1. Immanuel = Companionship: “God is with us”
Whenever Israel, as God’s people, found themselves in trouble, God repeatedly promised them his presence. They were homeless and insecure as wilderness wanderers (Lev. 26:11-12), powerless to enter their land or defeat their enemies. Then Moses exhorted them, “Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God (Deut. 7:21). They felt rejected exiled in Babylon yet in amidst socio-political fears they could hope for God’s deliverance and salvation. Upon their return, God reinforced his promise with the clear assurance, “I am with you” (Hag.1:13;2:4).
Interestingly, the New Testament opens with an angelic greeting to Mary: “Rejoice highly favoured one, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). One can only imagine the fears that gripped the heart of this virgin engaged to Joseph, realising she is with a child! Although upright, Joseph was nonetheless fearful of the consequential moral issues, social sigma and secretly wanted a divorce. But he was instructed: “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife… And she shall bring forth a son and you shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins”. All this, the angel explained was in fulfilment of God’s prophetic word (Matt. 1:22) and vitally linked to God’s eternal plan encapsulated in Christmas’ most beautiful language – Immanuel: the actualisation of God’s greatest promise to be with his creation and children. This Christmas, accepting Immanuel, we acknowledge Jesus to be none other than God manifested in the flesh – “pleased as man with man to dwell”.
2. Immanuel = Comfort: “God is for us”
The second reality implicit in Jesus’ title “Immanuel” is that this Almighty God who is with us is also for us. In the Hebrew IM-MENU-EL literally interpreted means the STRONG GOD WITH US. This comes across convincingly from the biblical context and only other passage where this word occurs (Isa.7:14;8:8,10). Around 700 BC, Ahaz the king of Judah was politically threatened by attacks from nations like Syria. Instead of trusting in the Lord, he allied with Assyria for military support. At this time, God gave Ahaz and the people a miraculous sign – a virgin conceiving a son whereby they recognise Immanu-el, “God is with us”. For Matthew, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus from Nazareth, was the ultimate fulfilment of this sign. He may not have been exactly sure how but recorded what Paul put in other words: “God was with us in Christ, reconciling the world to himself”.
“Immanuel” further assures us of God’s comfort or strengthening presence (in Latin, com= with, fort= strength). It bears the hope of enduring grace for life’s trials or deliverance from afflictions. At any rate, there is a steadfast hope and no need to fear. Have you notice how many “fear nots” there are in the Christmas story or the Bible for that matter! Immanuel is not merely about a past history or future assurance. It is a present reality! The almighty Redeemer is a present help in time of trouble. When we walk through the valley of death’s shadow we can say: “Thou art with me” (Psa.23:4). In the thick of the battle against evil in the world, our flesh and the Devil we can be sure of victory. God being on our side, no powers visible or invisible can harm or separate us from his loyal love (Rom.8:31,35).
3. Immanuel = Community: “God is among us”
Finally, it is crucial to recognise Immanuel is not “God with me ” but, “God with us ”. This indicates that Christians “together” belong to a faith community wherein Immanuel signifies a mysterious yet profound truth: God incarnate among us, reconcilable to us, at peace with us, has taking us into covenant and communion with himself. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity teaches that God himself is community and manifests himself as community: Father, Son & Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus makes us made members of one body. Christians are the Temple of God the Holy Spirit (1Cor.3:16). A.W. Tozer put it well when he described believers as “the dwelling place of God”. I am convinced that community is how God has structured human life and our social context is precisely where we learn to love God as we love our neighbour as ourselves. Our community has a catalytic role in shaping us into Christ’s likeness.
Jesus Christ was not just a great teacher or miracle-working prophet. Mathew, who shows the magi worshipping the Christ-child, insisted God alone is to be worshipped (Matt. 2:11;4:10). The wondrous benefit of the incarnation, God’s ultimate way of being Immanuel, was that without putting aside deity, God embraced our humanity and became accessible. Jesus reveals God, and as God offers forgiveness and eternal life. Immanuel will remain a mystery to the human mind, yet with John we can personally experience God in Jesus, the Word made flesh (Jh1:14; 1Jh1:1).
Knowing Immanuel makes us both recipients of the Christmas message and participants in the Christmas mission. The resurrected Lord Jesus with all authority in heaven and on earth commissions his disciples endowing them with spiritual power to “go and make disciples”. To their amazement, guess what they discovered? “As they went everywhere, the Lord was working with them” (Mk.16:20). When Paul was discouraged in ministry, Jesus reassured him with the words: “Don’t be afraid, I am with you” (Acts 18:9). This promise holds good for us so that we can boldly say: “The Lord is my helper I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Heb.13: 6) This Christmas knowing these truths about Immanuel will set us free (Jn.8:32) from sin to experiencing his love that casts away all fears (1Jn.4:18).
Oh Come to us, Abide with Us, Our Lord Immanuel ! God be with us this Christmas and thru 2010. – Chris, Dorothy, Alethea & Charis