Immanuel, God with us
By Giulio Lorefice Gabeli
Shortly after the celebration of Thanksgiving we begin to see the transformation of our neighbourhood; churches, buildings, city squares and shopping malls are adorned with colourful lights, Christmas trees and festive decorations. Adding to this marvellous visual is the sound of Christmas carols and songs which are played in just about every public place, as people make preparations for the holiday season. The general theme in the Christmas season is one of joy, hope and life – and what a contrast with that of Halloween a month before; which promotes zombies, ghosts, witches, spider webs and things that glorify evil, darkness and death.
In the midst of the lights, the tinsel and the glitter of the decorations you may find the occasional crèche displaying the scene of the manger, baby Jesus, Joseph and Mary, the shepherds and the angels coming to worship the promised Saviour. Sadly the reason for the season, the birth of the Saviour, is intentionally being ignored and downplayed by the secular culture which seeks to suffocate and eradicate the foundational values of the Bible that has shaped the very DNA of our nation.
For this very reason we are called as believers to proclaim without intimidation that this wonderful season of joy is centred on the historical fact that, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…” John 3:16.
The promised birth of the Messiah was spoken about by the prophets of the Old Testament who unequivocally declared that God Himself would come and provide the way of salvation for a dying and lost world.
When the angel Gabriel came to the young woman named Mary who was formally betrothed (which was understood as a legal binding marriage without the physical consummation of intercourse) announcing that she was highly favoured and that she would would give birth to the Saviour, little did she understand the challenges this would create for her fiancé Joseph.
Can you imagine his reaction and his facial expressions as Mary tried to explain to him that the obvious sign of her pregnancy was caused by a supernatural act of God?After all he was human, a man who had a sense of pride and dignity. However, the Bible identifies Joseph as being, “a good man”, a man of compassion and noble character; a “zedeke”, the term for a righteous man in Hebrew.
Joseph being a good man, decided not to publicly disgrace Mary which could have cost Mary her life but was instead seeking to quietly break his betrothal vows (divorce Mary) and send her away privately.
It was during this time that an angel of the Lord,encounters Joseph in a dream and we find this story in the Gospel of Mathew 1:18-25: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL, which translated means, GOD WITH US. And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”
There are so many pearls of truth that one could find in this personal encounter that Joseph had with the Angel of the Lord in this dream but I would like to simply draw your attention to two things mentioned by the Angel.
Consider the first directive, “you shall call his name Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins” and secondly, “they shall call his name Immanuel, which translated means, ‘God with us’. The first phrase speaks of the purpose of the child revealed in his very name Jesus, Yeshua in Hebrew which literally means, ‘Yahweh will save’, ie. He has come to save them from the consequences of their sin – which is death and destruction.
The second phrase speaks of the identity of the child revealed in the name Immanuel, ‘God with us’.
Joseph was given the privilege of naming his son as a Father, which is customary in a Jewish culture but the world of men and those who would recognize his very purpose in coming would declare and experience Him as ‘Immanuel, God with us’ affirming the words of the angels, ”glory to God in the highest and peace on earth and goodwill toward all men.”
Dear friends, as we celebrate and enjoy this wonderful Christmas season, let’s not forget to take every opportunity to draw attention to the very reason for this festive season, the miracle of the incarnation; Jesus, God with us, has come to seek and to save that which was lost.
I encourage you to declare without intimidation that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, the fullness of God in a human body, and the very reason we celebrate.
May you truly experience the fullness of joy in this Christmas season.
Giulio Lorefice Gabeli is the Lead Pastor at Westwood Community Church in Coquitlam.