“And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So 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’”Matthew 1:21–24, NKJV, emphasis mine
The message of the incarnation often gets lost in the commonness of the Christmas tradition. As we enjoy the Christmas scenery, we end up missing the real Jesus. The story of Jesus’ birth is much more wonderful and marvelous than the cute decorations of a nativity set. It’s about God involving Himself in our human condition in a way that takes our breath away.
God did not come to us as a cosmic policeman but as a weak and helpless baby—a little bundle of love that was precious and fragile but infinitely incredible. He came as humanity’s rescuer. He did not distance Himself from our plight but embraced the very brokenness of our human condition. He does not turn away from the ugliness of our sin, He embraces the very lostness of a world wallowing in misery.
Immanuel is God coming to take on everything that belongs to our humanity because He absolutely insists on making Himself one of us. There is nothing more God could have done on our behalf. He gave everything when He poured Himself into the form of human flesh—bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. This is the most stunning and spectacular thing that God has ever done!
The story of Jesus’ birth is filled with the scandalous news of an unexpected pregnancy, unpleasant journeys, and near-death experiences. It was not glamorous. The babe born in Bethlehem lay in an animal feeding trough, not on a throne. He was born in humble surroundings, not in a fortified palace. He was surrounded by lowly animals and poor common folk, not statesmen or government officials. This reflects the extent of God’s willingness to be with us in our humiliation, as does His moving into the experience of our sin and death. God, in His unrestrained love, took all the sin that alienates us from God—the very sin that tempts us to forsake Him. On the cross, He embraced us in our forsakenness and shame because He refused to abandon us.
Yet Immanuel, which means “God with us,” does not stop at the cross. He was with us during the resurrection and ascension, assuring us that whatever happens to us, God’s purposes for us will not be frustrated but ultimately fulfilled. He has become a permanent part of God’s creation and is even now mediating our renewed humanity before the Father, sharing with us everything that He enjoys. He continues to love us out of our brokenness, completely committed to restoring us to Himself in love. God wants to come into our hearts and live within us, so the great measure of His love can be with us and fill us completely.
In summary, Immanuel is a statement about God’s intimate bond with His people and His future plans to be with us more fully (Isaiah 7:13-14). God’s plans are truly wonderful in the end. To mark His full presence with us, God will come down to live with us on earth. The description of this fantastic event is foretold by John, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be His peoples, and God Himself will be with them (Revelation 21:3, NRSV).
In taking our humanity in Jesus, God has bound Himself to us by a tie that can never be broken. God has joined His life to ours and is forever linked with us because He simply refuses to let us go. He is eternally and permanently Immanuel, and that should make all the difference in the world.
Craig Ashton Jr.