“The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel, God with us.” Isaiah 7:14
A story was told of a little boy who was standing before the picture of his absent father. He turned to his mother and said wishfully, “I wish father would step out of the picture.” That little boy expressed in his own way, the deepest hope and longing of souls.
Stars are lovely to look at, but they cannot love. Flowers are beautiful, but they have no heart. Mountains are majestic, but they offer no comfort. What we need is a warm heart in the universe – “if only father would step out of the picture.”
Here’s the wonderful and joyous truth about Christmas: God our Father did step out of the picture. He stepped out at Bethlehem some 2000 years ago. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John 1:14.
Throughout Scripture we find mankind gripped and bound by sin, and incapable of coming to God. But God in his love and mercy descended to earth. God took upon himself a body like yours and mine, and lived amongst us in a real, actual human form. We call this, the “incarnation.”
And Incarnation is what Christmas is all about. God did something about our plight. He did not abandon us nor turn his back in our time of need. He stepped out of the picture. He came to rescue us and to reconcile us to himself. He came to show and tell us that he loves us. He came to assure us that he will be with us, as a true friend and companion, all through life.
The Incarnation is but a fulfillment of prophecy. When the angel first announced to Joseph in a dream, he said that Mary would conceive from the Holy Spirit and will give birth to a son which he (Joseph) was to give him the name Jesus. This would be in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in which “the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel – which means, ‘God with us.’” (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23).
Who can measure the glorious and biological impossibility of a virgin birth? A virgin conceives while the Spirit overshadows her. The virgin birth is as real as it is incongruous. God acted in a tiny womb of time to include himself in time. He does so to prove his love; he does so to save man from their sin and desperation.
“God with us” is the most glorious truth there is. These words are a tribute to the worth of humankind in the eyes of God the Father. It means that God so loved the world that he was not content to stay in heaven, raining blessings down upon the distant faithful. Nor did he enjoy cruel pleasure of hurling thunderbolts to correct and punish the wicked.
Emmanuel is God looking out across the universe and grieving that humankind was trapped in sin and death, and a meaningless existence. It is not that he is not present on earth; he is everywhere and has always been among persons; but in the blessed Emmanuel event, he became a person.
It has been well said that many men throughout centuries tried to become a god, but only once did God try to become a man. Try? No, God does not try. He does. In the incarnation, Emmanuel became a man to show his deep love for us.
God’s Incarnation is not only to say, “I love you,” but to tell us also that he is with us all through life. He became fully human to tell us, “I understand you.”
Are you tired? Jesus has also known bone-weary fatigue. Are you in tears? Jesus too has wept. Hungry? He fasted for forty days once. Are you lonely? He agonized in friendlessness. Are you oppressed by cold social structures? Jesus stood alone before critical and condemning rulers.
A little girl was heard pleading with her father: “I’m scared in the dark, daddy. Please come and sit with me until I fall asleep,” pleaded Jenny. “But Jenny, God is there with you even in the dark,” his father replied. “I know that daddy, but I want someone beside me with skin on.”
Jenny is no different from many of us – we want to know God is with us in a real and personal way, with skin on! That’s what God did at Christmas and will continue to do all through life.
A decade or more ago, I received a Christmas card that impressed and impacted me. It had these words: “He became what we are so we could become what he is … The Word did not become a philosophy, a concept or an ideal to be discussed, debated or pondered; but the Word became a person to be followed, enjoyed and loved.”
As humans, most of us seek an ideal, but we seek it in a person, not an abstraction. Christ, the Incarnate is that person and serves as a frame for all aspirations of time.
For this Christmas, 2020, in the midst of this pandemic, let’s muse upon the Word made flesh, Emmanuel – God with us – and see the wonder of God’s love and mercy.