June 7, 2010 David Balzer

Matthew 1:18-25: What if God Was One of Us?

I met Leslie in a hospital in Griffith a few years ago. I was on a college mission, getting some experience at hospital visiting.

I walked into the ward, and noticed Leslie in the bed furthest from me, but closest to the window. She had what seemed to be a large folder resting in her lap, and she looked like she was staring out the window in a bored sort of way.

The windows were large, and they opened onto a lovely view of the neighbouring parkland. I made some comment that it must be quite nice having such a lovely view to look at.

Her response was nearly enough to put me off ever visiting hospitals again. “I can’t see the view because I’m blind!” She said it quite matter of factly – without any bitterness or anger.

It was then I realised that the folder on her lap was actually a Braille book, and that she’d been reading it with her fingers!

Whoops! That’s me, always putting my foot in my mouth! But Leslie didn’t seem to mind.

She’d been in hospital for six weeks with a badly infected leg which wouldn’t heal. She’d fallen into a ly cactus bush, and the wound had become badly infected.

As we talked I found out some of the details of her life. She’d been blinded three years ago in an involving caustic soda.

She recovered from that, learned to read braille, and got on with her life with her husband and children.

About 18 months later, she woke up one morning and found that she couldn’t hear her husband talking to her. Tests revealed that she’d lost all of her hearing in one ear, and most of her hearing in the other.

The doctors said that her hearing would deteriorate, and she would eventually lose it altogether. Blind and deaf!

Wow! As I sat there and listened I thought, “This poor woman has been through more in the last 3 yrs, than most of us go through in a lifetime!” how does she cope so well?

It was then that Leslie started to tell me about the REST of her life!

When she was growing up. Her father had worked at the Maralinga Nuclear Testing Site in S.A. Many of her brothers and sisters have since died.-I suspect as a result of the radiation. She married and has had six children – including two sets of twins..

Four of the children have died from s or medical conditions. She has two remaining children.

Within the last week, Leslie had found out the toddler of A CLOSE FRIEND had died when her father reversed the car over her.

Leslie was particularly upset because it was only recently that she’d resuscitated the baby after it had fallen into a pool.

And that brought us back to the present. The present – where she’d been in hospital for six weeks. -with a leg that wouldn’t heal, -skin grafts that refused to take. -and an infection that was resisting the strongest antibiotics!

How’d she coped with so much heartache? How could she still seem so together/ in the face of so much hurt and pain?

It would have been quite OK for her to ask, WHERE IS GOD WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN?

It’s a question people have asked for thousands of years. People just like you and me – people in the house next to you, or people: who sit next to you on the train. “Where is God when bad things happen ?”

Because for one reason or another, tragedy has struck. Raging bushfire. Crippling drought A child is killed in a cruel .

A loved one claimed by a ravenous cancer.

We’ve seen plenty of them here among people in our church. Circumstances where or suffering have wrenched lives apart at the seams. Events that just seem so unfair!

These things cause us to ask difficult questions, and rightly so..


What right have we got to celebrate Christmas, when there is so much pain in the world? How can we possibly acknowledge at Christmas, a God who allows all this to happen?

LET ME TELL YOU WHY! Because in Christmas, we see GOD’S ANSWER to these questions. Because in Christmas, GOD INVOLVES HIMSELF with our problems,

The God of the bible – the God of Christmas. Didn’t just sit back, put his feet up, and yawn. He cared SO MUCH about the mess, he came to mankind and BECAME ONE OF US. John 3:16 is RIGHTLY one the most well-known verses in the Bible. “For God SO LOVED THE WORLD, that he gave his only Son.” That’s the message of Christmas. The message of the best Christmas gift EVER.

There’s a phrase that sums it up. It was in our Bible reading this morning. But it’s actually a quote from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. It’s a very short phrase – only three words in English, and two in Hebrew.

We’ve heard it a thousand times before in Christmas carols. And seen it hundreds more on Christmas cards. It’s probably so familiar to us, that we pass over it without really thinking about it. We miss the ENORMITY of what this simple phrase is saying.

