Matthew 1:18 18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Skip to verse 22:
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.” 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Merry Christmas! I hope you have an opportunity to reflect on the wonder and the miracle of Christmas, and I hope you experience the love of God in a profound way this season. What I would like to emphasize from our text today is the name of Jesus in verse 23. He is called “Immanuel” which means “God with us.”
This concept of God being born into our world, of coming where we are, of willingly becoming like us in order to experience what we experience and to be with us as we go through life and to help us overcome is so unlike the teaching of other faiths. It is this precious truth that God is with us that enables us to truly celebrate Christmas and every day. We are not orphans on a doorstep. We are not on our own. Immanuel, God is with us.
Our son Josh has had the privilege of working with a basketball coach named Chris over the last year. I like the way Chris coaches. He enters into the boys’ experience. He is out on the court with them. He isn’t a sideline instructor, but a participant in their practices. Even when he speaks to them I see him crouching to be at eye level with the boys. He corrects them. He consoles them. But he doesn’t do it as an observer. He is a participant in the game they are playing. All of his players have grown tremendously as a result of his participatory style of coaching.
Having someone who can help you see what you need to see, learn what you need to learn, support you when you fail, and give you courage to get back up again is an incredible gift. That is the kind of GIFT we have in our God, Immanuel, God with us.
This morning I want to explore three ways God is with us. First, He is with us in our humanity. Second, He is with us in our fear. Third, He is with us in our sorrow and suffering.
God is with us in our humanity.
No existence is more fragile than that of a baby, and that is the way Jesus came. And though He didn’t come into the world in the usual way as His mother, Mary, was a Virgin who conceived of the Holy Spirit, He still came as a helpless, hungry, tired, dependent infant. Can we comprehend that this morning? The God who made the heavens and the earth reduced Himself to infant and helpless status and grew and learned what it means to each of us to be human.
I guess like my son’s basketball coach, He got into this game of life right alongside of us. None of us can claim that Jesus doesn’t understand the struggle of the human condition. He gets how difficult it is to learn new skills. He understands the awkward phases of our journey. He was once in Jr. High! He has insight into our identity crises. He knows the struggle of not being content with the way we look or the stress that comes from trying to fit in or figure out who you are.
I do believe His parents helped Him understand His mission and life’s calling early, so at least He may not have wrestled with the “What do you want to be when you group up” question you are asked by every relative at the annual get-togethers! But He was human. Fully God, yet fully human at the same time. What was He like in His humanity?
We’re told in Philippians 2:5-8 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!
Because He became like us He could show us how to have a godly attitude in our humanity. Two words stick out to me in this Philippians passage as they pertain to Jesus’ humanity. They are: “servant” and “obedient.” Jesus has modeled what it means to live as a perfect human. The keys are simple: Obeying God and serving others.
And as God is with us in our humanity He will help us choose what will benefit us and others as long as we live in these human bodies and are confined to time and space especially when we are trying to figure life out, when we are trying to bring peace to tangled and dramatic relationships, when we are confronted with a twist or turn in the plot of our lives or are trying to understand the meaning of life and why we exist. There are pitfall and dilemmas that Jesus came to help us navigate, and as we stay humble, as we seek to do the Father’s will, as we depend on God alone, He will see us through.
This human life is one phase of our eternal existence. Life can be hard, but God is good, and He has come to show us the way and the way out of here one day. For you see, Jesus became human not just to experience what we experience, but to show us the way out of dangers that lurk during this human journey. Only as we look to Him and His life’s example and ask Him to enter into our humanity personally by becoming our personal Savior will we find safety. Embrace that God is with you in your humanity by choosing to emulate His same attitudes and by following Him in order to avoid dangers in this life and in the life to come.
I’m not just grateful that God became flesh so I could have an example to follow, but it was because Jesus became human that we are one day able to become like Him. Born without sin, Jesus lived a sinless life which made Him the only human who was qualified to pay the price of the sins of the world. He climbed into our mess, our brokenness, not just to identify with us, but to redeem and rescue us. Jesus is called the “second Adam” in Scripture. The first Adam in the Garden of Eden failed God and passed on the sin nature to all of us. Our sinful state would require punishment which is eternal death for this kind of offense against a holy God, but recognizing we couldn’t remedy this situation, God became Immanuel in order to become the sacrifice for sins.
When you and I were born the question was, “What will he or she do with their life.” For Jesus the question wasn’t a question, but a statement. Jesus would save the world through His death. It is only because Jesus shared in our humanity and overcame sin, death, the grave, and hell that you and I can too as we place our trust in Him.
