Scripture: Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18-25;
Title: Immanuel – God with us
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about[a]: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet[b] did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, 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. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[c] because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Who here is done with their Christmas shopping? Christmas is just around the corner and maybe some of you cannot wait until you do your gift exchange that will happen later on today. Maybe some of you have fun plans with family and maybe some of you have trips planned or something. But also for some people, this is the time we feel the loneliest. It seems odd since Christmas is supposed to represent the highlight of the holiday season when everything is forgivable and everything is joyful but it does leave some people with extreme loneliness.
For example, I have seen many visa students who are here alone experience extreme loneliness and boredom especially around Christmas time since it’s cold and too expensive to go away somewhere warm.
For some others who may be under unfortunate circumstance of being homeless may not welcome the holiday and Christmas spirit since life is just little bit too tough for them and cannot get into the “spirit” by being involved in a gift exchange and such.
And for some others, there just may be some relational issues that lead to loneliness around the holiday time. Just because one is in relationship (whether marriage or dating), it does not mean that he/she does not feel loneliness. When the “feeling” is gone and when there is emotional tension due to fights etc, Christmas may not mean anything to people who are not committed to making relationship joyful and happy. It is just another day that they need to go through and “jingle bells” and “oh-what-funs” are just part of lyric of some song they hear often – which is to say meaningless.
There are times though when the loneliness is felt as part of God’s design. 17th century French Philosopher Blaise Pascal puts it correctly:
“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus”
Jesus often spent many hours away from the crowds so that he can spend that time in prayer. Jesus was a people person but when the time came and when it was needed, he withdrew from them and spent the time with the Father in intimate prayer. Jesus also needed to address the God shaped vacuum.
But this is interesting. Jesus having God shaped vacuum too? If Jesus is God then why would he have that God shaped vacuum? It has all to do with the word “Immanuel”.
Immanuel is spoken by the Prophet Isaiah but it is no secret that from Genesis to Revelations, it is always God who approaches his people FIRST. If someone is a terrible rush to leave your presence and you need to summarize the bible or at least pitch the concept of it, just tell them this much – Immanuel. God with us. Throughout the bible, the story is that God always initiated the first move to let us know that we are loved despite his “supposed” people constantly betraying him and causing him heart and headaches.
In today’s scripture Jesus is called by two names. Immanuel and Jesus. Jesus is a short form for Joshua and it means “the Lord is Salvation”. Simply put – Jesus will save. The nation that was supposed to be that attractive example to the surrounding nations has disobeyed their way into national collapse. A surer answer had to be found and there came along Jesus of Nazareth who became THE genuine human dialogical partner to God.
You guys know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah where Abraham was pleading with the three men (angels) sent by God to destroy the wicked cities. Abraham started his bargaining with the angels to see if Sodom (where Abraham’s Nephew Lot lived) can be spared. He begins the righteous men count with fifty. He says if there are fifty righteous people, would you please spare the city? The angel says yes. Abraham brings down the count to forty five and the angel says yes the city will be spared. Abraham brought the count all the way down to ten and angel still said the city will be spared. On the account of TEN!
Now if we move the clock forward a little bit, we can see how Jesus’ case is more incredible. The promise to Abraham was “Through your seed, all nations will be blessed”. It only took one man whose obedience was thorough and complete, to take away the sin of all people – a blessing to all nations. We only need to believe in faith that Jesus indeed saves.
Then Immanuel is how Jesus is going to do this. Immanuel – God with us. God took a human form and throughout the Older Testament, we see God appearing in supernatural phenomenon – whether it is massive cloud or fire, etc. But Immanuel tells us that God came to us as one of us – taking on our weaknesses, limitations and putting himself into the corner called “being human” just so that he can overcome our limitations. Hebrews 4:15 says,
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
Then there is another element to the “Immanuel – God with us.” It is that God came to us to “be” with us. Yes, he came to save! But he also came to “BE” with us.
I happen to think that Jesus was a very happy fella – He loved people. He spent a lot of time with God the Father but if you read through the Gospels, Jesus is found to be with people all the time. He is found at festivities like weddings. He is always with his disciples, travelling and he never really minded the crowds the gathered around him. In fact, Jesus had great heart for them. Matthew 9:36 says,
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36)
In another translation it says:
When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)
If you also notice the way Jesus performed the miracles… Did you ever wonder why Jesus did so many physical things to work the spiritual power? It wasn’t that Jesus spoke to the crowd and all of a sudden they all received healing. But it is mostly that Jesus had to “see” the wounded, crippled, lame and blinded one-on-one. As if to tell us that very personal touch of the personal salvation story.
That two fold meaning – God with us in the sense of God becoming human and God with us to “be” with us and act among us is the meaning of Immanuel.
So how do all these explanations affect us today? I think as we approach Christmas we can do some soul searching to see whether we or others are lonely and for what reason we or others would be lonely. There are few things you can do:
- If you are lonely because of the God shaped vacuum, then invite Jesus into your heart and pray that you may be satisfied with his love and his love only.
- Instead of saying “Happy Birthday Jesus” how about we change that to “Thanks for coming to be with us”. Just so we can also appreciate the notion of Immanuel – God with us. Not just celebrate his birth but also what it represented.
- We can search for others who need Jesus’ love if they are also suffering from God shaped vacuum and share the story of Immanuel. After all, even Jesus had this vacuum because he was human. This is to say all human beings have this vacuum and therefore everyone needs Jesus.
- We can also search for others and service them if they suffer not from God shaped vacuum but from human shaped vacuum that YOU can address. In the beginning, I mentioned visa students, folks in the retirement homes (like some grandparents) and people on the streets. Why not commit to one of these groups of people and share God’s love through you loving them?
Few years ago, I ended up working 10 hours on Christmas day and 11 hours on Boxing Day. It was depressing and sad. In a tiny office on a very uncomfortable chair with my kimbap and coke as my lunch and dinner.
But it was not so sad because I lost out from all the holiday fun or just being so nerdy but it was very sad because by focusing so much on work, I forgot to appreciate those around me and especially Jesus. But this Christmas, let’s put extra effort so that we can genuinely appreciate the occasion so that it may not be all about the gifts and turkeys but about whom it truly belong – our Lord Jesus Christ who is also known as Immanuel.