Immanuel, God Is With Us (Isaiah 7:10-17; Matthew 1:18-25)

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Several years ago a movie titled, “Cast Away” was released.  The movie stared Tom Hanks.  The general storyline of this movie is this.  Tom Hanks finds himself stranded on a deserted island after a tragic plane crash.  He is alone on the island.  No company.  No help.  No cell phone.  No electricity.  He was totally helpless.

Well, in this movie there were several scenes where Tom Hanks strenuously exerts himself in order to grab the attention of people searching for him.  He gathers a bunch of logs and trees and writes the word ‘HELP’ on the beach so that planes or helicopters might be able to see that he was still alive and in distress.  In another scene he sees a ship in the distance, several miles out to sea, and he shakes a flashlight at the ship and waves burning palm branches back and forth yelling ‘Help.’ 

Thinking about this very simple story, is this the way that it is with God and us?  Is God standing above us and at a distance?  Did God create the world, grant order to the world, and then simply step back letting the world run its natural course?  Does God stand at a distance, apathetic to you and me, refusing to intervene with the world, thus putting the pressure on us to get His attention; putting the pressure on us to somehow ascend and climb to Him? 

You see my friends there is a temptation for us to believe the lie that God is inactive, apathetic, uninvolved, and at a distance.  We can mistakenly believe that God is like a senile old man who is hard of hearing.  This results in a Christian life that is all about us climbing up to either God or to heaven in order to be in His presence. Indeed, we can easily picture this Christian life as one where we are alone, thus resulting in the need for us to climb a spiritual ladder or ascend to a higher state of being where God can be found and where we can attempt to get His attention. 

Unfortunately, this idea of an inactive, nonintervention God, leads us to believe another lie, and that lie is: that it is all up to us to ascend to God.  Tragically, as fellow citizens in this world we so desperately try to ascend to God in various ways, whether we are aware of it or not.

One of the ways that we attempt to climb to God is through what is called, ‘moralism.’  “The way of moralism seeks to earn God’s favor, or a satisfying life, through the achievement of moral perfection—always doing what is right, avoiding wrongdoing of every kind, keeping oneself under control by sheer willpower and a scrupulous conscience.”[1]  In other words, we work to draw closer to God—upward and onward—through the growth of good moral deeds.[2]  We imagine that each good deed positions us one step higher on the ladder and one step closer to God.

There is another way that we attempt to climb upwards to God and that is through our minds and logic.  We say to ourselves, “If only we could exercise our minds, our intellect, and figure out the complexities of truth, the workings of metaphysics, and the answers to the great philosophical questions of time—then we would attain the right knowledge and find ourselves in harmony with God.”  We imagine that as we gather nuggets of information, that each nugget of information puts us one step closer to the mind of God.

Finally, there is a third way that we attempt to climb upwards to God and that is through our mystical experiences and emotions.  This happens as we attempt to leave the world behind and enter into direct conversation with God through personal mystical experiences.  We look inward and then upward to God, trying to escape the busyness of life and try to connect to God through elaborate meditations and mystical experiences.  We imagine that we can find oneness with God as we quiet our minds and hearts and look within the deep caverns of our hearts.[3]

With all of this said, let me ask you these questions, ‘Have you been climbing the ladder?  If so, how is it going?  Are you tired of climbing?  Have you reached the top; have you reached God?  How far do you have to go?  If you reach the top, how do you think that you are going to stay there?’

My friends, while we can commend that it is good to live morally upright lives and to do good works, we err when we believe that our good works move us up a ladder towards God. 

My friends, while it is good to understand wisdom and knowledge, our minds are simply not able to comprehend all there is to know about our universe, ourselves, and God. 

My friends, while there is definitely a hidden-ness of God, for there are mysteries in the Christian faith, the things that are not revealed in the Scriptures are not for us to know. 

Frankly, the problem with all three of these approaches of approaching and climbing up to God is that they depend on you and I using and exerting effort to reach upward to God, a God who is believed to be an apathetic and lethargic observer who doesn’t have much interest in humanity and the world.[4]  Furthermore, the problem with these three approaches of attempting to approach God through our morals, intellect, and emotions is that they honestly don’t work.  How will you and I know if we have done enough good works to climb the ladder towards God?  How will you and I know if our reason is enlightened enough?  How will we know if our mystical experience is genuine enough?  Can we really trust our feelings 100% of the time?  Furthermore, just how high and how far do we have to climb to reach the God?  Frankly, trying to gain eternal life with God through our climbing and self-development is spiritual suicide.[5}

In our Old Testament reading for today it says that a virgin is to conceive and bear a son, and the son shall be called Immanuel.  Now, get this.  Immanuel means, ‘God is with us.’  Did you hear that?  Immanuel means, ‘God is with us.’  Yes, God is not a passive, apathetic, and distant God.  He is active.  He is one who descends.  He is the one who comes down to us. 

My friends, Christmas teaches us that the Christian faith is not about our climbing up to God.  Rather, Christmas teaches us that it is God who comes to us.  Yes, God put on human flesh and blood and lived in the same world that we live in.  “He ate, He slept, He loved, He cried.  He understood human life not as a dispassionate observer on the cosmic plane, but as a fellow participant.  He lived it.”[6] 

The direction is not us climbing to God, but this Christmas Season we hear the story of the Messiah coming to us; the direction is from God to you and me.  “Jesus was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.”[7]  In other words, the Son of God’s coming into this world was for you.  His perfect life was for you.  His dying was for you. The Son of God had the courage and love to come to us and take upon Himself the virus of sin that infected this whole creation. 

Is this not the nature of God?  Think of all the examples in the Scriptures!  He is the Shepherd who searches and seeks out the lost sheep.  He is the Father who runs out to the prodigal son. He is the one who grabs a hold of the sick.  He is the one who comes at Christmas, comes for you and me. 

Yes, God is the one who is active!  The heavens were ripped open 2,000 years ago and He plowed right into humanity in the nativity of Jesus Christ.  This means that we get to be receivers!  No climbing, no huffing and puffing, no lack of assurance; just receiving grace upon grace from our descending God.

It gets even better!  Not only did Christ come to us, but He promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us, that He will be with us to the end of the age.  Yes, He still comes to us today.  He comes to us in His Word.  He comes to us in His blessed Sacraments.  He came to you and washed you with the powerful waters of your baptism.  He comes to you giving you His very body and blood, for the forgiveness of your sins.   The Lord comes to you to deliver personal and powerful grace; grace that declares you forgiven!  Indeed, we have a God that comes to us, to be with us and abide in us, the church.  The Lord God comes to us to claim us, abide with us, and someday take us home with Him. 

No climbing.  No ascending. We are receivers; the reason being?  Immanuel, God is with us!  He is with you!

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Gene E. Veith, Spirituality of the Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 18.
[2] Adolf Koberle, The Quest for Holiness: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Investigation tr. John C. Mattes (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1936), 6.
[3] The idea of the 'three approaches of ascending to God' is taken from Adolf Koberle's book, The Quest for Holiness. 
[4] Veith, The Spirituality of the Cross, 23.
[5] John W. Kleinig, Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2008), 16.
[6] Robin Fish, Immanuel, God With Us (, accessed 12-19-13)
[7] Dorthy L. Sayers, Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1969), page unknown.

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