Over at CRN.info, another blog where I write, the other writers and I wrote a Christmas post where each of us explored, in a paragraph or two, the sentence “God with us,” or in Jesus, “Emmanuel.” Below is my contribution to the post. I encourage you to stop by CRN.info and read the entire post.
In the beginning. It all begins there for me, for us. Too many debates about Genesis miss what is likely the most important part of Genesis: God created us to be with Him. Rob Bell correctly notes: “The writer, or writers, of Genesis keeps returning to this eastward metaphor, insisting that something has gone terribly wrong with humanity, and that from the very beginning humans are moving in the wrong direction…We are east of Eden. Something is not right” (Jesus Wants to Save Christians, 14, 17) I’m not far along enough to know if Bell correctly notes that what is wrong is that we humans decided, early on, that it was far more important for us to be like God than it was for us to be with God. East. That’s the problem, humanity is not with God; God is not our God.
This is where ‘God with us’, as truth, takes on a whole new dimension. God with us. This is the name of Jesus, Emmanuel. NT Wright correctly notes that no one else was given this name (Matthew for Everyone, 8). If that is true, and it is, then what does that say about what God thinks ‘God with us’ means? Wow; just wow. God took the steps; radical steps; risky steps. He took the initiative. He made the first move; God with us. We see it all throughout Scripture: God walking in the Garden; the tabernacle among the camp; the ark of the covenant among the army; the temple in the center of the city; the bread of the presence; Jesus ‘tabernacling’ among us; the pillar of fire and smoke; the Shekinah; the Son of Man walking among the lampstands; the Holy Spirit. All these images, and more, point to the overwhelming passion of God’s heart: He wants to be our God; he wants us to be his people.
Jesus, the Emmanuel, is the means whereby ‘God with us’ becomes more than prophetic rhetoric. Jesus puts flesh on the phrase; gives form to the formula; gives power to the prophecy; gives strength to the story. Jesus makes the impossible possible; the unthinkable a reality; the unimaginable a delightful joy. Truly if God had told us, none of us would have believed it. God with us. He has always wanted to be with us. This is amazing to me: The God of the universe, the Creator, the Provider, the Redeemer wants to be among us humans. “How can I keep from singing?” (Tomlin) So the Bible ends right where it begins: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3). This is our promise, and in Jesus it has already become a reality even as we continue to hope for it.
Soli Deo Gloria!