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All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” – which means, God with us.  (Matthew 1:22-23)

 

Merry Christmas. I want to tell you that as I have been preparing these Christmas messages a feel the weight of a very difficult task. I feel like it is, at least in some way, my job to take something old and make it new. Or, to talk about something familiar but to talk about it in such a way that it becomes unfamiliar, remarkable and extraordinary. The world has heard these majestic words thousands of times over. We hear them in church often, but even if you don’t go to church – you hear them year in and year out in christmas carols and on christmas specials or movies. The words of Christmas are many, and all of them have become, common, redundant and even domestic. Behold a virgin will be with child and his name will be Jesus, Emmanuel, God with Us, Wonderful, Councilor, Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Everlasting Father. And I feel like I must make them some what foreign again – because they are too familiar. I feel that way as a preacher, preaching on these verses, but I also feel that as a disciple of Christ. I feel like I personally need these words to take me by surprise and arouse in me a deeper sense of awe and amazement. And if all that I said is true for me, I imagine it is true for you as well. Perhaps you have felt that. How do we celebrate and make sacred that which has become so ordinary?

 

Today I would like to spend all of our time together to look at this one word. “Emmanuel”, which means “God with Us”. I want to meditate on it. I want it to become foreign and new. To do that – let’s divide it into its three parts. God. With. Us.

 

GOD

The El at the end of this word is the Hebrew word for God. El Shaddai, El-ohim, Emmanu-El. It means that Jesus is God! That is what the name means. He shall be called Emmanuel – meaning God is with us. Jesus is GOD.

 

So Come let us adore him. Let us “adore this hiding of the Almighty in human weakness, this comprehending of the Incomprehensible, this revealing of the Invisible, this localization of the Omnipresent!” (Spurgeon) Think of it. God by very definition is uncontainable and other worldly and now he is contained in the flesh of an infant. God who is everywhere and outside of time, all of a sudden, enters into time and moves into someone’s neighborhood.

 

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; 

Hail the Incarnate Deity!

Pleased as man with men to dwell, 

Jesus our Immanuel 

 

Oh, to think of it in this way – “veiled in flesh the Godhead see.” There is a story from the OT where Moses pleads with God, “Show me your glory!” Moses is the only man, that I know of, who was given the privilege of looking at the back of God.

 

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” Ex. 33:18-23

 

That single act of looking upon God’s back made Moses’ face to shine so much that he had to wear a veil over his head so that the people would not be tempted to worship him. And that was just from looking at his “hind parts” – what is that?! Well, the same God, who could not allow a human to see his face is now wrapped in flesh and looking everyone in the eye. Just as Moses veiled his face to hide whatever light was absorbed into his face, God also is veiled – but he is veiled in flesh. John says:

 

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory…” John 1

 

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands… 1 John 1

 

Jesus is God. Now, that might not be news to you. Perhaps you have heard that before. But have you ever thought about how unbelievable that is. Sure, it may be something we hear or even say often, but do you know just how preposterous that really is. That the God of the Jews would become a man. Think of the God of the Hebrews. Doesn’t he typically show up with peels of thunder, lighting, fire or great floods? Isn’t his normal way of behaving to separate himself from sinful humans. He may have dwelt in the tabernacle but the tabernacle was layered – with different compartments – and only one man could enter – and only once a year – to plead with God for forgiveness. If a priest where to so much as touch certain pieces of furniture that had been in the place where God dwelt – he would die – instantly. Isn’t that God’s normal behavior. He is spoken of as a smoking furnace, a pillar of fire, and a tornado. How could he become a man.

 

In fact, one of the most difficult facts for a modern Jew to answer is why so many Jews in Jesus’ day believed that Jesus was God. Sure they believed in the coming of Messiah, but no Jew ever believed that the Messiah would be God himself. It is redonkulous, preposterous – it is stranger than fiction. How could the God of the bible – who required a very heavy burdensome system of sacrifices and washing just to come near to him, now become a man himself – and then fraternize and eat with other men. Not to mention washing their feet and bleeding to death for them. God is with us.

 

WITH

Next, let us consider the word ‘with’. Surely we already know that it is literal. He is with us – literally. He became a baby and dwelt among us. But there are other senses of the word. The Greek term is very forcible and expresses the strongest form of “with.” It is not merely, “in company

with” as another Greek word would signify, but “ signifies close fellowship. “God is peculiarly and closely ‘with us’.” (Spurgeon) The word “with” could mean that he is with us, he is for us, or he is near us.