Listen to these verses. Mt 1:20.

(Matt 1:20-23 NIV) “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “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. {21) 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.” {22} All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: {23} “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him IMMANUEL” –which means, “GOD WITH US.

Immanuel, which is Hebrew for “God with us!”

What a great comfort those words would have been to Joseph and his young bride over the next few years. As they traipsed all over the countryside.

First to Bethlehem. With the events of that amazing night. Then visits from foreign wise men. With extravagant gifts. Then chased out of Judah. All the way to Egypt by thirsty soldiers.

“God with us” would have strengthened this little family. Where ever they went. As they came to terms with how life had changed. As they wondered whether life would ever get back to normal. As they waited in Egypt until Herod died. And they could return to Israel.

“Immanuel” wouldn’t have been an empty phrase to Joseph and Mary. But I think it rolls off our tongues too easily. If we really understood it, it would knock our socks off!

“Immanuel” is about the GREATEST COMEDOWN IN HISTORY. That’s what Christmas is. When God the Son condescended to become man.

The God who made the universe/ became a baby who couldn’t even survive on his own. Dependent on his mum for everything.

The God who was EVERYWHERE AT ONCE/ became a baby who took up one end of a dirty manger, in a dark corner of a stinking stable, in a backwater village of an insignificant nation.

God the Son who enjoyed intimate, and complete, and eternal fellowship with His Father put it all aside. And came to his own people. But his own people REJECTED him.

The One whose home was HEAVEN, and who owned EVERYTHING, wandered around in the dust with NO home. Even foxes and birds have homes. But Jesus had less.

And his rejection by men climaxed in HIS . And it was there/ that EVEN HIS FATHER turned his back on him. The most unbearable hurt of all.

That’s what it COST God to be WITH US. Giving money is EASY/ giving YOURSELF is COSTLY.

Immanuel- God with us

(pause) There’s an old fable about the King of Persia long ago. He cared greatly for his people and desired only what was best for them. He would often disguise himself as a poor man and walk through the city, observing everyone.

One day he visited the public baths. For those who couldn’t afford their own baths, this was where they washed themselves and their clothes. This was where the REAL people were. His true citizens.

But this wasn’t where he was stopping today. The water that filled the baths was heated by a furnace in the cellar, so the king made his way to that dark, and damp, and hot place to sit with the poor man who tended the fire. All alone. No one gave him a second thought.

The man shared his simple food with his visitor, and the king befriended him in his loneliness.

Day after day the ruler went to visit the man. The worker became attached to this stranger because he “came where he was”.

One day the king revealed his true identity, and expected the man to ask him for a gift. Instead, the simple worker looked into his leader’s face and said, “You left your palace and your glory to sit with me in this dark place, to eat my coarse food, and to care about what happens to me. On others you may bestow rich gifts, but to me YOU HAVE GIVEN YOURSELF! ”

This is what God’s done for us. He’s a king who hasn’t simply given us RICH GIFTS, he has given us HIMSELF! Which makes it THE MOST PRECIOUS AND COSTLY GIFT OF ALL.

Christmas is God’s answer to those who ask “Where is God ‘when bad things happen!”

The fire-keeper in that dark, hot furnace room could have complained about his lot in life. He could have blamed the king for his economic policies, or his wasteful, extravagant spending. Or for not being interested in “the little people”.

But once the king had visited him, he knew for certain that the king cared. Because the king had done more than give him a new job – he’d given himself!

Joseph and Mary could have blamed God for the inconvenience of the Roman census right when Mary was due. For the bad hygiene of the manger. Or the danger of Herod’s soldiers hunting down Jesus. Or the difficulty of the escape to Egypt.

But instead God was WITH them.

lmmanuel- God with us. It’s really what separates Christianity from every other world religion. Only in Christianity, does God approach mankind.

Every other philosophy and religion teaches that God can be approached by mankind. That there’s something we can do, or become, or have, which can bring us closer to God.

It might be good works, or meditation. It might be donations, or education.

