“GOD WILL BE WITH US”

ISAIAH 7:10-16

 

Play Audio

                                                          

          

             Some unknown person published an essay on the Internet on the joys of being a male.  He says, “Men are just happier people.”  Then he explains why.  Here are some of the advantages he lists with regard to being male: “Your last name stays put.  Wedding plans take care of themselves.  Chocolate is just another snack.  You can never be pregnant.  Same work, more pay.  Wrinkles add character.  Wedding dress $5000.  Tux rental - $100.  New shoes don’t cut, blister, or mangle your feet.

            “Phone conversations are over in 30 seconds flat.  A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase.  You can open all your own jars.  You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness.  If someone forgets to invite you, he or she can still be your friend.

Your underwear is $8.95 for a three-pack.  Three pairs of shoes are more than enough. You are unable to see wrinkles in your clothes.  The same hairstyle lasts for years, maybe decades. You only have to shave your face and neck.

            He continues, “You can play with toys all your life.  One wallet and one color for all seasons.  You can wear shorts no matter how your legs look.  You can ‘do’ your nails with a pocket knife.”

            And here’s the clincher,  “You can do Christmas shopping for 25 relatives on December 24 in 25 minutes.  ‘No wonder,’ he says, ‘men are happier.’” (1)

            Someone else published a list titled “Things Wives Don’t Want To Hear Their Husbands Say On Christmas Day.”  Hopefully, none of the husbands here today said any of these:

            “You like it, hon?  Almost look like real diamonds, don’t they?”

            “That’s right, hon.  Your own subscription to ‘Guns & Ammo.’”

            “It’s two sizes smaller, darling‑ ‑ you know, for motivation.”

            And the final thing wives don’t want to hear: “Well, if it isn’t Roy and Angela and their seven kids ‑ ‑ with suitcases!  What a pleasant surprise!” (2)

            Well, Isaiah wants to make sure the Messiah does not arrive as an unexpected guest.  So, he prepares us for his coming.  Today we read these words:  “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”

            In Matthew’s Gospel we read how this prophecy was fulfilled.  An angel appears to Joseph in a dream and says to him,

 

            Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 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.”   All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call him Immanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

 

            At Christmas we celebrate this fact.  At Christmas we celebrate the fact that God came to dwell with us. 

            The magazine, The Week, carried a story about Newark, New Jersey.  I don’t know what you see when you try to visualize Newark, NJ.  Most see darkness and decay.  In fact, Newark has been called America’s most troubled city.  Today, more than a quarter of Newark’s population lives below the poverty line.  Located just 10 miles from New York City, Newark used to be a thriving manufacturing center.  At its peak the city had a population of 450,000.

            In the 1960s, however, affluent citizens began to flee the city, and the federal government constructed giant housing projects there.  In 1967 there were terrible riots, resulting in 26 deaths and hundreds of torched businesses.  Eight years later, Harper’s magazine called Newark America’s “worst city.”  By 2007, Newark had been reduced from 450,000 people to 280,000 people.

            Today, however, progress is being made thanks to Newark’s tireless mayor, Corey Booker.  Nearly everything about Booker is unique. Unlike previous mayors, he is not only a product of the suburbs but also of Stanford, Yale Law School, and Oxford, which he attended as a Rhodes Scholar.  He is a 6-foot-3, 250-pound, African-American vegetarian.  He could have lived a life of comfort and affluence.  Instead he opted to live for eight years in one of Newark’s most crime-ridden public-housing projects, from which he won a seat on the city council.  In 2006, he was elected mayor.  He was re-elected this year.

            What has Booker achieved as mayor?  Well, for one thing he’s attracted more than $100 million in private philanthropy, including city programs funded by the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Jon Bon Jovi, and Brad Pitt.  Booker tapped the Gates Foundation and others to fund charter schools, and raised millions to renovate and expand 20 city parks. He’s struck deals with employers in the region, such as Continental Airlines, to hire more Newark residents.  And while achieving all this, he has maintained a relentless focus on his top priority: fighting crime.

            During Booker’s term, homicides have declined 28 percent, shootings are down 46 percent.  Booker has personalized the fight against crime by personally traveling the city late into the night, challenging drug dealers to get off the street and complacent cops to get out of their squad cars. (3)

            Now, it’s always risky to praise a politician or any celebrity in a sermon. Invariably, sooner or later, they will do something to embarrass themselves and you.  I don’t know anything about Cory Booker’s personal life or values, but I do know this: When a graduate of Stanford, Yale and Oxford, a Rhodes Scholar, nonetheless, voluntarily moves into one of Newark’s most crime-ridden public-housing projects, somebody ought to pay attention.

