This Christmas season, the words “God with us,” have been continually circulating in my mind and heart. Although I’ve been familiar with the name Immanuel meaning “God with us,” I’ve never dwelt on that particular meaning. It’s funny that I haven’t really thought about this concept, especially because it is central to the meaning of Christmas. Through my New Testament Literature class this semester and a series of messages shared by Pastor Jeff Peterson at Central Assembly, I feel like I have gained so much understanding and “Aha!” moments about God’s nearness to us through Christ. Truly, thinking about this concept has made me rest in complete awe of God’s presence and of His choice to be with us.
“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” ~Matthew 1:23
My mind journeys back to learning about Moses and the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness for forty years. God’s presence was with them at every moment, and He expressed His presence to them through the pillar of cloud and the fire that led them day-by-day. God’s presence was expressed through an outward sign. The Israelites knew that this outward sign meant God’s provision for them by His being with them at each moment. Though they consistently wandered from His presence, still He chose to be near to them so that they would not walk blindly.
“Now whenever the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out on their journey, following it. But if the cloud did not rise, they remained where they were until it lifted. The cloud of the Lord hovered over the Tabernacle during the day, and at night fire glowed inside the cloud so the whole family of Israel could see it. This continued throughout all their journeys.” ~Exodus 40:36-38
My mind also ponders the book of Revelation and the future when God will forever provide unbroken presence to us. Never will we need to fear wandering, distractions, or the strategies of the enemy. For, we will forever be in God’s consistent, accessible, and constant presence. His nearness will be fully expressed to us. He will forever be with us.
“The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever.” ~Revelation 11:15b
What’s so powerful about these two instances is that Christ’s coming to earth as an infant is an extension of God’s presence and His wanting to be nearer to us. I think it’s so awesome to consider that throughout all of history, and into the infinite future, God willingly and lovingly pursues humankind. I think that to the Israelites, He showed His transcendence and “bigness” by His sending outward expressions of His presence. The Israelites could see that God’s presence was with them to lead and guide them. When I ponder our future in Heaven, I picture God’s presence not only so big, but also very near. I picture His presence in us, around us, with us, through us, and pouring in and out of us in a constant cycle. I think this intimate presence will be so familiar to our hearts because God sent His Son to be with us as an expression of His nearness.
“So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” ~Hebrews 4:14-16
God sent His Son to be near us. Jesus understands our weaknesses and our temptations because He became human and actually lived among us. When Christ came to earth, God’s presence not only was transcendent, but it became imminent. Jesus was not only a reflection of God’s presence, but He actually embodied God’s presence with us on earth. After Christ died, rose again, and ascended, He paved the way for the Holy Spirit to enter into our lives to dwell in us and lead us each day. Christ is the expression of God’s nearness to us, and the Holy Spirit is a daily reminder of God’s promise to us that He has Heaven in store for us–when God’s presence will be nearer than ever.
God has always been near to us, but throughout history, He has used many means to demonstrate that nearness to us. He longs to be closer to our hearts, and by sending Christ to be “God with us,” He has done just this. This is a closeness we can live with everyday, and it is a closeness we can look forward to forever and ever. This is the meaning of Christmas that has resonated so strongly with me this season, and it has rocked my world completely.
I pray, friend, that during this Christmas season, you will experience the closeness and nearness of God’s presence in your life. Know that God is pursuing your heart with His perfect love. His love has been expressed for you in so many ways–from His sending His Son to earth to dwell among you, to His allowing His Son to die for your sins, to His inviting you to live in freedom through His resurrection, to His promising that if you accept Him as Lord of your life, you will live forever in His unbroken, beautiful, incomparable presence.
God with us. What a gift.