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IMMANUEL—GOD WITH US

Matthew 1:18-1:25
Key Verse: 1:22,23

Merry Christmas! Hi, my name is Paul Lee. The meaning of my name Paul is small, humble. It does not mean that I am small and humble. But no one is concerned about the meaning of my name, are you? Today, names are primarily means of identification. Why don’t you turn around and introduce your name to your neighbours and say, “Merry Christmas.”

At the time of the first Christmas, the meaning of a name was very important. In Jewish custom, a name conveys the very nature and essence of the being or thing. It represents the history and reputation of the being. When we read the Bible, we discover that Jesus has so many different names. Let me introduce a few of them: the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God, the Alpha (the First) and the Omega (the Last), the Lord of lords and the Suffering Servant, the Son of God and the Son of Man and many more. In Matthew’s Christmas message which we read, there are two names: Jesus and Immanuel. These names are directly given by God. And these names display the attributes of Jesus so precisely. To understand these names, it is better for us to know the birth-story of Jesus Christ first.

The following story is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. There was a young virgin named Mary in a small town of Galilee. She was engaged to be married to Joseph. At that time, engagement was considered as marriage. Although the couple had to spend one year of engagement apart from each other before the wedding, they were legally husband and wife in that culture. But before marriage, Mary was found to be pregnant. We can imagine her fiancé Joseph’s inner turmoil. He must have been crushed and angry. According to the law and the Jewish custom, there should be serious consequences, possibly stoning. But Joseph a righteous man cared so much about Mary that he didn’t want to expose her to public disgrace. Instead he decided to divorce her quietly. As Joseph went through the worst hours of his life, an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him to take Mary home as his wife because Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The angel also told him to give the baby boy the name Jesus, because he would save his people from their sins.

Joseph woke up from his dream greatly astonished. He then put aside his sweet dream of marriage and joined God’s world salvation work by marrying his pregnant fiancée. When she was at term, Mary and Joseph had to travel 145 km from Galilee to Bethlehem for a census, issued by the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. In Bethlehem Mary gave birth to a son in a stable and Joseph gave him the name Jesus.

The birth of Jesus is the act of almighty God. But it was not God’s impetuous act. When we survey the Old Testament, we see that right after Adam’s fall God had planned to send the Savior of the world. Through his prophets, God had also foretold the coming of Jesus and the signs of him numerous times. Matthew’s gospel quotes more than 60 times from these prophecies of the Old Testament, demonstrating how Jesus fulfilled them. Christ’s virgin birth is one of them. Matthew says in verses 22-23, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us.’” This prophecy was spoken by Prophet Isaiah some 700 years before Jesus’ birth. It is about Jesus’ virgin birth and about his name—“Immanuel.” Immanuel is another name or title of Jesus. One immigrant I know recently changed his name to “Joshua” because most people pronounced his name incorrectly, having a hard time to twist their tongues. But God had a different reason to give him these two names: Jesus and Immanuel. As aforementioned, the names in the Bible have significant meanings. Now then what are the meanings of Jesus and Immanuel? Actually these two names reveal Jesus’ attributes and his purpose of coming to the world so clearly. These names best describe the true meaning of Christmas. Let’s think about them one by one.

First, the name Jesus means, “The Lord saves.” Jesus saves us from what? The angel said, “He will save his people from their sins.” Jesus saves us from our sins. From our sins? These days many people view sin very lightly and sarcastically. A number of years ago, former President Bill Clinton was asked by a journalist Dan Rather if he had an affair with Monica Lewinsky. Clinton answered simply, “I did it because I could.” His answer shocked many people around the world. The phrase, “I did it because I could” seems to be the general consensus these days, the postmodern ideology. “I did it because I could” explains why a former Canadian army Colonel murdered and raped many women in his secret life. “I did it because I could” explains why a nine-year-old child drowned his three year old neighbour in their swimming pool and pulled up a chair to watch him drown and then got excited when he was on the news that evening.

People today think the problems of our day are financial or environmental or political. So they struggle hard to be saved from these things. Before meeting Jesus, Matthew the author of this gospel also thought that money would save him from all of his problems. So he made a decision to make money by any means. To make money, he was willing to curb his dignity and integrity. People hated him and regarded him as trash. He might have been saved from poverty, but he fell into the pit of selfishness, greed and loneliness. Certainly, we must solve our financial or environmental or political problems. But the Bible tells clearly that none of these issues are man’s fundamental problem. Man’s fundamental problem is spelled S-I-N.

What is sin? 1 John 3:4, says, “Sin is lawlessness.” God gave human beings his law (word) to live in peace and harmony with God and with other fellow human beings. Sin is the violation of God’s law. What happens when we live without law? We become anarchists who live according to our sinful desires and feelings. When we don’t live by God’s law, we become spiritual anarchists, sinners. The problem is that sin bears terrible consequences—guilt, fear, shame on earth, and eternal condemnation after this life.

Sin also clouds our minds. So some people don’t acknowledge that they suffer from their sins even while chewing the bitter fruits of their sins. In the Bible, there was a woman in Samaria who divorced five times and was in a common law relationship with a boy-friend. So her town’s people despised and condemned her as a dirty and filthy woman. But she thought that her suffering, misery and dissatisfaction was because she could not find Mr. handsome, caring, diligent, gentle, warm, faithful, intellectual and athletic yet. But in reality she was miserable and suffering because of her sin of immorality. Like this woman, many people do not even recognize that they are suffering because of their sins.

