The word Immanuel means, as we learn in Matthew 1:23, “God with us.” The coming of the Christ child fulfilled what Isaiah wrote in chapter 7, verse 14: “the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
In his book Hidden Christmas, Pastor Timothy Keller shares that for centuries, the Jewish religious leaders and scholars had known that prophecy, but did not think that it should be taken literally. They thought it was simply predicting the coming or arrival of some great leader through whose work, God would be present with his people.
However, Matthew writes that this promise is greater than anyone imagined! It did not come true figuratively, but literally. Jesus Christ is “God with us” because the human life in Mary’s womb was a miracle performed by God himself. Then Jesus, with his life, his claims and his resurrection, convinced his closest followers that he was not just a prophet telling them how to find God, but God himself coming to find us.
Keller writes that this claim, that Jesus is God, gives us the greatest possible hope. Why? Because it means this world is not all that there is…it means that there is life and love after death and it means that evil and suffering will one day end.
And it is not just hope for the world, but hope for you and me personally. A God who was only holy would have not come to us in Jesus. He would have just demanded that we pull ourselves together and be moral and holy enough to be worthy of relationship with him. But our God is fully holy and fully human – so he doesn’t send someone else – he comes himself! Jesus is one of us – and that should give us all hope!
So what is the purpose of “God with us?” What does “with him” mean? Pastor Keller writes that the purpose of the incarnation is that we would have relationship with him. In Jesus, the unapproachable God of the Old Testament becomes a human being who can be known and loved. Through faith, we can know this love.
This is a complete shift from the Old Testament. Think about this: anytime anyone drew near to God in the Old Testament, it was terrifying! God appears to Abraham as a smoking furnace; to Israel as a pillar of fire; to Job, as a hurricane or tornado. When Moses asks to see the face of God in Exodus 33, he was told what? That it would kill him…that he could only get close to God’s back. When Moses came down off the mountain in Exodus 34, his face was SO BRIGHT with radiance that the people could not look at him!
So Pastor Keller asks this: can you imagine if Moses were alive today and heard the message of Christmas? What would he say? How would he react? What if Moses heard John 1:14 “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us – we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son?”
Keller thinks Moses would say, “Do you know what this means? This is the very thing I was denied! Through Jesus, you can meet God. You can know him personally and without terror. Do you realize what’s going on? Where’s your joy? Where’s your amazement? This should be the driving force of your life!”
And why did God show up this time in the form of a baby instead of fire? Because this time He has come not to bring judgment but to bear it; to take away the barrier between humanity and God. Jesus is God with us!
Thanks for listening!
– Joe and Todd