Matthew 1:20–23—But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (ESV)
What does Christmastime mean to you? Do you think of gifts? Do you hold your family close or ache for those who are gone? Do you love (or cringe at) the music? What about the lights? The snow? If you’re a Christian, you probably associate the holiday with the birth of Jesus—an infant king heralded by angels and sent as a sacrifice for our sins.
I think of all of that, but above all, I think of the wonder of Emmanuel: God with us.
God with Us in the Past
The apostle John had a lot to say about God with us. He begins his Gospel with a proclamation of Jesus—the Word—as Creator from before time, fully one with God. Then he says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
With the nativity, God wrote Himself into history and stepped into physical existence, as human as we are. The glory that, in Exodus 34, was bright enough to make Moses’ face glow and the people tremble became tangible and reachable when the Holy Spirit touched Mary’s womb. Though people had wandered far from Him, the Creator reached out to regain relationship with His creations as He walked among them on earth in the person of Jesus. The events we celebrate on Christmas are the ones that brought about that reconciliation.
God with Us in the Future
The wonder of walking face to face with God wasn’t a one-time event—it didn’t end when Jesus left earth. It’s true that the apostle John and His contemporaries had a unique opportunity to talk and eat and live with God the Son, but John also relays the promise of God’s future presence:
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be any mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’” (Revelation 21:3-4).
When Jesus came to earth, He died in our place so that we could receive forgiveness and a sure way to a future in God’s presence. We won’t have to imagine how things were or might have been for the disciples—we will get to experience God with us—Emmanuel—for eternity.
God with Us in the Present
History changed for good when Jesus came to His people. Under Old Testament law, the gulf between God and man was clear. The book of Leviticus is packed full of laws for people to follow in order to be considered clean, as well as detailed instructions for priests, who were the only ones allowed to enter the holy places in the tabernacle or temple. Every law was a stark reminder that people simply weren’t good enough to stand before a holy God.
That all changed with Jesus’ death and resurrection. Hebrews 10:19-22 says, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
Where a priest once stood between the people and God, the way is now open for us to approach—not only that, but to do so confidently. We can draw near to the same God whose glory Moses and John saw and wrote about. When Jesus came to us as God with us, He made a way for us to be clean enough to be in His presence. He invites us into His presence, not just in the past or the future, but now.
More than a Day
I find something special in this time of year. I love the way people come together to celebrate, but even more, I love that we’re celebrating our togetherness with God, not just each other. I love that when I withdraw from the pressure of the parties and decorations and gift giving and feel-good activities, God is still there. I love how the darkness of our long northern winters provides a perfect backdrop for the light and hope of Emmanuel, God with His people, not just on Christmas, not just in the past or future, but forever. It’s more than a day—it’s our everyday reality. In the lives of His people, God’s presence is here to stay.
Want to read more about the truth of Emmanuel, God with us? Take a look at these passages this season:
Isaiah 7:14: Read the original prophecy of Immanuel.
John 15: Read Jesus’ call to abide in Him and attain love, joy, help, and good fruit.
Philippians 2:1-11: Read the model of selflessness that Jesus set for us while He was with His people.
Book of Hebrews: Read how Jesus is the perfect mediator and sacrifice to fulfill God’s law and open our way to God.
1 John: Read about the importance of fellowship with God and other believers and how it will lead to confidence in our faith.
The entire Bible is the story of God’s plan to bring us back into His presence. May your reading draw you closer to Him as you move beyond the Christmas season into the months ahead.
About the author
Elizabeth Buege graduated from the University of Northwestern—St. Paul with a B.A. in English Writing. She works as a freelance book editor, offering writing and editing tips alongside her services at www.elizabethbuege.com. She also teaches weekly writing classes as the secondary writing tutor for the ESCHEL homeschool co-op in Oakdale, MN.
When Elizabeth isn’t working, you can probably find her reading or writing for fun. She also loves gardening, cooking, exploring parks, and hanging out with big dogs and small children. She attends First Free in Maplewood and is thankful to have found such strong fellowship so close to home.