“The Sign of Immanuel” | Isaiah 7:10-14 | Fourth Sunday of Advent

My life changed this last year. As many of you know, having a baby will do that. Suddenly, everything is different. There’s someone completely dependent on you for everything. I don’t think it would surprise anyone to learn that things probably changed far more for my wife, than for me. For her, so many things are different. She stays home with our daughter. She is the only one who can feed her. Her life has come to revolve around a schedule of naps that she doesn’t even get to take. But, regardless of how different her life is, these are still the things most people would expect. Babies change things, but people have been having babies since God created the world, so there’s plenty of information out there. This season as we have been getting closer and closer to Christmas, with the birth of the Christ on my mind, it hasn’t been difficult for me to reflect back on my daughter’s birth. There’s a lot about those two situations that were very similar, and there’s a lot that was different.

We spent about nine months getting ready for our daughter to be born. During that time we acquired all of the stuff that you need for a baby. We read books on how to take care of newborns. We took a class that taught us about childbirth, nursing, and so on. We made a plan for going to the hospital. We found someone to take care of our dog. Honestly, that’s about what you would expect. It was a pretty typical pregnancy experience, as far as I can tell (but I’ve only been through it once).

For Jesus, there was a time spent getting ready, too. Except, it wasn’t just nine months, although there was that, too. But, it would be more accurate to say that for Jesus, people had been getting ready for him for thousands of years. All the way back to the garden of Eden, humans had been getting ready for the Savior. It there that God first promised the Savior, calling him the Serpend-crusher. Adam and Eve held on to that promise. A great example of this has to do with Cain. I know we usually associate Cain with what he did to his brother Abel, but when he is born his mother says something very interesting: “I have given birth to a man, the Lord” (cf. Hebrew of Genesis 4:1). It seems like Eve though God was going to fulfill this promise right away. She looked at the birth of that baby as the fulfillment of God’s promise. Cain, though, was not the Promised One.

Still, this idea that the Promise was attached to the birth of children stuck. I think that you can see it all over the Bible. While believers held on to that promise, each child that was born reminded them that some day the child who was born would be the Child. But, the idea does change. Not only was each child a reminder of the promise, but how the child came about was, too. The promise of the Savior eventually comes to a man named Abraham. Abraham was also promised a child. But, the way that child would come about was unnatural. Abraham and his wife Sarah was old. They had no business having children, yet they did. Isaac, a promised child, was born to them, and he is a wonderful picture of the Promise Child. And each time this sort of thing happened, it filled in the picture for God’s people. When Hannah, a barren woman, prays to God and asks to have a child, in connection with giving him in service to the Lord, her prayer is answered. She had no business having a child, but God gave her one. Even right up to the time of Jesus, women who had no business bearing children were doing just that. Think of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist.

Yet, even that promise is narrowed by God. It’s what we see in our lesson for today. Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah spoke about the birth of the Savior. He spoke to a wicked, nasty king named Ahaz. Ahaz had no regard for the Lord or his Word. This was a man who was willing to sacrifice his own children to pagan gods. But, God sends Isaiah to reach out to him in mercy. God tells Ahaz to ask for a sign. Any sign, and he will give it to him. But, Ahaz refuses. So, God says he’ll give him a sign anyway: “But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.’ 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: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:11-14).

In those words, you can hear God telling us more about this Promised Child. Each of the special births in Scripture pointed to him, but even more, there would be one special birth that would that would demonstrate beyond any doubt that the Savior had come. A young woman, who was still a virgin, would give birth to a child. While it was unheard-of that old or barren women would have children, it was beyond that for a virgin to get pregnant. It was literally impossible. For that sign to take place, a great miracle would have to occur. Each birth that helped believers look ahead to the Promised Child was a small foreshadow of the birth of the Savior.

Both my daughter and Jesus were born in the normal way. That’s what you would expect for a human being. There’s a certain process that God has established and that’s how humans come into the world. There is something different though. My daughter is just human. But, not Jesus. This wonderful prophecy from Isaiah tells us that the Savior would come, not only from an impossibly special birth, but why he would be so special himself. My daughter is just a normal little girl. She’s cute. She’s cuddly. But still, she has my sinful nature. She has the same sin as every normal human being, and that’s what you would expect.

It’s even what you would expect from Jesus, if his birth came about in the normal way, but it didn’t. Jesus’s mother was a sinful human herself, but he was incarnate of the Holy Spirit. This is what is so amazing about this prophecy from Isaiah. In it, we get to hear about Jesus’s special nature. This baby to be born would be Immanuel, “God-with-us.” There, in that Word, you can hear God narrowing the promise even more. To one person, the only person, born of a virgin, having no natural Father, but a supernatural one. Taking the nature of a human being, but also the sinlessness of God. Having two natures in one person, fully God and fully man. He is Immanuel, God with us. God in the flesh. God the Man, and the Man, God.

All of this would come about for those of us humans born in the normal way, born like my daughter, born like you, born like me. Just like that angel said, “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” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus became a man to save human beings. Because human beings can do something that God can’t—they can die. That’s exactly what Jesus planned to do. The penalty for sinning, even for carrying around our original sinfulness, is death—separation of our soul from our body, and separation from God forever. Jesus, as true man, could die our death. Jesus, as true God, could do it perfectly, sinlesslessly, and yet at the same time taking all of our sin on himself. It was as if there were no other sinners. As if there was one sinner. So that God could punish one person—that one who was promised, who was special, who was his own Son—and inflict on him an infinite amount of eternal punishment.

Jesus came, not only to be God-with-us, but also God for us, God in our place. Who bears our punishment, who dies our death, who was placed in our grave, but then was raised. So that for all eternity it might be that we can live with our Promised One, and experience what that word, Immanuel, means more deeply. It is in our victory he won for us that we can understand what it means to have God with us. For all eternity, you and I will be blessed to gaze upon the unshielded face of Immanuel. We shall know for time-beyond-time that Jesus is God who is with us, not only in who he is, but the best beatific presence.

My friends, you and I are normal, sinful people. We hear the promise of that special virgin birth of Immanuel, and I urge you to take hope. I urge to look to him as the one who took your place and all your sins. I urge you to rejoice because God is a man, and the man Jesus Christ is God. He is Immanuel. Put your faith in him. Believe the sign of Immanuel. Amen.

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