Take cheer when seeing 'Immanuel' signs this Christmas
Maybe you've pulled a Christmas card with the word "Immanuel" emblazoned with glitter on the front. Sometimes the card explains what "Immanuel" means, sometimes it doesn't, but the meaning of the word and the importance of that name can be found in the Christmas passage of Matthew 1:23: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us." I don't know what the idea of God being nearby does to you—maybe it incites feelings of joy, or maybe feelings of apprehension, like the feeling you get when a state trooper follows you down the highway or when the supervisor watches over your shoulder at work.
Jesus brought the presence of God to us, and the connection between people and God has been open and transparent ever since. Jesus' purpose was to be born to the human race, retaining his divine perfections and live a sinless life, giving us an example of righteousness before submitting to the sacrifice on the cross as a payment for our sin and conquering death and hell in his resurrection. That's a lot of important theological terminology, but what you can remember when you see the word "Immanuel" this season is that God sent his son in order to personally:
Express his Love. John 3:16 is likely the most memorized verse of the Bible because it states so succinctly why God sent his son to earth 2,000 to be born as a baby—to provide the people he created and loves with the gift of everlasting life in heaven with him: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life." This is the center of Christmas—that God gave his son. This is God's gift, available to the entire world—every human.
Die in our place. When Jesus died on the cross, he was carrying the burden of every sin ever committed—mine and yours—and God exercised on him the punishment of those sins, providing pardon for all sinners. 1 Peter 2:24 illustrates this substitution: "...Who himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed." Jesus came to earth to be with us and to become our representative before God so he could pay the price of sin on our behalf.
Give us God's message. There are some messages you just don't deliver on social media, right? Can you imagine a wedding proposal in a text? A wife telling her husband she's expecting a baby on messenger? Maybe—but usually the significance of an important message means that you deliver it in person. The first verses of the book of Hebrews reveals that God deemed the message of forgiveness and love so momentous that he delivered it to us by his own son: "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by his son..." (Heb. 1:1,2).
Identify with our frailty. God wasn't content to isolate himself in his perfect paradise when the ones he loved have so much need, and so Jesus came to live life with full human form and nature, but yet sinless. The first temptation of Jesus by Satan in the wilderness to turn stones to bread when Jesus was weak with hunger was intended to tempt Jesus to bypass the hardships of the human experience — to pull out the 'God card' whenever pain or hurt or rejection or grief was felt. Hebrews 4:15 shows us that Jesus Christ thoroughly knew the agonies of life — He did not spare himself from any difficulties you or I might experience: "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin." When we struggle with sin, the consequences of sin, or the injustice of sin, we have a loving and caring ear that knows exactly how we feel, even if no one else does.
When you see the Christmas "Immanuel" signs and banners this season, your heart can take cheer knowing that God loves you so much he has made the first move to be a part of your life—"God with us." What will you do to reciprocate his desire to live this life with you?