Beloved. We have a wonderful continuity between last Sunday’s Gospel reading and today’s Gospel. Last week we heard Jesus’ testimony about who St. John the Baptizer really is: As these two [disciples of St. John] were leaving, Jesus began to talk to the crowds about John. “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8What did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? No, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9So what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you! And he is much more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Jesus says that St. John is the specific fulfillment of an OT prophecy; that the Baptizer is the very one that God had promised the OT faithful would come before the Savior to prepare the people for Him. Again, last week Jesus testifies who John is—the promised forerunner. And today we hear, first, what St. John says about himself: 20He confessed and did not deny. He confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21And they asked him, “Who are you then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” “No,” he answered. 22Then they asked him, “Who are you? Tell us so we can give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ just as Isaiah the prophet said.” John was very clear of who he was; he knew it; he knew that he was the one prophesied in the OT, sent by God to prepare the way for the Savior: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ just as Isaiah the prophet said.” And again, years later, Jesus confirmed this about John: This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ And today’s Gospel goes on. Not only does John say who he is but he also testifies of Jesus, and who He is. St. John says of his lowly position—lowly even though very great because he was one specifically prophesied in the OT to come. He is the one coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie. By this, John is confessing who Jesus is. This is not just St. John’s humility showing through, but he is simply confessing his lowliness in comparison to Jesus and who He is—the Lord, the true God and long promised Savior: I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’.
Advent is winding down and soon we will be in the joyous Christmas season hearing the announcement of the angels [Lk. 2.11]: There is born for you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. But Advent isn’t over yet and there is a true reason for Advent—it prepares our hearts and minds to look for and to long for that Savior who was born. Advent is a great equalizer because it helps place us in the shoes of the OT faithful as they were waiting and longing for the Savior to come. Advent stirs up in us the longing for Jesus as we hear how He comes to us, here and now, in our world and in our lives, in His holy word and Sacraments. Advent stirs up in the longing for Jesus as we hear again of His coming in on the Last Day when He will bring His dear Christians soul and body into the glorious eternity of heaven. And, of course, Advent stirs up in us the longing to hear that glorious announcement of the angels and of Christmas that our Savior has been born. Hearing that announcement once again fills our hearts with joy because with His coming we are certain that everything is now right between us and God; that in Jesus, who was born that first Christmas, we are reconciled to God; that He who was born that first Christmas came for that reason, and in fulfillment of God’s promise and word and He came to live a holy, sinless life for us and take our sins upon Himself and to go with them to the cross where He would suffer God’s wrath and punishment for us, in our place.
Jesus is not only the fulfillment of the hopes of the OT faithful, but of our hopes today. Is it any wonder that the Church cries out this last week of Advent: “O Come!”? This fervent longing for Jesus to come is captured in the so-called O Antiphons. These “O Antiphons” have been sung in the Church since the 8th century. These refrains were chanted before and after the Magnificat—the song of St. Mary from Luke 1—during the service of Vespers from 17 to 23 December. Each of the O Antiphons, a different one assigned for each day, uses an OT image of Jesus taken—for example: O Wisdom, O Rod of Jesse, O Dayspring from on high—and calls on Jesus to come. Today’s O Antiphon calls on Jesus—Immanuel—to come. Of course, from today’s “O Antiphon” you can clearly tell that the “O Antiphons” are in general use even today in the well-loved Advent hymn: Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel.
Today, we pause a few moments to ponder today’s O Antiphon: O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord, the anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God. The roots of this O Antiphon go all the way back to the glorious prophecy the Lord gave to the Prophet Isaiah to speak [Is 7.14]: Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign, Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call His name Immanuel. The fulfillment of this prophecy is Jesus. The angel told St. Joseph [Mt. 1.20-23]: Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins. And then, by the Holy Spirit, St. Matthew records: Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Jesus is our Immanuel, our “God with us.” That’s the proclamation of Christmas—God is with us; He is with us in the flesh, in the Person of the Son, Jesus!
