again, part of Himself – to bridge the gap caused by the fall and have a renewed relationship with us.
Struggle and the fall
But I have to talk about the struggle that we all have in this world, in the midst of Christmas. Why do bad things happen to good people, is the saying and the book? Why all the heartaches in the world – especially at this time? In this place?
I can talk theologically about it – human beings ate the forbidden fruit, caused the fall – and it permeated to all of creation… and though God is renewing it – in His time – the world, human beings, and all things created are affected by the fall. Check!
But that doesn’t really help, does it? A Chaplain is somebody that deals with crisis daily – at least in a hospital. Theological answers usually don’t help someone in crisis. People in crisis want love, care, comfort, or at least someone to listen, hold their hand, and cry with them. If you have been in crisis, you know what I’m talking about. Maybe we all are in crisis to some extent this Christmas!
Is it perhaps deeper than theological banter? More real, more relational? More humane?
I wonder about Ishmael and the blessing God gave him and Hagar because he was Abraham’s son. Or the blessing God gave to aliens , widows, and orphans in the Old and New Testament. The blessing and the covenant that God gave to Israel, even though they betrayed Him many times. And, finally, the blessings and the new covenant God gave to us, by giving Jews and us Gentiles Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
God adopted Gentiles – us – because He wanted to be with us! Jesus’ church – us here and the little “c” catholic church – is another way that God adopts us and then brings us into the family, loving us and partnering with us to carry on His mission of redemption. That is another blessing from God; we have a church and family that we can then lean on when tough times come!
Yes, Jesus was an outsider throughout out His life. The Matthean-told episodes paint Jesus as a wandering, unwanted ruler from bastardly origins destined finally to suffer. We are supposed to suffer in Christ; and that maybe is the key. And maybe by suffering we can be more like Jesus, and thereby closer to God; with hope, peace, and contentment, even in this time of crisis.
I talked about new beginnings at the start of this sermon, but we are in 2020. We have the Pandemic; death or sickness at the door or even in our house; the racial struggle/injustice; loss of a job or the financial woes; political divisiveness; and the list goes on and on… Probably everyone in here and out there has crisis upon crisis, maybe even upon crisis. We are alone, masked, fearful, and in pain from outside and in… What kind of newness can come from this loss? [A Christmas Carol]
It is kind of like Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Whether you have read the book, or seen multiple movies, a look at 2020 and you say with Ebenezer “Bah, humbug” to 2020 and the misery of it.
But Mr. Scrooge learned something from his visit by Jacob Marley, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. He learned to enjoy the moment; to laugh, to celebrate, and to have relationships with people. He learned to love and have hope, even in the struggle that is this world.
And God is there, in your loss and pain; palpably. Believe it from one who has been through trials or struggles of his own.
Bring it to the congregation
Where are you? Are you in struggle or Joy? Do you have hopelessness or hopefulness? Are you alone or do you have friends or family or church to help you through the tough days?
I started with New Beginnings. God is redeeming creation, the world, His people, and you! God is making all things new, and Jesus is just part of His big plan – but is the key to having a relationship with humans. There may be other ways to have a relationship with God, after all, He is the Creator. But to my reading of the Bible, Jesus is certainly a way and maybe the only way. Jesus is also the King, the Alpha and Omega, and all things glorify Him!
So God is doing something new – in Isaiah (Isaiah 43:18-19), God says “I am doing a new thing;” in the Gospels, Jesus says He is introducing a New Covenant (Luke 22:20), Paul says that if we believe in Christ, we are a New Creation (2 Corinthians 5:17); and in Revelation, Jesus talks about “making all things new” (Revelation 21:4-5). [scripture to back the “new” comparison] - Isaiah 43:19, Luke 22:20, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Revelation 21:5
Revelation [sunrise with bluebonnets]
Our revelation this day is that we have a Triune God who comes down in a baby that is called Immanuel who is relational, who wants to have a relationship with us communally, who has already done the work of building a bridge over the cavern that was the fall, and all He asks is that we believe.
Do you want peace? The Prince of Peace is there waiting…
Do you want hope? The Triune God has eternity waiting for you, and the Kingdom of God is here for you now.
Do you want relationship? The friend, comforter, and protector is there knocking at your heart’s door, waiting for you to let him in?
Will you this day? …this advent? …this season? A New Beginning awaits you…
 Italics in by the writer of this sermon, based on the NIV.