Archive for December 25th, 2008

Introduction:

One of my favorite Rich Mullins songs of all time is titled Surely God is With Us. It’s a beautiful song, so typically Rich Mullins. Part of the lyrics reads:

Well, who’s that man who thinks He’s a prophet?
Well, I wonder if He’s got something up His sleeve
Where’s He from? Who is His daddy?
There’s rumors He even thinks Himself a king
Of a kingdom of paupers
Simpletons and rogues
The whores all seem to love Him
And the drunks propose a toast
And they say, “Surely God is with us.
Well, surely God is with us.”
They say, “Surely God is with us today!”
Who’s that man who says He’s a preacher?
Well, He must be, He’s disturbing all our peace
Where’s He get off, and what is He hiding
And every word He says those fools believe
Who could move a mountain
Who would love their enemy
Who could rejoice in pain
And turn the other cheek
And still say, “Surely God is with us.”

Christmas always reminds me of this song because ‘God with Us’ is one of the major themes of Scripture that is found in both Testaments and, furthermore, ‘God with Us’ is a profoundly Christmas idea, one that is too often overlooked and understudied.

In this shared post, the writers of CRN.info are offering our individual ‘takes’ on what Immanuel, God with Us, is and what it means to us. We offer this to you as a Christmas gift in Jesus’ name. God Bless.

Neil:

I think my favorite biblical name is Mahar-shalal-hash-baz. He shows up in the writing of Isaiah, in fact he was one of the sons of the Prophet. God told Isaiah to give his sons names that had theological significance – names that would reflect what God was going to do. I also feel sorry for Maher-shalal-hash-baz… since he was also the younger brother of Immanuel. Not only was his father a prophet but his older brother got the name which means “God with us” while his meant “Swift is the spoil, speedy is the prey” – which makes little sense even in English.

Actually, Maher-shalal-hash-baz had two older brothers both of whom had names of promise – while his meant judgment. In the context of Isaiah’s preaching the names made sense; God said he would judge the nation (Maher-shalal-hash-baz), he promised a remnant would remain (Shear-jashub), and in the midst of this he promised his presence (Immanuel).

Fortunately for us, as we celebrate the advent of the Son, the aspect of God being present among us takes on even more theological and spiritual (and literal) meanings. I hope this season finds this true for all of you, that you are found in the promise of the name-sake for Isaiah’s middle son – the Immanuel.

Jerry:

In the beginning. It all begins there for me, for us. Too many debates about Genesis miss what is likely the most important part of Genesis: God created us to be with Him. Rob Bell correctly notes: “The writer, or writers, of Genesis keeps returning to this eastward metaphor, insisting that something has gone terribly wrong with humanity, and that from the very beginning humans are moving in the wrong direction…We are east of Eden. Something is not right” (Jesus Wants to Save Christians, 14, 17) I’m not far along enough to know if Bell correctly notes that what is wrong is that we humans decided, early on, that it was far more important for us to be like God than it was for us to be with God. East. That’s the problem, humanity is not with God; God is not our God. This is where ‘God with us’, as truth, takes on a whole new dimension. God with us. This is the name of Jesus, Emmanuel. NT Wright correctly notes that no one else was given this name (Matthew for Everyone, 8). If that is true, and it is, then what does that say about what God thinks ‘God with us’ means? Wow; just wow. God took the steps; radical steps; risky steps. He took the initiative. He made the first move; God with us. We see it all throughout Scripture: God walking in the Garden; the tabernacle among the camp; the ark of the covenant among the army; the temple in the center of the city; the bread of the presence; Jesus ‘tabernacling’ among us; the pillar of fire and smoke; the Shekinah; the Son of Man walking among the lampstands; the Holy Spirit. All these images, and more, point to the overwhelming passion of God’s heart: He wants to be our God; he wants us to be his people. Jesus, the Emmanuel, is the means whereby ‘God with us’ becomes more than prophetic rhetoric. Jesus puts flesh on the phrase; gives form to the formula; gives power to the prophecy; gives strength to the story. Jesus makes the impossible possible; the unthinkable a reality; the unimaginable a delightful joy. Truly if God had told us, none of us would have believed it. God with us. He has always wanted to be with us. This is amazing to me: The God of the universe, the Creator, the Provider, the Redeemer wants to be among us humans. “How can I keep from singing?” (Tomlin) So the Bible ends right where it begins: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3). This is our promise, and in Jesus it has already become a reality even as we continue to hope for it.

Phil:

When Jerry first told us about the idea for this post, one of the first things that popped into my head as to what “Emmanuel” means was an old worship song that most people probably wouldn’t relate to Christmas. It’s the song Warrior, which was written by Kemper Crabb and then re-recorded by Caedmon’s Call more recently. It’s a pretty simple song, both lyrically and musically, but it’s impacted me a lot since the first time I’ve heard it. Here are the lyrics:

The Lord is a warrior
The Lord is mighty in battle
The Lord is a warrior
The Lord of hosts is He

My Lord is a fortress
He is a Sun and a Shield
The Lord is a Deliverer
To those who put their trust in Him

He gives strength unto His people
He guards His own with His Right Hand
The Angel of the Lord camps around the ones who fear Him
And delivers them

The Lord of Hosts is He
The Lord of Hosts is He

It’s based on the Song of Moses and Miriam in Exodus 15, which is their expression of worship to God after being delivered from Egypt. I know that some have an understandably hard time reconciling the warrior imagery used to describe God in the Old Testament with the person of Jesus Christ, but after going through some rough times a few years ago, I think I can see it in a new light. When I hear the statement, “the Lord is warrior”, I think of what that says about God’s character. It says that He doesn’t just love His creation in some abstract way. It means He rolled up His sleeves and fought for it, in the most realistic way He could.

