Last week, I drove away from my church nearly overwhelmed by the sadness, fear, and heartache around me. Parents are praying for and struggling with their children. Elders are saying goodbye to old friends or spouses for the last time. So many are watching loved ones battle illness. During a time of prayer in the midst of the worship service, the altar was full of people crying out to God. 2020 has, without question, been a difficult year (and that may be the understatement of the year), and it can be easy to feel hopeless right now. But in Scripture, we find that no circumstances can dim the hope Christ brought to mankind at his birth. Jesus is hope because he is Immanuel.
“Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel,’ which is translated ‘God is with us.’” (Matthew 1:22-23)
He is Immanuel Who Loves Us
Immanuel means “God with us.” It literally means God took on flesh and became one of us in order to offer us a chance at escaping the eternal death sin brought into the world. In explaining this to my students a few weeks ago, I modified an illustration from somewhere I can’t remember (apologies to the creator). Imagine I have a giant ant mound in my yard. (Living in Alabama, this isn’t a great challenge for the imagination.) This ant mound is full of these tiny ants who spend their days doing whatever ants do, completely incapable of comprehending me, my human faculties, or their true place in the world. One day, I see a weather report that a giant storm system is going to bring enough rain to create a flood that will pass right through my yard, carrying the ants away and drowning most of them. Now, imagine that I really love ants. I love these ants so much that I track down a leading expert in the field of human-animal transformation and pay a ludicrous amount of money to have him turn me into an ant so I can warn the other ants in my yard about the coming flood. I leave behind all the things humans have that ants don’t. My relationships. My human intelligence. My indoor plumbing and cable TV. You could say a lot of things about my decision (He’s crazy! That’s outrageous! Get this man some help!), but you absolutely could not say that I don’t love those ants.
I know the illustration doesn’t quite hold up perfectly when compared to the Incarnation, but Immanuel is proof that God loves us. You can say it’s crazy to think Christ would leave heaven for earth. You can say that kind of decision is outrageous. But you cannot say that God doesn’t love His people, and that love is reason for hope. We are not alone. You, whatever you are facing, do not have to face it alone. Immanuel is proof that God is with us.
He is Immanuel Who Understands Us
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens – Jesus the Son of God – let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Immanuel, God with us, was fully human in the person of Christ. The author of Hebrews spells out the hope which that knowledge brings: He understands us. He sympathizes with our weaknesses. Jesus understands loss. He understands loneliness. He understands betrayal. He understands mourning. He understands worry. There is nothing you are facing this Christmas season that stumps Jesus or leaves him throwing his hands up, saying, “I don’t know what to tell you.” Instead, he says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
As 2020 draws to a close, don’t be afraid to approach the throne of grace with confidence that your great High Priest understands you and desires to give you grace and mercy, comfort and rest, joy and hope.
He is Immanuel Who Will Dwell With Us
Possibly the greatest hope Immanuel brings is in the future his name leads us to consider. Immanuel, God with us, is a foreshadowing of a time in which God will dwell with his people perfectly. In the past, God’s presence resided in the Holy of Holies, where only the high priest could go. Then, his presence came to Earth in the person of Christ. Now, his Holy Spirit dwells within every believer. In a coming future, however, God will live among his people so perfectly that Scripture says the Earth won’t even need the light of the Sun because the glory of God will illuminate it.
This Christmas, if you are a follower of Christ, find hope in the truth that no matter what happens on this Earth, we will someday live in the presence of God in a restored, perfect world without sin and its effects. As a friend of mine used to say, if you are in Christ, this life is as bad as things will ever get. They can only go up from here.
On the other side of that, if you are not in Christ, this life is as good as things will ever get, because eternal separation from God waits for you. The good news is that Christ came to offer hope to you, as well. There is no time like the present to repent of sin and surrender to Christ as Lord and Savior. He is worth it because he is Immanuel.
If you find yourself in need of hope this year, look to Immanuel. Look to his love for you. Look to his understanding and mercy. Look to the eternal hope he provides.
“But I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me.” (Micah 7:7)