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).
Long before his birth, the name Immanuel was given to Jesus by the prophet Isaiah. Meaning “God with us,” the name supports several key tenets of the Christian faith: Christ’s deity, his incarnation, and his continued presence. The apostle Paul explained that Jesus “who, 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. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8). Jesus himself uttered this wonderful promise before his ascension: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
This is good news. What more could created beings ask than that our Creator (deity) would take on human form (incarnation) to save us from our sins, and that he would remain with us (continued presence) forever?
God with us. It’s a comforting concept today. But the idea of having God in your midst hasn’t always been comforting. Sometimes it was downright troubling—even frightening. 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. Manoah said, “We are doomed to die! 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, all of these people had good reason to be afraid when they found themselves in God’s presence. When Moses asked to see the Lord’s glory, God replied, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).
So when Christ came to earth and an angel announced his birth to a band of shepherds on a Judean hillside, we’re not surprised to read that they responded in fear—to the presence of the angel, no doubt, but perhaps also to the news that God was now among them. But then, with a little coaxing from the heavenly host, they overcame their fear and responded to the news of God’s presence with awe and wonder. Luke records,
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. . . . The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told (Luke 2:15-18, 20).
So how do we respond today to the good news that God is with us and among us? Much like the shepherds many years ago—with fear, awe, and wonder. Christmas reminds us that God came to us so that we could come 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).
While Christ’s presence among us is something we always acknowledge, the Christmas season provides a unique backdrop to this eternal truth. So let’s respond to Christ’s presence this Christmas with fear, mindful of his sovereignty, his holiness, and his justice. Let’s respond to him with awe and wonder, reflecting on his great love and his amazing grace. And let’s bow before him in reverence and worship, the one who came to us, lived among us, died for us, and redeemed us.