It is so easy to rush by without a thought of what Christmas really means to us. We see images of the manger scene with shepherds, wisemen, donkeys, sheep, etc. gathered around Joseph and Mary and Jesus sleeping as the angles sing “Silent Night.”
We sometimes pause long enough to ask, "What does this story mean?" We hear phrases like, “virgin birth” “incarnation” and “Immanuel”, but they so often loose their impact on our lives. I think the better question is, "Does this story really matter?"
In Matthew 1:18-23 we read about the fulfillment of a promise – God’s promise to us that he is going to show up. And we would know him because he would come by the way of impossibility – a virgin. God never forgets a promise and in our darkest hours he is there to remind us of them. Matthew did not want to be misinterpreted or misunderstood so he takes the name "Immanuel," not understood by the Gentiles, and tells us what it means: “God with us.”
The preposition "with" means more than "in company with." It means "together with," sharing with." It implies close fellowship. God is united with us. His power is our power. His ability is our ability. The Lord is with us. We sometimes use the phrase, “We are in this together”, or “I’m here for you.” A friend of mine, last year was diagnosed with cancer, and she went through chemotherapy. As we were corresponding, she told me that all the men in the office she worked at shaved their heads as a sign that they were with her. In a way, they took on the embarrassment of her loosing her hair upon them as well. It was very meaningful to her. It meant that her friends were with her through thick and thin.
The sentiment is expressed beautifully in the wedding vows: “Will you have this person to be your wedded husband/wife from this day forward, for better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and in health, till death do us part?” This is the kind of relationship that the Father wants to have with us, except that it goes beyond death to eternal life.
John 1, verses 14 and 18 also bring some understanding to this. “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son” (John 1:14 NLT-SE) “No one has ever seen God. But the one and only Son is himself God and is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us” (John 1:18 NLT-SE). Jesus stepped out of Heaven. I read this illustration years ago and no longer recall where:
"During the long war years a boy looked frequently at a picture of his daddy on the table. He had left when the boy was a young infant. After several years the boy had forgotten him as a person but he would often look at the picture and say, 'If only my father could step out of that picture and be real....'"
Some translations use the word “dwelt," which is the word for "set up a tent" in Greek. In other words, He made his tabernacle among us. The Israelites would certainly understand this concept as they reflect on the presence of the movable tabernacle representing God in their midst while they wondered in the wilderness for forty years.
In theological terms, this is called “incarnation” This word is a defining element of our theology and faith. It is foundation to our understanding of who Jesus is.
1. Jesus is fully human - with a body made of muscles and skin. He had nerves (felt cold and hot), needs, emotions (anger and sorrow), pain, happiness, joy, even death, not an angel, he was like us.
2. Jesus is fully divine - If we take away the deity of Christ, we destroy the whole structure of Christianity. That doctrine is built in. It is central. It is structural of the structure. He was not just another prophet, or just another nice guy, he is the Son of God! "If you have seen me you have seen the Father.”
Why does this matter to me?
First it means that the Father is revealed. We no longer have to be in the dark about God. He has gone beyond parchment and paper, dramas and videos. He has actually come and pitched his tent in our back yard and beckoned us to watch him and get to know him in the person of his Son Jesus. When you watch Jesus in action, you watch God in action. When you hear Jesus teach, you hear God teach. When you come to know what Jesus is like, you know what God is like.
Secondly it means that I can be saved. I love the verse in 1 Timothy 1:15 “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” He did not come for trees or bright color packages or lights or presents or school presentations. The gift of God is all about a relationship – ours with Him. He is near.
This week I watched an interview with Stephen Curtis Chapman on Good Morning America. Last year his daughter was killed when her older brother backed into her in their parking lot. He was asked how he makes it during this holiday season, dealing with loss. What is your message? What sustains you? He said it’s the “message of Christmas, Emmanuel, God with us. He came to say, you are not alone, I am with you and whatever you are going through, I will walk with you.”
This is why Christmas, the virgin birth, the star of Bethlehem, the Angelic message to the shepherds all matter: God is with us. Don’t rush by the manger during this season. Don’t get too busy, or think it’s just a cute little story with some shepherds and wise men. Pause to gaze inside. . .to consider and ponder. . .to bend the knee in worship. . .will find the true meaning of Christmas. This is God’s invitation to you.
And to those who receive this invitation, he gives you the right to be called Children of God.