Second, God is with us in our fears.
In Psalm 23:4 the Psalmist says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” So the image here is of a shepherd and his sheep. Sheep don’t have very good vision, so they can be easily frightened in new circumstances, especially where it’s dark. It’s easy to be afraid in the dark, but it would be even more terrifying if your vision was bad and you couldn’t even see the shadows and outlines of things you needed to avoid. The Psalmist was saying that he didn’t have to be afraid because even though there were things he couldn’t see, he knew God could see them.
Listen, God is ahead of you in every tomorrow. He knows what challenges are ahead. He is clearing a way for you, and He will be with you when you stumble. You don’t have to fear tomorrow.
The sheep here in the 23rd Psalm took comfort from the shepherd’s rod and staff. The rod was a heavy club that the shepherd could use to ward off an attack. You know some people aren’t good in an emergency. But God is. He is always ready. He is always prepared. And He is always bigger than the biggest challenge any of us could face. Let me just break it down into WV terms. Ok? God is always packing! And nothing can defeat Him!
“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” The staff was the shepherd’s crook that he would use to help an individual sheep when it got into trouble. This is what you need to hear this morning as we celebrate Christmas and Immanuel. You are an individual to God. You aren’t one of millions or many. You are one. He knows you. He has the hairs of your head numbered (although with some of you He has an easier memorizing job). You matter to Him. The thing that makes YOU anxious, the thing that causes YOU to lose sleep, the thing that YOU dread and fear, He knows what it is and He is with you in such a way that you can press into Him and His peace and protection. He has you. You are good to go! God’s got you covered!
One of the major weapons Satan uses is fear. Many of you have no doubt heard the acronym for fear. It is:
So much of what scares us will never come to be, but it takes our emotional, physical and spiritual energy. All Satan has to do is to plant ideas in our minds, and we are good at running with the worst case scenario. Parents experience fear as they raise their children. Will we be good moms and dads? Will we mess things up? Will we know how to parent in a way that sets our kids up for success? Will our kids stay safe? Safe on the internet? Physically safe? People can be afraid of crowds, afraid of germs, afraid of certain animals, and afraid of feathers (yes, I know someone who is afraid of feathers!). We are afraid of change. We are afraid of our health changing or our financial status changing. We are afraid of terrorists. The list of things we could be afraid of is endless. But rest this morning and rejoice. God is with us.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
God isn’t just with us as an innocent bystander. He doesn’t just hang out in the corner when we are afraid. He is active. He is working. He is being strategic. He will strengthen us. He will help us. He will uphold us.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7
Our daughter Hannah, now a sophomore had a very difficult nine months or so during her third grade year. She really struggled with a lot of fear and anxiety. We kept assuring her God was with her and that we would watch over her. We prayed a lot and talked a lot with her. It really helped when she was given Psalm 56:3. She posted it in her room, read it often, memorized it and quoted it to herself.
“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” Psalm 56:3
“Do you see what I see?” in this verse? (Like how I worked in a Christmas song there? ) The Psalmist made a conscious choice to trust God. He has said He is with us. He has said He will strengthen and help us. When we are afraid and we choose to put our trust in God we are turning from fear to faith. We are turning from could be’s and what if’s to something that is real, to Someone that is real. Fear is a strategy Satan uses to get you to focus on something that isn’t reality so that you aren’t focused on the reality of God’s presence.
As I re-read these verses this week God spoke to me and said, “When you claim my promises and choose to trust Me you are acknowledging My presence.”
We don’t need to pray against fear as much as we need to pray to seek and acknowledge God’s presence. We need to pray to trust God completely because when we see Him with us our fears begin to fade. So if this is something you struggle with, instead of praying “Help me not to be afraid,” pray, “Help me see You, God. Help me trust You, God. Help me believe things are going to work out for Your glory and my favor because I belong to You.”
Do you wonder if Jesus was ever afraid? Matthew 26 and Luke 22 depict Jesus’s fear about having to endure the cross. I can say that with confidence because the fear and stress of it impacted Him emotionally to the point where it caused Him to start bleeding from His forehead, and it was the only recorded time in Scripture He asked His Heavenly Father for a Plan B. Jesus was afraid. Yet in His humanity as He had always demonstrated obedience and servanthood, through prayer He bowed again to the Father’s will. He said, “God, even though I am afraid, I will trust in You and Your plan.”
Praying to God about our fears is one way we demonstrate we trust Him. Prayer is going to take the same mental energy as worry and fear will, but it will produce positive and peaceful results (Philippians 4:6-7).
