As advent is soon ending and Christmas is almost upon us, I have been thinking of the anticipation the prophets had in the coming Messiah. They had such hope and expectation for God to save their people from the oppression of this world. They longed for an end to the suffering and separation from the living God.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
The first time we see the name Immanuel (or Emmanuel) is from the prophet Isaiah. The name literally translates to God is with us. This is a prophecy telling of God being born into this world. This is the center of what we are celebrating at Christmas, that God descended and dwells among his people. This is the good news of Christmas, he is here with us.
I can’t help but think of the contrast between the wonder of that first celebration and now, how we have lost the wonder of God being with us. That first celebration must have been pretty incredible, with angels showing up to announce the birth and a miracle being witnessed in the virgin birth.
There were no decorations, no smell of baked goods, no presents (that we know of) on that day. There was just a bunch of animals, outcasts (shepherds) and Mary and Joseph in a cave with the animals, filled with wonder and worship. They all knew this child was God in flesh, the king above all kings, and they were amazed and privileged to be invited to the celebration.
The Shepherds were invited by angels to the celebration, and came to find Mary, Joseph and Jesus (who were strangers to them) where they were told to go. They believed in faith and their response was first of praise, and then of telling the whole town of what had occurred. Mary (let’s be honest, is probably pretty worn out) took a different approach and more privately reflected on what just happened.
This whole interaction was about celebrating God being amongst them, worshipping the King who was present.The incredible thing is we can still worship the living God who is present with us. Yes, Jesus left to prepare a place for us, but the Holy Spirit is very present here with us. Emmanuel is still a very true name at this time.
When we think of our Christmas celebration, how central is Emmanuel? Are we still in wonder like the shepherds, praising our saviour and sharing the good news abroad? Or has the birthday boy taken a back seat? Has the celebration and all the trappings become the focus of this day and season?
Don’t get me wrong, I think celebration is best served with a feast and shared with others, and this should be a marvelous celebration each year. But I think we can get distracted by traditions and elements of the festivities. We forget to include God, let alone make him as the focal point for the entire day.
though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Christmas should be a day to marvel at the fact that God not only thought of us, but took on the form of a human so he could dwell among us and make a way to forever be in our midst. The gift given in Jesus should take the spotlight throughout the celebrations. That doesn’t mean it is wrong to feast, share gifts, and celebrate our traditions.
Let’s remember that first celebration where the celebration was open to the stranger and the outcast. The focus was on the newborn saviour, God incarnate, God who was and is with us.