Sunday 4 December 2011

Immanuel (God with us)

Since Christmas is approaching as I write, I thought it would be appropriate to focus on the term “Immanuel”, which is often used when referring to the birth of Jesus.  Immanuel is a Hebrew word meaning “God with us”.  The first time this is used in the Bible is in the Old Testamant prophet Isaiah:
  • Isaiah 7:14: The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Both Christian and Jewish scholars have debated the meaning and possible (single or multiple) fulfillments of this prophecy.  In any case, the New Testament gospel writer Matthew indicates that it finds at least one of its fulfillments in the birth of Jesus:
  • Matt 1:20-23: An angel of the Lord appeared to him [Joseph] in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  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”).
The idea here is that, although God is enthroned in heaven, far above all created things, He also comes near to us in the person of Jesus.  In more theological terms, God is simultaneously transcendent (above and distinct from His creation) and immanent (present in, and intimately involved with, His creation).

Here are a couple of passages from the Old Testament which illustrate this dual aspect of God:
  • Isaiah 57:15: This is what the high and lofty One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.
  • Jer 23: 23-24: “Am I only a God nearby,” declares the LORD, “and not a God far away?  Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?  Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD.
And here are three New Testament passages which emphasise the intimate spiritual union that Christians have with Christ:
  • John 14:19-21: [Jesus said:] “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.  On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.  Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
  • Rom 8:35-39: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
  • 1 Cor 6:15-20: Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!  Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.  Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
The amazing thing is that, if we make a decision to give all of ourselves to God, He graciously gives all of Himself to us (or, at least, as much as we can handle)!