Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Veni Emmanuel

Midweek in Advent 2
December 8, 2010
Matthew 1:23

A nno
D omini In the Year of Our Lord—Luke 4:18-19
V eni
E mmanuel O Come, Emmanuel—Matthew 1:23
N ovum
T estatmentum New Testament—Luke 22:20

Of course, we don’t need to know Latin to know that our Savior has come. Most of us don’t even need to know Hebrew and Greek—the original languages of the Bible—to know that God has come to us for our salvation. But even if most of us don’t know these languages, we know, even if we don’t think about it often, the value and importance of language. Language is the way we communicate. God has communicated to us through language. The way we know God has come to us and is our Savior is that He has told us in His Word. Those who know both Hebrew and Greek as well as English have translated the Word of God into English. And it has been translated into many other languages.

Part of communication is the process of explaining meaning. We don’t even have to go from one language to another to see this. Sometimes we use a phrase or a word and the other person doesn’t understand what we mean. So we explain what we mean so that they understand. Communication is a constant back and forth—saying, responding, explaining, understanding. We all know what happens when communication breaks down. It makes things worse. Good communication clarifies things. It makes things better. Communication that is meant to muddy things makes things worse. Communication that is just not very clear does the same thing, even if it’s well-intentioned.

Communication not only is vital to our lives, clear communication is. We all probably learned somewhere along the line that you communicate not only with words but also actions. Non-verbal communication can communicate just as much, and even more, than our words do.

So what do we learn from the phrase “Veni Emmanuel,” the prayer, “O Come, Emmanuel”? We see that it is answered by God in a way where He doesn’t just tell us He loves us. His Word tells us, no doubt, but His Word also becomes flesh. He is Himself His very Word. Jesus is the Word made flesh, He is God in the flesh. Matthew brings this out with a little bit of communicatory translating when he quotes Isaiah, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel” and then he says, “which means, ‘God with us’.”

He doesn’t want there to be any confusion. He makes it clear that the boy born of the virgin Mary is God, specifically, God with us. God having come to us. God among us. God for us. God in the flesh.

When you pray, O Come, Emmanuel, you look to Jesus where God has answered your prayer. Look to God, but specifically to God where He has most wonderfully made Himself known, in the flesh, in the baby born of Mary. In the first reading we heard this evening God said that He Himself would give a sign: the virgin would conceive and bear a son, and His name would be called Immanuel. The sign pointed to what it said. What it said is what happened. We look back on that as the actual event that happened. How we know who God is is that He came in the flesh. He became “God with us.” Before the fall into sin God was with Adam and Eve. Since the Fall we are separated from Him. His way of restoring us to a relationship with Him is by coming to us. He has done that in Jesus, God in the flesh, Emmanuel, God with us.

We’re accustomed on Sunday morning to hearing the Benediction known as the Aaronic Benediction. It is a Trinitarian blessing, “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace,” the Lord placing His name on us three times. There are times when the apostles end their New Testament letters with some form of a Trinitarian blessing. It’s easy to pass right over the last words of these New Testament letters. It’s a simple sentence, but it’s amazing what Paul says to the Corinthians at the end of his Epistle to them: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.” This is after he has taken them to task for a number of serious issues. How is God with us? Because Jesus is with us. He has come in the flesh.

How is this a Trinitarian blessing? It doesn’t mention the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or repeat the Lord’s name three times as in the Aaronic Benediction. It is Trinitarian in that it is a blessing of the Lord, of God. That is, it is a blessing of the Triune God. How is the Triune God our God? In Jesus. God is with us in Jesus. Jesus is God with us. Jesus is how we are blessed by God. So the apostles are freely able to bless the people of God with a Trinitarian blessing, as in Father, Son, Holy Spirit, or a Trinitarian blessing with just Christ named, as we have it in our second reading: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.” Notice what Paul is saying. He is saying nothing else than, “God be with you.” Nothing else than what God commanded Aaron to bless the people with and the same blessing that is so familiar to us. When the grace of the Lord Jesus is with us God is with us. That’s because the grace of the Lord Jesus is with us when Jesus is with us. And when Jesus is with us God is with us. That’s what He would be called, after all, Emmanuel, God with us. That was the promise in Isaiah and that was the fulfillment in Matthew.

But Matthew doesn’t say, Jesus was born and that was God with us, so have a great day! He goes on. This is only the twenty-third verse of his Gospel account. What Matthew goes on to tell us about is what it means that God is with us in Jesus Christ. Just this: that Christ was born in order to suffer on the cross and die for the sin of the world and rise from the grave so that we might have eternal life. In other words, life with Him forever.

It makes sense, and sounds wonderful, for Matthew to say that when Jesus was born that is God with us. And it’s true. But Matthew also shows us in his Gospel account that when Jesus is on the cross procuring salvation for the world that that is most truly and wonderfully God with us. That’s what God’s sign in Isaiah ultimately was pointing to. It’s what Matthew ultimately was showing us when telling the birth of Christ. When we look at the cross we see Emmanuel, God with us. We know God is with us because of the cross. Our prayer, Veni Emmanuel—O come, Emmanuel—is answered in and because of the cross. Just as He came at Bethlehem and went to Calvary, so He will come again in glory so that we may be with Him forever. Amen.


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