Immanuel—God with us—that describes precisely and perfectly the mystery and miracle of Christmas. Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign, Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call His name Immanuel. This is the prophecy of the virgin birth of Jesus. More literally, the passage reads: Behold the virgin is pregnant and is bearing a Son. The point is this: the virgin is pregnant—she did not lose her virginity while becoming pregnant; and even after the birth she did not lose her virginity—the virgin, even while in the act of bearing a son, is still the virgin. And through the OT prophet St. Isaiah, what does the Lord call this? –A sign. Luther makes the comment that through the prophets, God announced beforehand things unimaginable and thought to be impossible so that then it does happen it would be believed and received by faith. What is seemingly more impossible than the virgin birth? But what? It did happen! We have Christmas!
The Lord did not just pull this sign out of the air, though. It is firmly grounded in the OT. Think back to right after Adam and Eve had sinned. When He was announcing the curses and consequences of sin, the Lord cursed Satan in part by saying [Gn 3.15]: And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel. This was the first promise of the Savior, Jesus, who would come and destroy and undo the work of the devil. Notice—the Savior of the world is described as the Seed/ Offspring of the woman, not of man, not even of man and woman, but of the woman alone. So this sign that the Lord gives, is of the virgin, that one specific virgin that the faithful knew was coming who would give birth to the Messiah. The one who conceived and gave birth and maintained her virginity in both is St. Mary. This seemingly impossible act is a sign, but one that demands faith. The Lord gave this sign—impossible as it was—for us to recognize it and believe it.
But what does this seemingly impossible sign have to do with Jesus being the Immanuel, the God with us? Simply this: whoever is born in the usual, natural way has his/ her life and being from a human father and a human mother. Therefore they are a person, a true human being, body and soul. But whoever comes in such a miraculous way from a virgin entered life by the working of the miraculous power of God is indeed a true person but yet no ordinary typical person but a child of a miracle. When we see Christmas, when we hear the birth of Jesus of Mary, of a virgin both before and after birth, that points us to the fact that Jesus is no ordinary person, but that He is the God-man. And that’s what this prophecy preaches to us so clearly about Jesus: Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign, Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call His name Immanuel. The virgin conceiving and bearing—yes, it shows that Jesus is a true human being, truly one of us, bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh; but what will He be called? What is His title?—Immanuel, God with us. Or to put it differently: Jesus is God in our flesh and blood.
So what happened when the virgin conceived? Or to use the words of St. Mary to the holy angel Gabriel [Lk. 1.34-5]: How can this be, since I do not know a man? And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God”. The point is this: the holy and almighty God had Himself formed and created in the body of the virgin a pure, holy human nature. And why did He have to do that? Why couldn’t Jesus just have been conceived and born in the natural, usual way like all the rest of us? Not only was the miraculous fact of it a sign that couldn’t be missed, but all of us conceived and born the natural way have passed on to us the sin and corruption that has “entered the human bloodstream.” We are all born with that Original Sin, which in itself is enough to condemn us, as St. David writes of us all in the psalm [51.6]: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. The Holy God could not possibly take into His Person our sin. That’s why He came up with this way—being conceived and born of a virgin; He prepared for Himself in the virgin for Himself a pure holy body; as St. Paul writes of Jesus [Col 1.19]: For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
So yes, Jesus is both true man—He was conceived and born—and He is true God—He was conceived and born of the virgin and He is the Immanuel, the God with us.
Because Jesus is both true God and true man, because He is God in our flesh, He is, therefore, our true Savior and Protector. When we look at Jesus, we see God’s love for us sinners who in His mercy and grace wants to save us from sin, death, devil and hell. So much so that He came into this world, became one of us, in order to do it. And He did it by suffering and dying for our sins. As true man, one of us, He could be our Substitute, in life and in death; as true man, He could have blood to shed. As true God, He could and would live a holy life for us; as true God His sacrifice on the cross is more than enough to pay the price for our sins and reconcile us sinners to the holy God. Seeing Jesus born in the manger, seeing Jesus on the cross, seeing Jesus during His earthly ministry, seeing Jesus risen from the dead—and even today seeing Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament—we are seeing the foundation/ basis of all of God’s promises to us. And so remember Jesus is still the/ our Immanuel, God with us. He is with us with all His riches of grace and mercy. He, the God-Man, is with us when we are gathered in His name; He is with us until the end of the age. Is it any wonder the Church still cries out: O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord, the anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God. INJ Amen