Immanuel: Our Alongside God, with Skin On!

maryboychild.jpgThe two fears characterize our post-modern, hi-tech age: loneliness and despair. We’ve actively filled life with ‘stuff’ that paradoxically leave us empty and disillusioned. We crave ‘something more’ hoping the ‘next best thing’ will satisfy! Our materialistic lifestyles have left us more to live with yet less to live for! We have so many time-saving gadgets but no quality time for our ministry or family. We long for meaningful, enduring relationships: someone to share life with!

The Bible clarifies two truths about us humans: we were created in divine likeness and for divine fellowship. Imagine God designing us to be whole only in a proper relationship with him, and desiring to share His life with us. But how?! Our sinfulness separates us from God’s holiness. Our hearts long for God’s healing presence and our busy yet barren lives further reveal this built-in need. The good news that first Christmas is the Christ-child was called ‘Immanuel’ which means “God is with us” (Isa. 7:14; Mt. 1:23). More accurately, this prophetic title describes who Jesus is and the kind of relationship with him that brings true companionship and real comfort!

1. God is with us: When Israel, God’s people, got in trouble he first promised them his presence. They were homeless and insecure as wilderness wanderers and powerless to defeat their enemies to claim their inheritance. Moses then exhorted, ‘Don’t not be terrified for your God who is among you is an awesome God’ (Dt. 7:21). They felt rejected exiled in Babylon yet amidst socio-political fears they could hope for God’s deliverance and salvation. On their return to their own land God reassures them, ‘Fear not, I am with you’ (Hag. 1:13; 2:4).

The NT opens with an angelic greeting to Mary, ‘Rejoice highly favored one, the Lord is with you’ (Lk. 1:28). Imagine the fears that gripped this virgin engaged to Joseph when she realized her pregnancy! Joseph was fearful of the social sigma, moral issues and secretly wanted a divorce. An angel instructs him: ‘Don’t be afraid to take Mary for she will bring forth a son and you will call his name Jesus for he will save his people from sins’. As Immanuel, Christmas’ most beautiful language, God came to be with his creation and children. Receiving Christ as Immanuel we experience God in the flesh, ‘pleased as man with man to dwell!’

2. God is for us: Another reality implicit in Jesus’ title IM-MENU-EL is this God with us is the Strong One who is for us! (Isa. 7:14) Around BC 700 King Ahaz of Judah politically threatened by Syria allies with Assyria for military support instead of trusting God. God gave a miraculous sign: a virgin conceives a son whereby people recognize God’s wonder-working power available for us! Matthew considers Jesus’ life, death and resurrection as this sign’s ultimate fulfillment. The word, ‘com-fort’ literally means, with strength! Jesus’ presence bears the hope of enduring grace for life’s trials. Amidst battles against evil in the world, our flesh and the Devil we know, God on our side, no power can harm or separate us from his loyal love (Rom. 8:35).

Incarnation is God putting on flesh without putting aside deity. God becomes a missionary par excellent, embracing our humanity, enabling us access to his empowering Spirit. As Paul puts it, ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself!’ Immanuel remains a mystery yet the Word made flesh was born to die so we might live. Knowing Immanuel makes us recipients of the Christmas message and participants in its mission. Jesus gave us his authority to ‘go, disciple nations!’ Only ‘as they went’ they discovered ‘the Lord was working with them’ (Mk. 16:20). Immanuel links Christmas to missions! This truth sets us free to share in God’s perfect love that casts away all our fears! (Jn.8:32; 1Jn.4:18)

Let us Pray: “Oh come to us abide with us, Our Lord Immanuel!!