Emmanuel: God is With Us
All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the Prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” — Matthew 1:22-23
December 20, 2023
According to the birth narrative in Matthew’s Gospel, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, “for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” The Angel went on to say that the child’s birth would fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy that a virgin would conceive and bear a son who would be called Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”
At the beginning of his journey on earth we are told that Jesus represents God’s presence with us, and at the end of his earthly journey, the last words of the Risen Lord to his disciples are: “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).
The Good News of the Gospel is that, in Jesus, God is always with us regardless of the situations we face in life. Jesus did not promise that life would always be easy, that we would not have losses and challenges in our lives. Jesus only promised us that we would not face these challenges alone; he promised to be with us always, in the good times and the bad times and all the in-between times.
We seem to be going through some particularly bad times these days: wars, death, and destruction in Ukraine and Israel; bitter and divisive political conflicts in the United States, racial and ethnic prejudice, millions experiencing poverty and hunger, growing numbers of refugees, and innumerable other traumas and tragedies.
In the midst of these challenges, we need to hear again that the birth of Jesus means he is with us, and we do not face these problems alone. Jesus is with us and weeps with us over these tragedies in our world.
Someone recently asked me, “Why does God let these terrible things happen?” I responded, “God asks us the same question; why do we let these terrible things happen?” God gave us the freedom to choose how we will live in the world God gave us, and God sent his son to demonstrate how we should live alongside one another and to die and rise again for our sins. However, we have turned our backs on God and the message of his son Jesus Christ, and we are reaping the results of our refusal to love God with our whole being, love our neighbors as ourselves, and love and pray for our enemies as Jesus taught us to do.
Even though we go astray, the Good News is that God is always with us, forgiving us and inviting us to surrender ourselves, our challenges and our world into his hands for healing and hope.
As Phillips Brooks wrote in his hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem”:
O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray,
cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Kent Millard
United Theological Seminary