Immanuel: The Core of God’s Hope

by Mike McKinniss

Among the celebrated texts of the Christmas story comes from Matthew’s account of the nativity.  After Joseph dreams of an angel advising him to remain with Mary despite her unusual pregnancy, Matthew quotes the prophet Isaiah as a source for foreseeing Jesus’ birth:

“Behold, the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us) (Mt 1:23, ESV; compare Isa 7:14).

This remarkable statement has attracted the attention of Christians for centuries, though not always for the same reasons.  Quite often, our jaws drop at the possibility of a virgin conceiving a child.  Indeed, it should.  But the truly jaw-dropping idea in this passage resides at the end of the verse.  Immanuel: God with us.

Every other blessing with associate with Christmas is tied up in this one thought.  Peace, joy, salvation – from the perspective of Scripture, they all come from God’s influence on the earth.  All the hopes we carry have always been meant to be secured in the Lord’s presence on the earth.

Throughout Israel’s history, as they faced threats from various nations, their hope for rescue and survival came from the notion that their God, the Creator, would fight on their behalf, that Yahweh was present with the people (See 2 Chr 20:15, for example).  The prophets, such as Elijah and his successor Elisha, performed their miraculous works and spoke the words of God by the Spirit of God which rested upon them (1 Sam 10:6; Joel 2:28).  Indeed, the great hope of Israel from start (Exo 25:8) to finish (Mal 3:1) has been the prospect of the Creator living in their midst.

The birth of Jesus represents the beginning of the fulfillment of that very hope.  Here is one who speaks the mind of God, who performs the acts of the Creator, who provides, heals, and raises the dead.  There in Palestine for a handful of years, the people of God must have asked themselves as they witnessed Jesus, “Have we just seen God among us?”

Fortunately, the hope does not end in the time of Christ.  No, the hope that the Lord will dwell among the people of the earth remains the central hope of believers today.  The hope of Christmas is reiterated on the final pages of our New Testaments for us to recite with eager longing:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “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.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:1-4, ESV).

The hope of Christmas remains our hope to this day.  The peace, the happiness, the health, the joy, the abundant life we all desire rests in the hope, both ours and God’s, that the Creator will live among His people.

Merry Christmas!