There’s one more window on the advent calendar to open.
I bought it for £2.99, which is over the odds. But I was given a £5 voucher. So I make it I’m £2 and a penny up.
When I was a boy, we didn't have chocolate in our advent calendars. Let alone cheese, Lego or whiskey miniatures.
We had pictures. Just pictures.
And the front picture - the big picture - was always the nativity scene. The baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, sheep and cattle...
Now I could say that the picture on my advent calendar was nearer what Christmas was really all about.
But even that would be stretching it. Because the real birth of Jesus wouldn't have been a cosy well-lit rural scene. It would have been a stone feeding trough, a stinky stable, and frightened young couple a long way from home.
You see, we do our best to mess up what Christmas is all about.
God has given the world the incredibly clear sign. The whole world, throughout history, an unmistakable sign:
- he has come into our world
- to rescue us from judgement and hell into relationship with himself.
It’s unmistakable. At least it would be if we didn't mess it up, rather like troublesome teenagers who like to spin road signs around so they point the wrong way.
And if you want to know whether i ever did that then you’ll need to ask me afterwards.
And look, we’re a church that just wants to get the Bible open and hear what God is really saying to the us.
And so I want us to see three things from Matthew 1:22-23, to make sure we all get the message right.
Three things, all starting with the letter P - though with the second I'm pushing my luck a bit I reckon.
And we’re looking at Matthew 1:22-23, and it’s when an angel - a messenger from God, (and not a cute little girl with fairy wings) goes to Joseph, Mary’s fiance, and breaks the news that Mary’s pregnant, because God the Holy Spirit has made her pregnant.
So first of all:
When God sent his Son Jesus Christ in to the world it wasn't a surprise.
At least, it wasn’t to God.
Because God had been telling people for centuries what was going to happen. And Matthew gives us an example
v22 "All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: v 23 ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son."
And the prophet was called Isaiah. And we know that because Isaiah has a book in the Bible.
So turn to page 692 in your church Bibles. The OT book of Isaiah. Isaiah chapter 7.
And I’ll give you the situation as quick as I can. This is 700 years before Jesus was born. Isaiah spoke for God to God's ancient people Israel.
And Israel at this point in their history were led by a wicked king, Ahaz; and they were in a mess because there was a neighbouring country who were poised ready to ruin them - the superpower of the time, Assyria.
And King Ahaz had choices - he could join up with the other smaller countries near Israel and try to fight Assyria off, or they could just give in to Assyria, or - or they could do what God wanted, which is to just trust him. Trust God that he would protect them.
And God - have a look - Is 7 v 10, the Lord God speaks to wicked Ahaz :
v 10 "Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 ‘Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.'"
Ask for a sign Ahaz and I'll prove that you can trust me. I’ll protect you.
But v 12 But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.’
Sounds good - but Ahaz was a wicked king, and he’s just making excuses.
And so God says basically 'fine, ok, you don't want me, then I’ll give you a sign, a sign that I am going to judge you. A sign that I am going to punish you for your wicked rebellion against me.'
And look down, let’s look down together and see this:
V 13 Then Isaiah said, ‘Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also?
v 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:
And take note of this will you, what’s the sign?: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel"
An ah - well, we’ve heard that before haven't we?
Just what the angel says to Joseph in Matthew chapter 1. 700 years later.
So, no surprise. God promised it. In fact he’d promised it through out all of the Bible story. This great hope, that God was going to send his saving, rescuing King, the Son of David, Jesus the Messiah, the King of the world. And he has.
2. The Phenomenon.
Sounds like an F but it starts with a P!
And here's the phenomenon, the wonder, the miracle:
v 23 ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son.'
And some people - many people - want to say ‘well this is a legend, it’s a myth - virgins don’t give birth to babies.’
And well they don't - that’s right. Obviously.
But remember Isaiah chapter 7 - this is a sign. A sign from God to the world so we’d sit up and take notice.
It wouldn't be a sign if a young woman had a baby. Young women have babies all the time. There's nothing in that to make the world sit up and take notice.
But if a virgin has a child - well, you'd think the world would take notice then, wouldn't you?
It’s clear - God is doing something. This is God’s work.
Because God you see, God can break the rules. Because God made the rules. And so if the one who writes the rules wants to break the rules so we'd all take notice - then he can, can;t he? Not a problem. You’d expect him to.
Miracles are only a problem if you say that this world is all there is - just what you can see and touch and measure. And if you think that then you really are in the minority - you won't find the majority of people around the world who agree with you on that one.