But it’s only Christianity where GOD REACHES DOWN TO MANKIND. And turns our expectations about religion and good works and merit UPSIDE DOWN.

This is what Immanuel – God with us – means.

Jesus – he will Save us from our sins

(pause) But there’s more to it than just nice feelings of solidarity. Of warm fuzzies and friendly gestures. God playing a trick on humans. Wasting a few years by hanging out with humans for a while. That’s the king and the fire-keeper.

And it’s more than just God showing us a better way.. “Just be nice to each other – like me! Give each other gifts – like me. And everything will be alright!”

That’s not it at all!

Because Christmas isn’t just about God WITH us. He came to DO something for us. The angel had ANOTHER name for this baby. What was it? Joseph was to call him …. JESUS. Because he would SAVE his people FROM THEIR SINS.

The only way to enjoy the friendship of the King. Is to have all our rebellion and blackness and impurity dealt with. And that happened on THE CROSS.

That’s what THE REST of that famous Bible verse, John 3:16 says.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him SHALL NOT PERISH but have eternal life.

Death and separation from God are hanging over our heads. It’s his just punishment for those who refuse to recognize and honour him. But it’s something that Jesus came to DEAL WITH.

Because Christmas wasn’t some easy-going “hanging out with humans” casual affair. It was a full-on, extravagant, costly RESCUE MISSION.

A rescue mission that culminated 33 years later in Jesus’ torturous . All carried out according to God’s plan so that Jesus would take the punishment WE deserved. So that God might offer us something we DIDN’T deserve – forgiveness and friendship and LIFE.

A life received a guarantee of 36 hours later when Jesus rose from the . The downpayment for our OWN resurrection from .

(pause) THAT’S how much God cares for us – even if things go wrong in the present. And that’s a great comfort.

Some people see that bad things happening/ is evidence that either God is not good, or not powerful enough to do anything, or perhaps not even there at all.

But Christmas is God’s declaration / His guarantee. His signed contract. That despite appearances / he IS good. He DOES act.

And ONE DAY everything WILL be cured.

And sometimes this is the only comfort there is.

Even when we don’t understand why some things happen:, we must trust the One whose hands are on the wheel.

When we were in N.Z., Caron and I went Jet Boating on the Shotover River in town. It was exciting, exhilarating, scary and fun all at the same time.

There were times when it looked like we were out of control, and we felt that for sure we were going to crash into the rock face.

But at the last minute, the driver would expertly swerve away, and we’d slide past the sharp rocks with a whisker to spare, in complete control.

We trusted the one who was steering, even if at times it looked and felt like things were out of control.

God is the expert driver, controlling the events of our lives. Sometimes – for reasons we don’t understand, the ride is a little bumpier – or a little wetter – than at other times.

But our trust is in the expert driver.

This is the trust which blind Lesley has. She knows what it means to be nearly swamped by life. But she also knows what it means to trust the driver.

You see the braille book she was reading was part of the Bible. And as I spoke with Leslie, I realised that she had a deep and real faith in God. She told me how God’s love was often the only thing which kept her from falling apart.

She had a sure conviction that God loved her as his child. And that in everything that happened to her, all that he expected from her was that she trusted him. Leslie knew that she really couldn’t control anything in her life anyway.

Leslie knew that God had shown the depth of his love by sending Jesus at Christmas. And that it was only in looking to HIM that she could make any sense of the tragedy in her life. The events of Christmas were Leslie’s evidence of lmmanuel- that God was with her.

And, as has happened so often since. I walked out of hospital having been ministered TO / more than I was able to MINISTER.

Will you trust God with the trust of Leslie? Will you walk through life confident that Immanuel – God is with you?

When you start to wonder whether God really loves you, remember the angel’s message to Joseph. Jesus is “God with us”

That’s God’s love-declaration to YOU. Listen to Rom 8. 31-32.

(Rom 8:31-32 NIV) What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? {32} He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

Immanuel – God with us. THAT’S the message of Christmas. Invite him to be with you!

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