Immanuel – God with us

The birth of Jesus Christ really is a cause for great celebration! His coming into the world has changed the lives of millions of people for the better. His birth was foretold in detail by prophets who lived more than 600 years earlier and their prophecies were fulfilled. The prophet Micah foretold where he would be born and spoke of his greatness. “But you, Bethlehem, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Jesus came from heaven to earth with kingly power to do us good.

The prophet Isaiah foretold that he would be born to a young virgin mother. “The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” The name Immanuel means “God with us.” As the eternal Son of God, Jesus reveals God to us. When he came into the world God himself drew near to a troubled world. Throughout history Christians have experienced the presence of God with them, often in very difficult circumstances. One of our greatest needs this Christmas is to know that God is with us.

The prophet Isaiah also spoke of the greatness of the child who would be born, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.” Jesus came into this world from the presence of his heavenly Father with divine power to execute God’s great plan of salvation for the peoples of this world and to do it as the “Prince of Peace.”

Charles Wesley wrote a hymn that is often sung at Christmas and expresses the deepest longings of our hearts. “Come, O long-expected Jesus, born to set your people free! from our fears and sins release us, Christ in whom our rest shall be. Israel’s strength and consolation, born salvation to impart; dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart. Born your people to deliver, born a child, and yet a king; born to reign in us for ever, now your gracious kingdom bring: By your own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone; by your all-sufficient merit raise us to your glorious throne.”

Immanuel – “God with us”

Some families in Newtown, Connecticut, have taken down their Christmas decorations. It is their understandable response to the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Last week a young gunman shot 20 children, aged 6-7 years old, and 6 adults, including the head teacher. Many people around the world have shared something of the pain and anguish of the families who have lost children and loved ones. The fact that young children were killed so close to Christmas has deepened the sadness.

Christmas in our secular world is a strange time. It comes in the darkest days of winter and, for many, involves spending large amounts of money. For those who are poor it accentuates the difference between them and their richer neighbours. In a secular celebration of Christmas, however, there is nothing to touch the deepest recesses of our hearts and the pain and sadness that many in this world experience.

The event that Christmas really celebrates, however, speaks to us all in every experience of life. It truly is something to remember and celebrate. The birth of Jesus is the focal point of history. He was no ordinary child. He was conceived in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit because he was both God and man. He is “Immanuel” which means “God with us.”

That is exactly what we all need to know, and especially the families in Newtown who have lost their children and loved ones so tragically. It is good that they are finding real comfort in the support of the community and of people in America and around the world. But as time goes on, and life returns to the new “normal”, they will need to know that God really is with them in their sadness and loss.

Jesus is uniquely able to understand and help us in our times of deepest need. When he was a baby there was a plan to kill him. Soon after he was born an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream saying, “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” Herod did send his soldiers to Bethlehem with orders to kill all boys under the age of 2. Their families were devastated. This Christmas let’s pray that the bereaved families in Newton, and all of us, will know that, in Jesus, God really is “with us.”