In fact most people round here don’t think that.
Now remember - we're wanting to get Christmas all sorted out. Nice and clear - not the santas and the snowmen; or the unusually clean cattle shed.
No - the real Christmas, and the real meaning.
And isn't it just amazing that God sends human history this incredible sign - one he promised - ‘a virgin will have a child.’
God wants us to sit up and take notice.
But what do we do? We confuse it. We mess it all up. We make it more about Santas and Snowman - and look I like Santas and snowmen. But it’s like we take a really clear sign from God - and we sort of daub it and mess it up so it’s not clear any more and no one has a clue what God is really saying.
And what does that tell you? Does it tell you that perhaps humans don’t want to listen to what God is saying?
Well - what is God saying to us? That’s what you might be thinking, and that is a good question. Here’s the answer -
3. The presence.
I was out speaking to some people the other day inviting them to our Carols by Candlelight service, and one local woman said to me ‘well I don't believe in a God, because if there was a God he would have come and shown himself to us’.
And there was a certain irony to it because here I was holding out an invitation to a carol service where we were going to celebrate God coming and showing himself to us.
Verse 23: “and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).”
God with us.
My wife Lydia is pregnant. And in May when the baby arrives, we could call the baby ‘God with us’ if we wanted. But there are at least two problems:
First we'd have trouble getting it past the registrar, I’m not sure she would like the option;
And secondly - well, it wouldn't mean our child was actually God with us.
But you see, as Jesus grew, when he started his public ministry, he said he was God: “If you have seen me you've seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
And he also proved without a shadow of a doubt that he was God in human flesh, through his miracles: stopping the storm, healing the sick, raising the dead - all with his word. Just by speaking. Which is how God works - like how he spoke the whole universe into existence.
Immanuel - little Manny perhaps we’d say these days - Immanuel is literally ‘God with us’.
What a thing. God down on earth with the humans.
Why would he do that? Why would he come here? To us? Down down, down from heaven - down to a short human life amongst us little humans, amongst our mess and our misery?
Well, that's the question isn’t it. Why?
And Isaiah’s promise, his prophecy in Isaiah 7, helps us Because if you remember Isaiah was speaking to wicked King Ahaz of wicked rebellious Israel.
And God was going to send a sign. A sign that human rebellion against him will not be tolerated, and that God would come in judgement.
You see, we make Christmas cute and cozy. But there’s just this massive danger -
Because the coming of God into the world, it’s this huge, clear message to the world: God is there, we are accountable to him, we do deserve to face eternal judgement, and the only way of escape, the only way to be right with God and know him as Father, is to trust in the Son he has sent. Because why would be bother sending his Son otherwise?
It’s very clear - Jesus Christ has come:
The first time he comes he comes to rescue us by dying for our sins on the cross
But the second time he comes he will come in judgement against us for our sin.
And so God’s very clear message to the world is: here is my Son. Trust him.
And people say ‘Well if there’s a God he’d let us know’. But I ask myself, what more do we want?
And I suppose the reality is that, if someone doesn't want there to be a God, then no amount of evidence will ever be enough. Because they don't want a God.
‘God with us’ sounds lovely. “God bless you”, “God go with you”; Many people want God with them in theory.
But we forget that God is a holy God. A holy, righteous God. And so his presence with humans is at the same time either a wonderful thing or terrible thing.
He is like a rock when you get in trouble whilst swimming in the sea. It could be your place of safety, somewhere solid to stand while the seas rage around; or it could be a rock of disaster if the waves smash you against it.
‘God with us’ - good news for those who trust in him, terrible news for any who do not.
The message of Christmas should be very clear - it was promised centuries before hand, so you know it’s got weight behind it;
It’s a phenomenon - a miracle - sent from God to make sure we sit up and take notice
And it’s about his presence: God with us. God come to rescue us, but one day, God will have to come and judge.
And so it’s really very very clear. But I’m afraid Ikea and the rest of us do our level best to make it very unclear.
And I’m sad to say that the ones who do the best at this are the churches. Not all, not all. But many.
My children's school go down to the Cathedral every year for a Christmas Carol service. It’s a wonderful chance - in front of several hundred people - for the vicars there to make the meaning of Christmas very clear. But they don't. They very sadly mess it up with religious waffle and sentimentality.
‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).
And you can have peace with God - all your sins forgiven - today, right now, if only you’d bend the knee before this mighty King - and take the gift he wants to give you.