DR. PHILLIP BRASSFIELD
I love Christmas. I’ve joined the ranks of the devoted. I love the lights, the tree, the decorations, the hot chocolate, even the marathon sessions of Hallmark Christmas movies that we watch one right after the other. My wife, Cathy, is to blame. She is the High Priestess of Christmas cheer and Santa’s most diligent Elf! She is a Christmas girl if there ever was one.
She really didn’t have to push me too hard though. Being raised in a pastor’s home, Christmas was always a big deal. From my earliest recollection, our lives every Christmas season were filled with festive parties, wise men, pageants and candlelight services. It was always so exciting.
I think the thing I love most about Christmas is the hope and love the season brings. Christmas represents God’s greatest act of love, all which is good in the world and speaks a word of encouragement to our highest and most noble nature.
During the Christmas season, several Scriptures are brought center stage, engraved on greeting cards and featured in holiday programs, illuminated by the warm glow of colored lights and candlelight. One of my favorites is taken from Matthew chapter 1 verse 23. It’s a prophecy of Isaiah the Prophet that says, “Behold the Virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us”.
Immanuel. What a wonderful name! How powerful is it when God wants to be called “God with us”?
The ancients knew the power of a name. From the dawn of human civilization names have been an important part of the human experience. From their perspective names gave meaning. They identified and described the person who carried them. Names were a sort of prophecy. When a child was born, the name the parents gave him or her was believed to set things in motion, leading to the fulfillment of that name’s meaning in life. Like an arrow shot from a bow by a master archer. The name revealed the character, potential and purpose of the one who carried it.
The ancient Hebrews knew God in this same way, and God seemed to be ok with it. In the Old Testament when Moses asked God to identify himself at the burning bush, God simply answered, “I AM”. Previously they had known God as El Elyon (Most High God) or EL Shaddai (God Almighty). But when assigned the responsibility of speaking on God’s behalf to the Elders of Israel and their task master, Pharaoh, the most powerful king on earth, Moses asked God to identify His specific name. This was almost certainly to distinguish God from the plethora of pagan gods worshiped by the Egyptians.
When God said simply, “tell them I AM”. He used four consonants YHWH, often referred to as the Tetragrammaton. It became the foundation of the name Jehovah. As the Hebrews experienced God Jehovah in various moments of their lives, moments filled with challenges that required God’s intervention, they added various addendums to the name Jehovah. God became known through these labels as well. For example, Jehovah Jireh was ‘The Lord Who Provides’. Jehovah Shalom was ‘The Lord is Peace’. Jehovah Roi was ‘The Lord my Shepherd’ and so on. God also called Himself by these names on occasion, as in the case where He told Israel in Exodus 15:26, “I am the Lord who heals you” (Jehovah Raphe).
But it was during the Christmas season that we are introduced to one of the great names for God ascribed to the person of Jesus Christ by the Lord Himself through the Prophet Isaiah. Matthew refers to it as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy when Christ is born.
Matthew 1:22, “So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: v23 “Behold the Virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us”.”
What a wonderful name, what a significant name, what a comforting name, Immanuel! God with us!
God With Us
One of the divine qualities we ascribe to God is Omnipresence. Omni comes from the Latin meaning all. This means God is everywhere at all times. There are a couple of theological concepts that we affirm as a result of God’s Omnipresence. The first is a concept called Transcendence, the second is Immanence.
Let me briefly explain:
Because God is Omnipresent (in every space, in every time and every dimension), He, therefore, transcends the limitations of any dimension. Scientists have identified some 13 dimensions of reality, but God created them all, is Lord of them all, and present in them all. He transcends and supersedes any governing laws of nature, man or science, and rules absolutely and simultaneously in every existing dimension. Therefore we say He is Immanent. This means that He cannot be escaped, ignored or dismissed. He is Present; He acts within our lives, outside our lives, and beyond all possible dimensions of existence. He was before time began, measured and established the boundaries of the universe, and ordered the time that they will endure.
But how powerful is it that this God specifically said when Jesus was born, “they will call His name Immanuel, God with us” – God, Present! Jesus said later, “I will never leave you nor forsake you but go with you even to the end.” Knowing the importance of a name, God specifically chose to be known as a God who is always present. In the Old Testament God was called Jehovah Shamma, ‘God who is present’. But in Jesus He is not only present, but “with us”. No matter where you go, God is present and with you! He is there when you need Him, He never takes a vacation, He is never unaware, and He is never distracted. And when you call out to Him, He always responds, “PRESENT” and “I’m with you!” In other words, “I’ve got you!” In your moments of greatness or moments of suffering and sorrow, He is there. When you win or when you loose, He is with you. In moments of victory and in moments of defeat, He is present! You are not alone!
What a promise that came to us at Christmas! What a gift! What a God! What a name! What a comfort!
He is Immanuel!