Immanuel: God With US
In Christ, God has given us the perfect gift - not necessarily what we want, but what we need
If we went through West Lothian and conducted a poll of the big issues people face, they might name climate change, Brexit, the economy, world hunger, the state of Scottish football. But how many would name sin? In Matthew 1:21, the Bible describes God's intent in sending Jesus - 'to save his people from their sins'. But how is Jesus going to do that?
To save a person from drowning, you need someone who's not drowning; another drowning person isn't going to do much good. That's why our salvation had to be accopmlished by someone born outside of dominion to sin.
This is the story we read in Matthew 1:18-35. Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Rather than divorcing her, Joseph decided to Mary her and adopt Jesus. Matthew records that
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
Throughout the Old Testament, we read about God's presence with his people in various, sometimes remarkable ways. He promised to dwell in the tent of meeting in the Most Holy Place with the Ark of the Covenant. God, who is transcendent, is also immanent - with his people. But Isaiah prophesied about a new expression of God's presence with his people - in the person of a son born to a virgin.
Matthew picks up on this theme of God's presence to say that Jesus is the son prophesided about by Isaiah: he was born to a virgin after having been conceived by the Holy Spirit. Thus, God is with us in the person of Christ in a unique way.
There are two more times in Matthew when Jesus promises to be with his people. The first is in Matthew 18:20, where Jesus says 'For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them'. Now - we tend to take this as a generic promise that Jesus is with us by His Spirit whenever we gather in his name. But the context is specific - Jesus promises to be with us when we faithfully engage in conflict resolution and have to administer church discipline. These are painful, tricky, challenging moments, and when relationships deteriorate to that point, Jesus promises to be with us.
Second, the very last verse in the gospel is a promise of Jesus to be with us: 'And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age' (Matthew 28:20). Again, the context is specific; Jesus had just told his disciples to go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations. This is great news - Jesus promises to be with us when we engage God's mission to reach others with the good news of who Jesus is, what he has done, and what it means.
We know that God dwells with us by His Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). And we know that in God's presence there is fulness of joy (Psalm 16:11). During this Christmas season - we need more presence (not presents!): more than Jesus dwelling in our hearts by faith, and more than experiencing the joy to which we have access by the Spirit. We remember that Jesus especially promises to be with us as we do church and do mission. Many people have yet to experience the joy available in God's Spirit; Jesus promises to be with us as we go and tell them.