By Shawn McMullen
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’ (Matthew 1:22, 23).
The name Immanuel represents two key doctrines of the Christian faith: the deity of Christ and the incarnation. The apostle Paul explained that Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6, 7).
Believers today respond positively to these doctrines. What greater news is there than that God (deity) became a man (incarnation) to save us from our sins?
But having God dwell among men was sometimes a troubling—and frightening—thought to ancient believers. Moses hid his face before the burning bush on Mount Horeb because he was afraid to look upon God (Exodus 3:6). When Manoah, the father of Samson, found himself in the presence of the angel of the Lord, he and his wife fell to their faces on the ground. “We are doomed to die!” Manoah exclaimed. “We have seen God!” (Judges 13:22). When Isaiah recognized the presence of the Lord in the temple he said, “Woe to me!
. . . I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5).
In fairness, these folks had good reason to fear. When Moses asked to see the Lord’s glory, God explained, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).
Years later an angel announced the birth of Christ to a band of shepherds on a Judean hillside. As we might expect, the shepherds’ initial reaction was one of terror. But with a little coaxing from the heavenly host they overcame their fear, found the Christ child in the manger, and responded to the presence of God with awe and wonder.
That’s how we should view the birth of Christ today. Christmas reminds us that God drew near to us so we could draw near to him. The eternal God took on flesh and blood in order to save us when we were powerless to save ourselves. “While were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
This Christmas, let’s respond to the Lord with fear—not fear born of terror, but of awe, respect, and reverence. Let’s pause to marvel at this greatest of gifts, bask in the wonder of his amazing grace, and bow in worship before the one who created us, loved us, and saved us.
This editorial is adapted from one that first appeared in The Lookout December 21, 2008.