Christmas is a special time of year here in America. We celebrate the coming of Immanuel–God with us. But I’ve gotta ask, with all that we have seen happen in the last year in our nation, is He really with us?
Is He with us in the strife, the division, the rioting, the racism, the extreme polar opposites we find ourselves at in this nation? Is He with us in the battle for life when cancer is the enemy? Is He with the homeless family whose child takes a cab to school because they have no permanent address for a bus? Is He with the families flooded or burned out of their homes this year? Is He with the families of those who lost their lives this past year through sickness, terrorism, or tragedy? Is He really with us, or is that just a nice platitude we sing at Christmas?
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14, NIV).
These words came to the Prophet Isaiah during a time when Judah stood alone against an alliance of Syria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The geopolitical landscape was one of much dread and fear, for Judah had been defeated by these enemies earlier. In the midst of this climate of war, God steps in to encourage the king of Judah with these words–the promise of a sign and a son. Scholars tell us that this child may have been a son of Isaiah whose birth would be a sign that God was with Judah and would give them power over the enemy. And He did.
Just as most prophecy has an immediate and an ultimate fulfillment, so, too, did the promise of a sign and a Son. Fast-forward 700 years, and we will find that the Jewish people were still awaiting the Messiah who would come to bring them peace. For 400 years, God had not spoken. The Israelites must have felt that God had abandoned them.
“‘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 be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, ‘God with us'” (Matthew 1:21-22).
You see, God’s people have always been the object of His affection. From the Garden to the Cross, the desire of His heart has been to dwell with us. The key to knowing His presence is to know His Son. Jesus came to “save his people from their sins.” When we surrender our hearts and lives to the Lord Jesus Christ, He comes to take up residence in our hearts and be with us forever. Nothing can take that promise away.
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).
Neither cancer nor war, neither homelessness nor tragedy, neither sin nor guilt, neither fear nor doubt, can separate us from His love. We may not have peace with God when we have unrepentant sin in our hearts, but He is still with us and He still loves us. No matter what we face today, God is with us. He is with us in sorrow and with us in rejoicing. He is with us in comfort and with us in pain. He is with us in trials and with us in triumphs. He is with us in blue skies and with us in the storm.
“When you pass through the water, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk though the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Isaiah 43:2).
“The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:7).
The question is, “Have you made the God of Jacob your fortress?”
For those who can answer “Yes!” to that question, we can rest in the promise that He is with us. No matter what we face, He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. For those who cannot answer affirmatively, your hope is just a breath away.
“‘The word is near you: it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:8-9).
Just as Virginia O’Hanlon was assured by the New York Sun that there is a Santa, let me reassure you, my friend. There is a Savior. His name is Immanuel, for He is with us. How do I know?
This past Sunday as we were singing the popular chorus, “Emmanuel” as our call to worship, the words stood out to me more than ever before.
“Emmanuel, Emmanuel, His name is called Emmanuel. God with us, revealed in us. His name is called Emmanuel” (Bob McGee).
It’s a beautiful song, but I had never noticed one certain line: revealed in us.
You see, the beauty of God’s presence with us is that He has chosen to live in us.
“And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22).
We may see ugliness in this world, but we also see the beauty of Christ in the hands and feet of His children. Where there are riots, there are also prayer gatherings. Where there has been tragedy, there has also been relief and comfort. Where the enemy has brought pain, suffering, and confusion, the Spirit of God has brought healing, encouragement, and support.
This Christmas, let’s put our hope, not in the magic of Santa, but in the reality of the Word made flesh, dwelling among us, and then dwelling in us–the hope of the world. Immanuel.
Because, yes, my friend, He is with us.