“Look! The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will name him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.”
(Matthew 1:23, NET)
Jesus, Emmanuel, the God who is with us—that is who this Jesus is. The Creator fully participating in His creation. As Eugene Peterson put it, this Jesus “moved into the neighborhood.” I love that thought!
But it’s more than just God coming near and closing the geographical gap. Even as far back as is recorded in Exodus 3:6, Moses learned that God desires to be known as the God of the people. With God, it’s always been way more personal, more relational, than we might first have anticipated. He has always been a “with-us” kind of God.
Isaiah recorded something specific about this “with-us” characteristic of God (Isaiah 7). Isaiah seems to suggest that God makes His “with-us” quality particularly well known by His people during times of trial and hardship—and even more specifically, while His people are experiencing the consequences of judgment for their own sin and failures. Yes, that is right. While God is disciplining them, He is close to them, He is with them. Like the most amazing Father, He truly disciplines those He loves. It is during these “worst of times” hardships that it is good to belong to the very present, “with-us” God who generously provides His comfort.
Isaiah’s conception of Emmanuel does not end there. There is a second understanding of this expression. This “with-us” quality of God is an indicator of a hopeful and certain future. God’s “with-us” character actually ensures our victory and survival through the difficult times. God’s enduring presence and faithfulness to His people is the best and only guarantee of a hope and a future. This promise of a life to be lived in complete and unhindered oneness with Jesus will indeed be the culmination of these best of times. It is during these “best of times” that it is also good to belong to the very present, “with-us” God who generously provides His joy.
This season, as we are celebrating the First Advent of Jesus, we are demonstrating that we indeed belong to a “with-us” kind of God. So, this Christmas, I want to encourage you all to be comforted and joy-filled because of our certain, secured future hope in Jesus.
In the best of times and the worst of times, I am praying for us to experience afresh the tidings of our Emmanuel’s comfort and joy this Christmas 2020.