When Jesus came to be with us, it wasn’t just a nice event that inspires warm feelings in us – it was an act of war. It was God staking His claim on His creation, and taking a huge risk for it in the process. So the image I get is of a lover who will do anything to fight for His beloved. He’s God with us in the most real way.

Chris L:

As the science geek in the bunch, when I hear the word Immanuel – God With Us – my mind starts to wander into areas of multiple dimensions, and what it actually means to be “physical”. For us, something “physical” – ‘with us’ – is three-dimensional, and is available to our senses to explore. On the other hand, that which is “spiritual” is beyond the capabilities of our five senses.

God, an infinite being who sits beyond time and space is so terrible and awesome to behold that none can look upon Him here and survive. He explains to Moses, but then tells him that He will allow Moses to see where He has just been. So God walks by, placing his hand over Moses’ eyes, and then allows Moses to see where He just was. After this, Moses returns to his people, and they cannot even look at him with his face uncovered for a long time, because of his experience with God.

And so it is, more than a thousand years later that God decides to come to us in a form that we can behold without destroying us – a form we can experience. He comes to us in a form that allows us to experience him and what he is like, and to choose or reject him as a result of this. He does not come to us in a way that forces us to love him, because then it would not be love, but fear. He comes to us in the form of a boy, born to a homeless teenage couple in a shepherd’s cave, a boy who would become a man that would shake the roots of the world and the systems that run it – without drawing a sword or engaging in political intrigue. A boy who would live, die, and live again – with us – so that we would love and live with him.

I had the privilege of seeing Andrew Peterson (again) the other night, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate his suite – Behold the Lamb of God: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of the Christ. He sums this story up so well:

Gather ’round, ye children, come
Listen to the old, old story
Of the pow’r of Death undone
By an infant born of glory
Son of God, Son of Man

Gather ’round, remember now
How creation held its breath
How it let out a sigh
And it filled up the sky with the angels
Son of God, Son of Man

So sing out with joy for the brave little boy
Who was God, but He made Himself nothing
He gave up His pride, and He came here to die
Like a man

Son of God, Son of Man

Joe:

I have come that they might have life and have it to the full. Jesus came so that we could have the life. That is the thing that always amazes me at Christmas. Jesus, God came here to give us life. He lived, and died so that we don’t have to live with addiction, or in the past. God with us! God wants a relationship with you. God wants you to live in a relationship with him.  No matter the rejection you’ve experienced. No matter the failure that you’ve tasted. With God there is no score sheet based on how well you’ve done.  With God there’s no qualification process to go through. God wants a relationship with you. He wants to satisfy you. He wants to teach us what it means to follow him. God with us. God with you. You with God. God wooing you.

Love wins.

Christian:

I have three kids now (4 yrs, 22 months, and 2 months).  I can’t imagine what it was like for Mary and Joseph to raise Jesus, knowing (possibly forgetting at times) that He was Immanuel.  I wonder what kind of expectations they placed on themselves, or possibly thought that God placed on them.  I imagine that most of the time, they were just thankful that Jesus was their son, as parents tend to think of their children.  There’s a lot I can’t imagine, a lot I don’t understand, and a lot still have to learn… about God, about His work, about His Word, about being a father, a husband, a christian, a preacher.  I am glad and relieved during all of life’s responsibilities, emergencies, and expectations that God came to us, to be with us… that He takes us as we are and where we are.

Chris Paytas

I just layed my daughters down for bed.  As I layed there with them questions of Christmas filled the air.  “When will Santa come?” “I wonder what I’ll get?”  “Daddy why do you like Christmas?”.  It was the final question that gave me pause…why do I like Christmas?

As a child my family was not particular religious.  We “celebrated” the birth of Jesus at midnight mass at the Catholic Church and that was the extent of our religion for the year.  Every year we took great pains to assemble the decorations, go shopping, prepare meals, and send out cards but hardly a mention of Jesus; unless of course we were singing carols.  17 years of Christmases and the obligatory stuff and I never considered Jesus.  2 months before my 18th Christmas “Emmanuel” came crashing in.  18 years ago THIS Christmas, God was with me.   36 years on the planet and this Christmas I’ve celebrated just as many Christmases without Jesus as I have with him.

“Daddy why do you like Christmas?”   “My sweet child I like Christmas because…” my voice trails off as my eyes fill with tears “I like Christmas because God chose to be with us, with me, and with you.  The birth of the Christ child was the greatest gift I have ever received and because of that I am able to be with him.”

Glory to God in the Highest and peace to his people on Earth.   Amen.

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