Right now in the quietness of your mind fill in this blank. My biggest fear is ____________________. Tell God right now you are going to hand that to Him, and that you are going to trust Him, and that you desire to experience His presence which will bring you peace about the situation whether it is real or imagined.
Finally, God is with us in our suffering.
Jesus is no stranger to suffering. He endured incredible rejection, hatred, humiliation, and physical pain and trauma. He understands what it is like to hurt both emotionally and physically. No wonder Psalm 34:18 says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Though God is always with us up close and personal, there is a sense that He comes even closer when we are suffering.
Luke 24 tells the story of two of Jesus’ disciples, not two of the 12, but two of His followers, who were grieving His death after He had been crucified. They were in distress. They were in despair. Grief was heavy. It didn’t take depression long to set in. Take time to read Luke 24 and you will get a sense for the internal conflict they expressed, and they were both struggling with grief and concern for their personal future. When someone so influential in your life passes you can have a feeling not just of loss, but of being lost as that person was someone who gave your life direction.
That is the sense here. These two Christ-followers didn’t know what to do next. The incredible part of this story is that Jesus joined them as they journeyed, but they didn’t know at first it was Him. They weren’t expecting to see Him, of course, and He was in His resurrected body. Jesus had entered into their conversation. He had taken them back to the Scriptures about what would happen to the Messiah. (When we are afraid or suffering it is always good to head back to the Word.) Jesus’s presence was so comforting to them, so beneficial to them, so reassuring to them, that they begged Him to stay with them, and He did. He stayed with them. He had a meal with them. The climax of the story is found in verse 31 where their eyes were “opened” and they recognized Him. Then He disappeared from their sight. Maybe today we need our spiritual eyes to be opened in order to see Jesus in our sorrow.
Maybe your struggle isn’t feelings of grief this Christmas. Maybe it is a different kind of emotional struggle. God is with you. Emmanuel has entered your story. He is engaging you in conversation. He is speaking to you right now. There are so many reasons to hope. It is going to get better.
Hebrews 13:5 tells us God will never leave us or forsake us. Never. Not in the darkest of night. Not even in the darkest of places.
The lives of Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom offer a poignant example. The Ten Boom family lived in Haarlem, Holland. During the German invasion of 1941, the Ten Boom family helped many Jews to escape to freedom. In 1944, Corrie was reported to authorities by a man who had pretended to need her help. Corrie, her sister and father were taken to jail. Ten days after his incarceration, her father died.
After several different jails and prisons in Holland, Corrie and her sister, Betsie, were reunited and transferred to the Ravensbruck Concentration camp in Germany. Ravensbruck was known as the women’s death camp. Here, the sisters and other inmates experienced horrendous atrocities. Subjected to hard labor with little food or water, Betsie became ill. Whippings and beatings were commonplace in the camp. While living in such horrible conditions, Corrie was quite angry and resentful. It was Betsie that helped her to see the blessings of such a place.
Heroically, Corrie and Betsie began to hold small secret prayer meetings in their Barrack at night. Eventually, these meetings became quite large, and the scripture reading was translated into several languages. Wanting to stay away from the large infestation of fleas, the guards stayed away from their Barrack and did not disrupt the prayer meetings. Their Barrack was known as “the crazy Barrack filled with hope.” Somehow behind the barbed wire, near the chimneys that threw out the gray smoke of incinerated bodies, underneath the whips of the guards, in the midst of unspeakable suffering and pain, the inmates felt God’s presence and found hope.
Shortly before her death in the camp, Betsie told Corrie “We must tell them what we have learned here. We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.” True for Corrie and Betsie, it is also true for us. Not only is God with us in our suffering, there is no suffering so great that He cannot comfort. Ten days after her sister’s death, Corrie was released from the Camp. Her release was said to be due to human error. Certain that God’s plans had more to do with her release, Corrie continued to walk with God and trust God throughout the rest of her life. In the wise words of Corrie Ten Boom, “God has plans – not problems- for our lives.”
God is with us, even when we are suffering, and He is at work. He is doing things in and through the difficult times in our lives that are planned, purposeful, powerful, and prudent. Only in God’s economy, only because God is with us in life’s trials, does the unbearable become not only bearable, but a victory to be celebrated and a testimony to be shared.
So the Christmas story, while it is about the baby, His parents, the angels, the shepherds, and the wise men, it is more powerfully and poignantly about the God who is with us in our humanity, with us in our fear, and with us in our suffering. Are you experiencing Immanuel in the midst of those facets of your life this morning?