“Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel’” (Lk. 2:28-32, NRSV).
What child is this? We have pondered this question for four weeks in Advent and now the fifth week, culminating in the glorious holy night upon which this Christ-child came as a helpless babe to live among us, taking on human flesh, human experience, and human sin past, present, and future. The prophet Isaiah foretold his birth, and the angel in Joseph’s dream referenced this prophecy, declaring to Mary’s betrothed that this son he would raise was the very fulfillment of God’s promise.
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14).
“’She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
‘Look, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,’
which means, ‘God is with us’” (Mt. 1:23).
The Hebrew word used in Isaiah’s prophecy is עִמָּ֥נוּ אֵֽל׃ ʿim·māʹ·nû ʾēlʹ which is translated in English as Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” The Greek word used in Matthew’s gospel is Ἐμμανουήλ Emmanouēl, translated as Emmanuel, with the same meaning.[i]
God WITH us. Not a far-away, transcendent being in a celestial realm where we can’t see, know, touch, or experience him. Not a self-absorbed, benevolent deity detached from our everyday lives. Not a vindictive, callous God who rejects his creation because it has rebelled against him and broken his covenants. This infant, sent from the Father, God’s one and only Son, is Emmanuel—God with us! God has chosen to dwell with us!
What shall I say! And how shall I describe this birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of Days has become an infant. He who sits upon the sublime and heavenly throne now lies in a manger. And he who cannot be touched, who is without complexity, incorporeal, now lies subject to human hands. He who has broken the bonds of sinners is now bound by an infant’s bands. But he has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and abject humiliation the measure of his goodness. For this he assumed my body, that I may become capable of his word; taking my flesh, he gives me his spirit; and so he bestowing and I receiving, he prepares for me the treasure of life. He takes my flesh to sanctify me; he gives me his Spirit, that he may save me.[ii]
The incarnation. God becomes mortal, clothed in human flesh. Such mystery! And yet one day, just as mysterious, this human flesh within which we dwell—we who confess faith in Christ as Lord—will be raised immortal and imperishable (1 Cor. 15:53-54), and we will reign in the holy city, the new Jerusalem, forever and ever (Rev. 2:5)! God with us, and us with God!!
Quite often we begin the season of Advent—the beginning of the Christian year according to the church calendar—with the longing lyrics of the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” What a glorious and joyous shift when on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day our song turns to rejoicing and beckoning all people everywhere, “O Come, All Ye Faithful!”
Christ has come! God is with us! Let us come and worship the one who is Lord, Jesus, Son of God, Messiah, and Emmanuel. Come let us worship Christ the Lord!
“O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
Christ, the Lord.”[iii]
- What does it mean to you that God is with you in your everyday life? How might this change the way you move through your day, encountering the good and the bad?
- Take a few deep breaths and relax, becoming inwardly still. Review your life with God. When was a time in which you experienced the nearness of God and his activity in your life? Talk with God about this memory you share together. If you can’t recall such a time, ask God to open your awareness to his presence with you and help you by his Spirit to notice in the coming days.
- Offer your worship to God for being Emmanuel. Write a prayer of praise, sing a song, dance, create, pray aloud—however you feel invited to celebrate!
Pray: Lord, Jesus, Son of God, Messiah, Emmanuel—I adore you! Thank you for humbling yourself and leaving the glories of your reign in heaven to come dwell as an infant upon earth, entering the world just as I did, living in the same flesh, knowing the same struggles, yet giving your life for mine that I might share your victory over sin and death. Hallelujah, Lord Jesus! You are my King! Amen.
Listen: “Emmanuel,” Performed by Hannah Kerr. Written by Andy Gullahorn, Hannah Kerr, and Jill Philips. October 19, 2018. © 2018 Black River Entertainment. “O Holy Night” (feat. Melvin Crispell III & Mav City Gospel Choir). Performed by Mav City Gospel Choir, Maverick City Music, Melvin Crispell III. Written by Adolphe Charles Adam, John Sullian Dwight, Placide Cappeau. Produced by Tony Brown, Jonathan Jay, Brandon Lake. November 30, 2021. © 2021 Tribl Records. ℗ 2021 Tribl Records.
[i] Logos Bible Software, Exegetical Guide, “Word by Word” (Bellington: Faithlife, LLC , 2022), Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23.
[ii] St. John Chrysostom, “The Mystery,” in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, ed. Plough Editors. (Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2001), 229-30.
[iii] “O Come All Ye Faithful,” written by John Francis Wade, translated by Frederick Oakeley, 1841.
About the author:
Julie Meissner is the Assistant Director of Spiritual Formation for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, developing and curating retreats and spiritual formation resources for the holistic flourishing of all InterVarsity staff. She is a spiritual director, seminary student, and house mom at Abba's House refugee ministry, which she co-founded with her husband Michael, a pastor. They have two adult children—a son who works cattle in West Texas and a daughter studying biology at Baylor, as well as one high school son still in the nest, along with their menagerie of farm animals and the community garden in Cypress, TX.
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