God With Us

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Throughout this season of Advent our focus is “The Story of Christmas in 20 Words.”  On each of the 20 weekday mornings ending on Christmas Eve, we’ll spotlight a single word from the Gospel accounts that helps us ponder more deeply the birth of Jesus.

3. With

The key nouns and verbs of the original Christmas story are well known.

A virgin bears a child.   Angels sing.  Shepherds visit.  Magi bring gifts.  Herod rages.  Mary treasures up all these things in her heart.

But it’s just possible that the most enduringly significant word associated with the arrival of Jesus is a preposition.

We’re talking about with – the word that’s at the center of Immanuel, one of the special names prophetically assigned to the newborn Messiah. “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’)” (Matthew 1:22-23). 

The Hebrew word Emmanu-El literally means “The With-Us God.”   

For Christians and Jews, that’s who God is.  “Don’t be afraid” appears on the pages of Scripture more than any other command.  “I will be with you” appears more than any other promise.  At the heart of Christmas is the reality that we don’t need to be afraid – of anyone or anything – because, incredibly, God has promised to be with us. 

Followers of Jesus don’t always realize just how rare and beautiful this idea of God’s “with-ness” actually is.

According to Islam, it is unimaginable that Allah would ever draw near.  The great Eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, and Confucianism) profess no belief in a transcendent personal God.  Deists assert that God created the universe and then stepped back, presumably never to be heard from again.  New Agers suggest we might develop personal ties with angels or spirit guides, but “walking with God” isn’t in the cards.  Gnostics believe creation is a terrible mistake for which God should not be blamed, which means he’s certainly not going to defile himself by entering space and time.  Freudians assure us that a heavenly Father is nothing more than a comforting illusion for people starved for an earthly father’s love.  Materialists dismiss the God hypothesis as an evolutionary coping device.

If you’re hoping to find a reason to believe that God can ever be with you, and that you can actually be with God, the Bible is pretty much the only option available.

“With” is a life-changing word.

We are deeply touched whenever someone promises to stick with us, no matter what – and then comes through. 

Every time we turn toward Jesus – the living embodiment of God With Us – we discover in fresh and powerful ways that we are never alone. 

God is with you in your final exams this month.  God is with you as you wait to hear from the surgeon in the hospital waiting room.  God is with you as you scramble to find enough money to buy Christmas presents for your kids.  God is with you as you weep over the addiction you cannot beat.  God is with you in the meeting you dread to attend because layoffs are about to be announced.  God is with you when you feel utterly alone – when others have said, “I no longer want to be with you.” 

It can’t be accidental that Matthew opens his book by introducing us to Immanuel, then closes it with Jesus saying, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

There is no event, no appointment, and no circumstance in which Jesus will ever fail to live up to the name he has been given for eternity.

He is the With-Us God.   

And you can spend time with him right now.