Emmanuel: God Is With Us
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 [Isaiah]: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel which means ‘God is with us.’” — Matthew 1:21-22
December 16, 2020
This Advent I have been pondering the challenges that faced a young woman from Nazareth, likely only a teenager. Engaged to a carpenter in her hometown, Mary received a visit from an angel who told her she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and bear a son, who would be named Jesus.
After this visit by the angel, Mary faced many challenges and difficult days.
Having become pregnant out of wedlock, she would have been scorned and shunned by many in her family and religious community.
When her fiancé, Joseph, discovered that his bride-to-be was expecting a child, he “planned to dismiss her quietly” and break off their engagement. But an angel told him not to be afraid and to take Mary as his wife.
Then the very pregnant Mary had to travel with Joseph across 70 miles of rough terrain from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register for the Roman census.
When they arrived in Bethlehem the only place the couple found to stay was in a stable with cows, donkeys, goats and sheep.
It was in that cramped barn, surrounded by animals, that Mary gave birth to Jesus without the benefit of a doctor or midwife.
After the trials of pregnancy and labor, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus had to flee Bethlehem for Egypt to escape the wrath of the jealous King Herod.
Mary and Joseph endured many challenges as the earthly parents of Jesus. But they didn’t endure them alone. They knew from the beginning that Emmanuel (God is with us) would carry them through those difficult and discouraging days in their lives.
We, too, live in difficult and discouraging days. The COVID pandemic causing tragic loss of life, health and livelihood for millions of people. Racial injustice and conflict causing death and destruction in many of our cities. Political conflict causing deep divisions even among family members and friends.
In difficult and discouraging days like these, we need to remember that God is with us (Emmanuel), just as God was with Mary and Joseph in the midst of their challenges.
As we go through one of the most difficult and discouraging Advent seasons many of us have experienced, we remember that the God revealed in the birth, life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus is with us every step of the way, closer to us than the air we breathe.
The Christmas song “O Holy Night” reminds us that Jesus brings hope and rejoicing to “a weary world”:
O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born.
We are a weary people living in a weary world, but we know God brings hope and rejoicing in the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, who is God’s living presence with us.
God never promised that our lives would always be easy and pleasant. God only promised that, no matter what happens to us, we will never be alone because God is with us. And that’s all we need.
Dr. Kent Millard
United Theological Seminary