…an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and 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.”
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”). Matthew 1:20-23
We are so used to the words ‘Immanuel, God with us’ that we don’t often give them much thought. They are just part of the overall joy and comfort of the Christmas season, sort of a padding of cotton wool around our often jarring life. But if we do stop and think for a bit, maybe they are not so comforting after all!
When Moses and Israel appeared before the Lord at Mount Siani with smoke and fire and a sound like trumpets and the threat that any who drew near would be killed, they begged not to be with him.
When Isaiah beheld God high and lifted up with his entourage of fearsome seraphs filling and shaking the Temple, he cried out, ‘Woe is me! I am ruined!’.
We dare not let the familiarity and the ‘Hallmark-ing’ of the cultural celebration of Christmas dull us to the reality proclaimed by the author of Hebrews, ‘It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’. (Heb 10:31)
What crushes all these great ‘saints’ of the Bible when God comes to be with them is the magnitude of his holiness drawing near and the realization of their sinfulness and separation. God’s absolute righteousness and the knowledge of impending judgement fully revealed as he strips away all defenses and draws near ‘ruins’ them.
And we say ‘Immanuel, God with us’, and smile and sigh while the carols play in the background! Ought we not rather fall down and ask the mountains to hide us like the people in the book of Revelation at the thought of Lord of all the Universe drawing near?
Well, no. And why? Because ‘you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins’. The reason we do not join Moses and Isaiah and all the biblical ‘saints’ in cowering before the holy, righteous, awesome judge of all the universe is because in Bethlehem 2000 years ago he came to save us -- Jesus, God Saves. That impending judgement so rightly anticipated and justly deserved by all those who come into God’s presence fell on Jesus, who did not deserve it but came to take it in our place.
He experienced God’s rejection so that we can ‘approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need’ (Heb 4:16). Jesus made a way where there was no way so that God can be with us and we with him.
When we hear the name Immanuel this Christmas may we sense the trembling of the universe beneath the unimaginable weight of God’s glory and may it be matched by the trembling of love and gratitude in our own hearts as we think of the grace of God coming to us as a humble baby to bear our judgement so that God can be with us and we with him:
Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”