 

God is with us. After Jesus died for the sins of the world he rose again. He came back and again he was with us. He told us that he would never leave us nor forsake us. Did you know this is a phrase that God is fond of saying? All through out the OT God is promising us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

 

Imagine the disciples, a few days after Jesus’ death. I wonder what they were thinking. It sure seems like he left us and forsook us. Jesus is gone. Jesus is Dead. What do we do now, go back to fishing (for fish)? But then Jesus rose from the dead. HE came back and o his disciple he proved, “Look – not even death can hold me back. I will always be with you.” [Hebrews 13:5, Deuteronomy 31:8]

 

You might also remember that as Jesus ascended into heaven – he promised:

 

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28)

 

God is with us. He was with us, he is with us, and he promises to always be with us.  That could also mean that he is for us. You’ve heard people ask, “Are you with me? or Whose with me?” Well,  God is with us! The bible teaches:

 

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

 

Doesn’t his stooping from his heavenly place to be with us show how very much he is for us? Oh, how he loves us? He humbled himself not only to stoop from heaven to earth, but to become a man, and not just to become a man but a servant, and not just to serve but to give his life, and not just to die, but to be tormented and crucified on a cruel cross. All because he is with us. God is with us! Amen?! And if God be for us, then who could ever stand against us? This is the very message of Christmas, God is not against us – He is with us!

 

But also this little word could mean that God is near and closely “with us.” Do you know that he is near? He has proven time and time again that he longs to be near. He loves us and draws near to us and beacons us to draw near to him. The bible teaches that he is near to all who call on him (Psalm 145), he is near to the broken hearted and close to the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34). In Isaiah he promises:

 

fear not, for I am with you;

be not dismayed, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

 

For many this Christmas season this is what needs to be heard. We need to be reminded that God is with us. He is near and holds us dear to his heart. Charles Spurgeon said it well:

 

“Are you alone? So was He, in the wilderness and on the mountain’s side, and in the garden’s gloom. Do you mix in public society? So did He labor in the thickest crowds. Where can you find yourself, on the hilltop, or in the valley, on the land or on the sea, in the daylight or in darkness—where, I say, can you be, without discovering that Jesus has been there before you? Do you feel the sorrows of poverty? He “had not where to lay His head.” Have you been betrayed? Do not forget that He, too, had His familiar friend who sold Him for the price of a slave.” (Spurgeon) 

 

 

US

Finally we might consider the word “us”. God is with US. He is with you individually and he is with us corporately. Let me just say really quickly that God is with you. I know that might seem hard to believe at times but he is. All of you. Each of you. It does not matter what crime or offense you have committed. God is with you. He has already covered over a multitude of sin, and your’s are cover also, so please know this – God is with you.

 

So… if that be true then please allow me to ask you. If you look at all that he has done to get to you and to be near to you and ‘with’ you, what are you doing – or what are you not doing – to get with him? He has crossed infinite galaxies, he has passed through whatever separates the spirit world from our physical world. He has crossed over from the living into the land of the dead and come back again to send his very spirit to abide inside of you. God has done so much more than you could ever imagine just to get with you. Now, what are you not doing to get with him. Do you make excuses? Are you too busy? Do you want to be with him? God is with us, and that means he is with you and near you. How often do we miss that? The infinite is within arms length and yet how often are we not even willing to reach out to touch it?

 

God is with us. He is with you, but he is also with us. That is a community word. US means that there is an us. Not just an I but a we. And, the bible is pretty explicit that God delights to be with us when we are gathered together in community. He even promises that when 2 or more are gather there I will be also. God is with us.

 

This is why the bible teaches that we should not neglect the community, the church, the fellowship of the believers. God is a community of three in one and God wants us to be in a community as well. It is not good for the man to be alone. We must be in community. God is with US.

 

Wouldn’t you agree with me that there is a deeper sense of God’s presence when you are meeting together with God’s people. There is a powerful evidence that “God is with us” when a community of believers, who each have the spirit of God living in them, gather together to worship, to share, to serve, to pray and to encourage and care for one another. That is why we push community here at MISSIODEI. Because God is with US! And might I add that if you are not in a Missional Community {MC} please consider committing your family to one next year. Because God is with US and I can promise you that you will experience much more of that Christmas promise in community.

 

Conclusion

As you can see, there is a lot squeezed into those 3 little words. In fact, I could not do it justice if I spent entire day on each word. Even more than that, one could very well spend their entire life on these three words.

 

“It seems to me to contain the whole history of redemption! It hints at man’s being without God and God’s having removed from man on account of sin. It seems to tell me of man’s spiritual life, by Christ’s coming to him and being formed in him the hope of Glory.” (Spurgeon)

 

In these three words we have the Gospel in summary. God is with us. When John Wesley died his last words were as follows:

 

 “The best of all is God with us.” 

 

John Wesley spent his entire life meditating on these 3 little words. I wonder if we might accomplish all that he accomplished for the kingdom of Christ if we too made these 3 words our “the best of all.” This Christmas may you experience the truth of these three little words. God with us.