Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year…
One of the challenges of Christmas is letting God speak to your soul rather than simply lull you to sleep. The familiarity of Christmas stories, songs, and scriptures can detour your heart down an emotional street, a sentimental journey, rather than a real walk with Christ. There is a real wonder of Christmas if we slow down and choose the road less traveled. Let’s slow down… and take a closer look at the birth of Jesus.
“All this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.” Matthew 1:22-23
The wonderful message of Christmas is this: the Almighty God, the Creator of the universe has become a human being. It means that the terrifying God who appeared in the Old Testament as a whirlwind and a fire has become a vulnerable baby in order to be close to us. The Glory of God is revealed in the Mystery of the Incarnation: that in the person of Jesus Christ He added humanity to His deity. He is Immanuel – God with Us. The question is, what will we do in order to be close to Him?
Let’s take a closer look at the mystery of Immanuel: Jesus was God in a human body. Theologians refer to this as the incarnation of Christ – the biblical truth that Jesus is fully God and fully man; two complete natures in one unique Person. In Jesus, the Creator became a creature. This mystery, something previously unknown, was revealed piece by piece and prophecy by prophecy throughout the OT, but specifically with the sign of Immanuel given through the prophet Isaiah. Immanuel appears only twice in the Old Testament scriptures (Isaiah 7:14; 8:8) and once in the New Testament (Matthew 1:23).
There is significance of the title, Immanuel, and its timing in the Old Testament through Isaiah the prophet: Years after God made the kingdom of Israel great through King David, God’s people were again disobedient to His laws and commandments. The nation of Israel became divided into two: one country was called Israel and the other Judah. So God sent His prophet, Isaiah, to announce His words to the people. Isaiah gave this message to King Ahaz of Judah when his country was about to be invaded by the armies of Israel and of Aram. The king was terrified; he was not trusting God to take care of him and his country. Through the prophet, the Lord said to King Ahaz:
“14 The Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel 16 For before the boy knows to reject what is bad and choose what is good, the land of the two kings you dread will be abandoned.” – Isaiah 7:14,16
As a sign to Ahaz, Isaiah said that a son would be born of a virgin, and before that boy reached the age where he could tell right from wrong, the two kings of Israel and Aram would no longer be a threat to the King of Judah. The prophecy was fulfilled a short time later when a young woman became pregnant (see Isaiah 8:3-10). But the prophecy was also fulfilled much later when another young virgin, Mary, became pregnant.
“The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14
“And most certainly, the mystery of godliness is great: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” – 1 Timothy 3:16
This mystery –previously unrevealed until Jesus was born – is that Almighty God became one of us to live among us and to be with us. Immanuel is no longer a mystery.
So what does it mean? Why call Him, Immanuel? The meaning of Immanuel is simply that Jesus is God with us. This Immanuel is Jesus. Matthew makes it clear that Isaiah’s words find their ultimate fulfillment in the virgin birth of Jesus, a sign to people of all ages that God was with them.
Immanuel is not a personal name of Jesus but rather a descriptive name that pronounces the task He will perform and it accurately portrayed who He was. Jesus is His human name; Christ is His official title; and Immanuel describes who He is—“God with us.”
Jesus Christ, Immanuel, had a mission: to save people from their sins. In Matthew 1:21, the angel of the Lord said to Joseph about Mary,
“She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”
How Jesus will “save His people” is explained fully and exemplified completely in the rest of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus’s death for sin opened the way to resurrection and exaltation so Jesus can restore the broken relationship we have with God.
This promise about Jesus’ incarnation in the first chapter of Matthew is concluded with the promise of Jesus at the end of his Gospel— “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (28:20). These key passages Matthew 1:23 and 28:20 reveal the message of Matthew’s story: In the person of Jesus the Christ, God has drawn near to be with us to the end of time with his people, the church.
It’s amazing how the Gospel is revealed throughout the narrative of the entire Bible. In the first book of the Bible (Genesis 3:22-24), the first humans were driven from God’s presence because of sin. In the last book of scripture, (Revelation 21:3; 22:4), Jesus makes it possible for all believers to ultimately see God’s face when He dwells with us for all eternity. In between, the promised Immanuel comes as the infant, Jesus, to be with us and die for us to save us from our sins.
The message of Immanuel for us today is this: Jesus is with us… and will be with us until the end. Jesus is not just a teacher of God nor simply a prophet of God, but GOD Himself living in our hearts, caring about us. In other words, there is far more to Jesus than a babe in a manger.
Because God is with us, we can endure difficult circumstances in life. Whatever you are going through today and whatever you will face tomorrow, God is right here with us. “I am with you ALWAYS” is the promise of Immanuel.
Paul, suffering from what he called, “a thorn in the flesh,” pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from him. But Jesus said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” “Therefore,” Paul said, “I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)
Our success does not depend on our natural abilities but on God’s power working in us and through us because He is with us. Especially in difficult and painful circumstances, God’s power is demonstrated in us as He lives in us.
One of the joys of Christmas is being with friends and family you love. Many people travel a long distance to be with them. An amazing truth about the incarnation is that God came from heaven to earth in the person of His Son, Jesus, to be with us. For many Christmas is about being with people they love. More importantly, it’s a celebratory reminder that God who loves us came to be “with us” in all things.
Are you feeling lonely this Christmas? Are you grieving the loss of a loved one? Are you overwhelmed with the burdens of life? Remember the words of Immanuel who is with us and who promised, “I am with you always.”
Because God is with us, we can expect direct answers to prayer. The author of Hebrews tells us of the ongoing ministry of Immanuel as our Great High Priest who lives to intercede for us.
“He is always able to save those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them.” –Hebrews 7:25
What an assurance it is to realize that Jesus Christ Himself is praying for us constantly! It’s what He lives for. We cast all our burdens on Jesus because He is with us, because He cares for us, and because He prays for us.
As our family waits for test results for my father-in-law, Larry Wright, who has recently been diagnosed with melanoma (cancer), we find great comfort knowing that Jesus is with us, praying for him, and saving us to bring about God’s desired purposes. We’re praying for Larry continuously, but we also know that Jesus is talking to our Heavenly Father about him, too. Isn’t it wonderful that we can expect direct answers to prayer because of Immanuel?
Because God is with us, we can embrace the challenges of ministry and serving Him. If you’re anything like me, you find that there are days you feel unqualified and unable to meet the demands of being a spouse, or a parent, or a friend, or a servant of the Lord. Countless times this week I have felt like I don’t measure up and I don’t have enough. I’ve made mistakes in communication. I’ve not considered enough details. I’ve made mistakes in parenting. Often, I find that what I have to offer is not enough. But because God is with us, I have more than enough in Him. He’s got my back. He’s got me covered. He is more than enough. Because Jesus is Immanuel, we can embrace the challenges of serving Him as we rely fully on Him – God is with us.
I love the image of Immanuel illustrated in a recent Zales Christmas commercial. A little boy gives all he has – a few crumpled up dollars and some coins – to buy a Christmas present for his mom at the jewelry store. The immediate look from the sales lady, however, indicates that it’s not enough. That’s when she looks up to see that the boy’s dad is there with him. The father waves his debit card indicating that he’s there – he’s got it covered.
The truth of the Incarnation and the wonder of Immanuel impacts our lives every moment of every day in coping with trials, gaining confidence in prayer, and possessing all that we need to serve Him. God is with us – He’s got it covered.
Christmas time is here
We’ll be drawing near
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year…
“Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”