A young man suffered a lot in his hatred toward his irresponsible father who had not taken care of his family due to his alcohol and gambling addiction. He thought that the cause of all his suffering and unhappiness was his father. He thought that he was right and had the right to hate his father. But he did not know that he was suffering because of his hatred and unforgiveness. When he came to Christ as he studied the Bible, he realized that he suffered most because of his own sin. He repented his hatred before God and began to love his father with Jesus’ love. Then he experienced real joy and happiness flooded into his heart. Like this young man, we are quick to blame others or our situations, not knowing our own sins that make us suffer most. Sin is our fundamental and real problem.

What is worst is that sinners can neither undo their sins nor save themselves. And according to the scriptures, the wages of sin is death and eternal condemnation. We are in desperate need of Savior. God sent his Son Jesus to save us from the pit of sin. At this Christmas let us humbly kneel before him and ask for his forgiveness. Jesus came to forgive our sins, and we can be forgiven when we come to him humbly and ask.

Second, Immanuel means “God with us.” Jesus is God. John 1:3 says “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” Jesus is the Creator God. To our surprise, however, God came down to this world in order to be with sinners like us. In Jewish thought, God is infinitely awesome and holy so that they could not dare to call God’s name with their unclean lips. So when they encountered the situation to call God’s name they used sign language or substituted names. Yes, God is holy and righteous and we must honor and worship him. But this same God also loves mankind so much and wants to be with us. The Bible illustrates God’s love for human beings from cover to cover. In his love, he wanted to save us and bring us to heaven to be with him forever. But human beings rejected God and wanted to live according to their sinful desires and feelings without God just like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable. The prodigal son ran away from his father, thinking that he would enjoy complete freedom. He did enjoy it, but the outcome was complete starvation, loneliness and guilt. But when he returned home, his father loved him as before by hugging him and kissing him and throwing a big party for him. The father was so happy to be united with his son. Just like the father, God loves human beings. He wants to be with us and to save us from sin and death.

Are we that much precious and worthy to God? The answer is both yes and no. Yes, we are so precious and worthy to God, because God created us in his image and we can have a love relationship with him. But no, we are not worthy, because of our sin and rebellion against God. Regardlessly, in his love for us he came to be with us.

When he came to the world, he took the same way each of us came into this world through pains of childbearing. He experienced every stage of human life—a helpless infant with diapers, a boy under his physical parents’ authority, and a man who worked hard to earn a living. Until he died on the cross, Jesus humbly lived a selfless life among other people. He never claimed special privileges. Jesus was with all kinds of people and became a friend and shepherd to them. Imagine, if Jesus lives today how will he introduce himself? According to Christian writer Max Lucado’s imagination, Jesus will say to me, “Hi, Paul! You can just call me Jesus.” God became touchable, approachable and reachable. He became a good friend to everyone who came to him.

Someone may ask, “Is God still with us?” or “Where is God?” Actually these questions are age-old questions. Right after crossing the Red Sea by God’s Almighty act, the people of God in the desert asked the same questions. Countless people in history did. Even today many people, even some Christians ask the same questions. Let’s look at what the scripture says. Near the end of the Gospel of John, Jesus told his disciples about the sending of the Holy Spirit he would be with them forever. After the resurrection, the risen Jesus again promised in Matthew 28:20b, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” As promised, his Spirit came to the Christians shortly after he ascended into heaven, and the disciples began preaching boldly being filled with his Spirit. God is always with his people weather we recognize it or not. When we confess our sins, receive God’s forgiveness and accept the gift of salvation through Christ, we can know the presence of God with us. And then others will also see that God is with us through our change. When the Minielli brothers experienced heavenly joy in God who is with them, they performed an energetic and entertaining dance joyfully almost to the point of collapsing at the Bible conference. And many of us could see that God is with them.

Immanuel God is with us, beside us, above us, inside us if we accepted Jesus as our Lord. If you don’t accept him yet, I tell you, God is right in front of you, inviting you, drawing you, offering you the love, mercy, and grace that he longs to give you. You will understand it clearer if you study the Bible. God is with us. Therefore, our question must be: “Where am I, in relationship with God?”—instead of questioning, “Is God with us?” or “Where is God?”

Jesus knows and understands all about human life because he had been a human. He was made in all points like us (Heb 4:15). Christmas is the worship of Immanuel who came to be a friend to sinners. There are approximately 7 billion people on the face of the earth today. Among them how many people are your friends, and not just Facebook friends? I suspect, not really many. It is hard to find a faithful friend in this world. We are often disappointed by people whom we have trusted. We need to accept Jesus as our true friend. He alone truly understands us and accepts us as we are. He knows we are sinners, and he can see every weakness that we have. Still he came to be with us. Jesus is our true and best friend for life.

The two names Jesus and Immanuel are God’s best gifts to us at this Christmas. Let us come to him just as we are and welcome him into our hearts. We thank Immanuel, God with us. Merry Christmas to you all!

(Written by Pastor Paul Lee)

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