With Christmas a little over a week away, that also means college semesters are winding down, and our two oldest kids come home this week! When they’re at school, we have a weekly video call and we text here and there, but there’s nothing like having them home, sitting down at the dinner table, and being WITH loved ones.
That little, but meaningful word “with” in the Hebrew of the Old Testament is simply “im” (more of an ‘eem’ sound). And when you add the pronoun “us” you get “im-anu.” And if you add the word for God, you get “im-anu-el.” With-us-God. Not away at college where maintaining relationships is challenging. Not so high above the heavens and in a completely different spiritual dimension such that He cannot be known. But With Us… and of course, the greatest “with-ness” ever expressed by God came to fulfillment when God-the-Son came in the flesh (incarnation!), born in Bethlehem.
Months before that, an angel had appeared to Joseph in a dream, and Matthew 1:22-23 tells us: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).”
Maybe this is familiar stuff to you because of Bible reading, glorious Christmas hymns, or Advent season devotionals. But you and I need, not only to hear it again but to freshly consider its awesome significance! [Note: Last week Pastor Steve Sage pointed us to incarnation as motivation for Mission. Today, consider incarnation as motivation for worship! See also, Elder Steve Hoogerhyde’s Dec 8 Advent devotional]. Listen to pastor and scholar Sinclair Ferguson:
“I think one can say, if your intellect has never been staggered by the reality of the incarnation, you don’t really know what incarnation means. It doesn’t [simply] mean Jesus was a little baby. It means the infinite, eternal, divine One, worshipped by cherubim and seraphim, Creator of all things, sustainer of all things, infinite in His being, wisdom, power, majesty, glory, who at a word could dissolve the world that had sinned against Him, was willing to come into this world and assume our flesh in order to become our Savior. It’s overwhelming.”
This is why we gather to worship on Christmas Eve. Not out of tradition or because we love candles or because it makes us “feel good” before a flurry of feasting and presents. We gather to worship because of the One who alone is worthy of our adoration. We’ll look back to that first Advent (literally “coming”) in wonder that God would draw so near to sinners like us, and we’ll be reminded to look ahead to Christ’s Second Coming which won’t involve humility/humiliation or suffering/death but will reveal Glory like never before in His Victorious Power over sin, death, evil!
Our college kids will head back to campus in January, and they won’t be with us. Maybe you wonder whether your relationship with Jesus is bound to be distant because He “went back to heaven” when He ascended (Acts 1:9). But in His perfect wisdom, Jesus left us the Holy Spirit. John 16:7 “Very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” In Jesus’ physical absence, with-ness is somehow, wondrously heightened and deepened in the gift of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within every believer in Jesus! Draw near and revel in God-With-You, especially by opening God’s Word which the Spirit will use to remind you of God’s love and of God’s promises – all to be fulfilled at the second and final Advent. Until then, we worship, we serve. we proclaim this Good News, and we rest in the true richness of Christmas.
Peter Wang is our Senior Pastor