            Keep that in mind as you listen to what the Apostle Paul said about Jesus, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (II Cor. 8:9)

            Jesus didn’t leave Stanford, Yale and Oxford.  He left the throne of glory to become the babe of Bethlehem, being born in a stable because there was no room in the inn.  He purposely, intentionally, gave it all up to become one of us.

            What does it mean to say that God is with us?  It means that God cares enough for us to invade the chaos of our lives.  Author Max Lucado tells a remarkable story of the son of a rabbi who battled severe emotional problems.  One day the boy went into his backyard, removed all his clothing, assumed a crouched position, and began to gobble like a turkey.  He did this, not just for hours or days, but for weeks.  No pleading would dissuade him.  No psychotherapist could help him.

            A friend of the rabbi, having watched the boy and shared the father’s grief, offered to help.  He, too, went into the backyard and removed his clothes.  He crouched beside the boy and began gobbling, turkey-like.  For days, nothing changed.  Finally the friend spoke to the son. “Do you think it would be all right for turkeys to wear shirts?” After some thought and many gobbles, the son agreed.  So they put on their shirts.

Days later the friend asked the boy if it would be acceptable for turkeys to wear trousers.  The boy nodded.  In time, the friend redressed the boy.  And, in time, the boy returned to normal. (4)

            What an amazing story.  What amazing love.  It’s the story of Christmas.  It’s more than the birth of a special baby.  It is more than an angels’ song.  It is God invading our world, stripping himself of all His power and dignity in order to connect to us, to be with us.

            And what is our response to God’s coming into our world?  It is to take the love of Christ to everyone we meet.  We are to pass on to others what has been given us.

            Tony Campolo tells about a friend who pretends to go shopping each Christmas season in the Nordstrom department store located in her wealthy Los Angeles suburb. Campolo says that she “pretends to go shopping” at Nordstrom because the store is so upscale that she rarely purchases anything there. But she goes there during the Christmas shopping days because the ambience is spectacular.

            On one of these Christmas visits to Nordstrom, this friend was on the top floor, where the most expensive dresses were for sale, when the doors of the elevator opened and a bag lady from off the streets stepped out.  When his friend saw this woman, she fully expected that a couple of security guards would show up momentarily to usher the woman out of the store.  After all, this woman, whose raggedy clothes were covered with dirt from the streets, was not the kind of person who could afford to buy much of anything at Nordstrom, let alone one of the expensive dresses for sale on the top floor.  But instead of security guards, a tall, stately saleswoman appeared and went up the homeless woman. She asked, “May I help you, Madam?”

            “Yeah!” said the homeless woman in a gruff voice. “I want a dress!”

            “What kind of dress?” inquired the saleswoman.

             “A party dress,” was the answer.

            “You’ve come to the right place,” the saleswoman replied.  “We have the finest dresses in the world.”

            Indeed they did!  The least expensive dress on the rack of evening gowns cost just under a thousand dollars.

            The two women looked over the dresses as they talked about which color would be best, given the homeless woman’s coloring.  After a discussion that went on for more than ten minutes, they picked two dresses off the rack. Then the saleswoman said, “Follow me, Madam. I want you to try on these dresses to see how you look in each of them.”

            Campolo’s friend was flabbergasted.  She knew the saleswoman must have realized that this homeless woman didn’t have the means to buy any of the dresses for sale in the store.

            When the two women went into the dressing room to try on the dresses, Campolo’s friend went into the dressing room next to theirs and put her ear against the wall so she could listen to what they said.  After a while, she heard the homeless woman say, “I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going to buy a dress today.”

            The saleswoman answered, “That’s quite all right, Madam, but I’d like you to take my card.  Should you come back to Nordstrom, I would consider it both a privilege and a pleasure to wait on you again.”

            Campolo’s friend was more than surprised by the kind and respectful way in which this saleswoman treated a woman who obviously had not the means to buy anything in that upscale store.  “This saleswoman did what a Christian should do,” says Tony Campolo.  “In all probability, she treated everyone she met in her everyday encounters in the work place as Jesus would treat them.” (5)

            Do I need to say anything more about the meaning of Christmas?  Isaiah said it all nearly three thousand years ago: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” which means, “God with us.”  When God is with us, we are empowered to live in extraordinary ways.

 

 

1. MONDAY FODDER, To subscribe http://family-safe-mail.com

2. The Timothy Report, http://www.timothyreport.com.

3. “Newark’s Big Dreams,” The Week, April 30, 2010.

4. Originally told by Joseph Shulam. Cited in Cure For The Common Life (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2005).

5. Letters to a Young Evangelical (New York, NY: Perseus Books Group, 2006), pp. 243-245.