[I was asked to speak at the final Advent service at my church a few weeks ago. This year the Advent series was more thematic with the objective of helping people face some of the difficult realities of life in light of the Christmas story. The question was, “How does the season of Advent confront things like our longing, our boredom, our fears, etc.?”
The topic I was given was, “How does Advent confront our loneliness?” I chose to explore how one aspect of the Christmas story – namely, Immanuel, “God with us” – comes face-to-face with the loneliness or separation we feel with God. The following is the first part of a summary of my teaching given on Sunday, December 19, 2010.]
PART 1: IMMANUEL… GOD WITH US
Tonight, we will reflect on how Advent confronts our loneliness. More specifically, how one aspect of the Christmas story – Immanuel, “God with us” – comes face-to-face with the source of loneliness, namely the isolation, distance and even absence we sometime perceive with God.
Let’s begin by taking a look at this child, the one who in our reading tonight is called, “Immanuel.” The arrival of Immanuel is only one part of a long journey. And this journey of Immanuel does not begin here [in the cradle]. It begins long before, for Immanuel has always existed.
One of Jesus’ disciples, John, referring to Jesus as “the Word” and puts it this way:
“In the beginning was the Word… and the Word became flesh…” (John 1:1, 14)
Paul points out that Jesus was “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation… by him all things were created… He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15–17 NIV). The writer of Hebrews says that through Jesus “the universe was made” (Hebrews 1:2). The lesson in Kids Kove today summarizes this idea well: “Jesus was alive long before he was born.” So, Immanuel has always existed.
But, the Journey of Immanuel that we celebrate this season is Immanuel’s Incarnation. With this baby that we celebrate every Advent season, God actually came to dwell among us. Like John said earlier, “he became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). It is like God “pitched a tent” with humanity and that tent was a human body.
So Immanuel truly is God with us!
But the journey of Immanuel doesn’t stop with the Incarnation. The journey of Immanuel leads to his earthly life of service. As God in the flesh he would have been fully justified in being treated like a king, to be honored, and revered and worshiped. But he doesn’t. Instead, he serves.
Jesus puts it this way, referring to himself he says,
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 NIV)
Immanuel serves. He washes his disciples’ feet. Immanuel stoops, he kneels, he touches, he heals. Immanuel has calluses on his feet and dirt under his nails.
Immanuel is God for us.
But the journey of Immanuel doesn’t stop there. It isn’t just that Immanuel came to serve, he came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The journey of Immanuel leads beyond an earthly life of service to his Death – his Crucifixion.
A humiliating death is the ultimate expression of Immanuel’s service. Though Jesus was God-in-the-flesh, “he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8 NIV). “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV). “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).
Immanuel is God dying in place of us.
But the journey of Immanuel doesn’t stop there. The journey of Immanuel leads from death to life; from the grave to the Resurrection.
His resurrection is merely the first of our resurrections – for those who belong to him. “Christ really has been raised from the dead. He is the first of all those who will rise… But here is the order of events. Christ is the first of those who rise from the dead. When he comes back, those who belong to him will be raised” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23 NIRV).
So, with the Resurrection, Immanuel is a God rising before us.
But the journey of Immanuel doesn’t stop there. The journey of Immanuel leads from Resurrection to his Ascension into the heavens. Jesus said to his followers,
“I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2–3 NIV)
Immanuel is God ascending ahead of us.
And the journey of Immanuel leads from Ascension to his Intercession.
“Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34 NIV)
So Immanuel is God who intercedes – who prays – on behalf of us.
But the journey of Immanuel doesn’t stop there. The end of Immanuel’s journey comes when he Returns [e.g. his Second Coming]. Jesus will one day come back to rule and to reign as King of the Universe. And the last book of the Bible – the end of the story – tells us that when he is on his throne he will be making everything new.
“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” (Revelation 21:3 ESV).
Immanuel is God with us, forever!
The Journey of Immanuel is not just God with us but
God with us (Incarnation)
God for us (Earthly Life of Service)
God dying in place of us (Death)
God rising before us (Resurrection)
God ascending ahead of us (Ascension)
God who intercedes on behalf of us (Intercession)
And the end of Immanuel’s journey is a
God with us, forever! (Second Coming / Glorification)
That is the journey of Immanuel.
[Part 2 next week.]