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.”

The Greatest Story ever told

The story of Jesus has been called “The Greatest Story ever told.” It is more than a story it is history; it really happened. For many centuries, the Jewish people had been waiting for God’s promised Messiah to come. Jesus was that Messiah, or Christ. His mother Mary lived in Nazareth, a small village in Galilee. She was in her teens and was engaged to Joseph, the village carpenter. They were looking forward to the day when they would be married and had no idea of God’s amazing plan for them.

One day an angel appeared to Mary and told her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.” Mary’s response was, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

When Mary told Joseph she had conceived a child he, understandably, assumed she had been unfaithful to him. Because he loved Mary deeply, and didn’t want to disgrace her publicly, he decided to break the engagement quietly. As he was considering this he had a dream in which an angel told him that Mary had conceived the child by the power of the Holy Spirit. What had happened to her had been foretold 600 years earlier by the prophet Isaiah, who had said that a virgin would conceive and give birth to a son. So Joseph obeyed the angel and joyfully took Mary as his wife.

Joseph was told the name he was to give to the child, “You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus, God’s eternal Son, came into the world to save us from our sins. As we look at our own lives, and the tragic state of the world around us, there is no doubt we all need a Saviour. Jesus died bearing the punishment our sins deserve. When we put our trust in him our sins are forgiven. Jesus was also called “Immanuel” which means “God is with us.” When we know him as our Saviour, we know his gracious presence and help always and can face every situation in life.

Christ is born in Bethlehem!

Mary and Joseph lived in the small Galilean village of Nazareth. Joseph had known Mary from a very early age and she had been promised to him in marriage. She was still in her teens and he was the village carpenter. They loved each other very much and were looking forward to being married and making their home in the village. They could not have known that God had wonderful plans for them that would fulfil his promise that through the descendants of Abraham all nations on earth would be blessed.

One day the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her not to be afraid because the Lord was with her. The angel told her that she would supernaturally conceive a child and give birth to a son. He said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Mary’s humble response to God’s purpose for her life was, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

When Joseph realised that Mary was pregnant he was devastated and assumed, very understandably, that she had been unfaithful to him. He did not want to her to be publicly disgraced so planned to end their relationship quietly. Then, one night, God revealed the truth to him in a dream. An angel said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” So Joseph married Mary and had no union with her until she gave birth to a son.

This was the beginning of the greatest story ever told. God had promised to provide a saviour and out of love for a sad and sinful world he gave the gift of his only Son to be that Saviour. Jesus was also called Immanuel, which means “God with us.” This Christmas, and every day of our lives, each of us needs to know God’s love for us, the forgiveness of our sins and that he is with us. Then we can joyfully sing, “Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the new born King: peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!’ Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies; with the angelic host proclaim ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

He was Mary’s Son

In the birth of Jesus God broke into history and drew near to us all. He is Immanuel, “God with us.” Then, as now, many people wanted to keep God out of their lives. They didn’t want their lives to change and to submit to his authority and rule. But Jesus still came from heaven to earth. As one Christmas carol puts it, “He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all.” He came into this world in an amazing way when he was supernaturally conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb. He was Mary’s Son.

Mary humbly accepted the amazing privilege which God gave her. She responded to the angel who came to tell her the news of what was going to happen to her by saying, “I am the Lord’s servant, and am willing to accept whatever he wants.” She was willing to accept the stigma of being thought to be immoral, and even of Joseph thinking that she had been unfaithful to him. When King Herod tried to kill her son, she accepted having to flee into exile in Egypt where the family became asylum seekers in a foreign country. She stood at the foot of the Cross as her son died and experienced the piercing grief of bereavement. He was Mary’s son.

Mary’s son was also her Saviour. Mary was not a sinless person, she was like us all. She was, however, someone who wanted to really know God in a deep way. She responded to the angel Gabriel by saying, “Oh, how I praise the Lord. How I rejoice in God, my Saviour!” She was a thoughtful person who reflected on everything that happened to her son. After the shepherds came to visit the baby Jesus “Mary quietly treasured these things in her heart and thought about them often.” After the cross and resurrection, like the disciples, Mary fully realised why they had been told to call him Jesus. He was indeed her Saviour as well as her son. She had carried him in her womb and cared for him through his life. Now by his death and resurrection he had saved his people, including his mother, from their sins.

What will this Christmas be like for you? What do want most for Christmas? We all need to find what Mary found. Mary’s Son came to save us from our sins. He came to be “God with us”, not only at Christmas but always, in this life and forever.

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.”