O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear. Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
Christmas is coming! It’s the most wonderful time of the year, according to a Hallmark Channel movie title. Decorations are everywhere, and Christmas music plays on sound systems in stores. We delight in seeing the joy of children who are experiencing these things for the first time. In our churches, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with special worship services and charity projects. Many congregations sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel as they look forward to Christmas day.
Many people in our communities don’t know or have forgotten that Christmas is about Jesus. They think it’s all about Santa Claus, shopping, and days off from work or school. It’s easy for Christians to get caught up in the commercial aspect of the season. Nevertheless, Christmas is about Jesus, Emmanuel. It’s about God coming to live among us, to teach us how to live in his will and receive the Holy Spirit as our guide and comforter. Christians can draw attention to the coming of Christ and perhaps have a chance to witness to others. That’s what makes Christmas the most wonderful time of the year. And it’s why we sing, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.
The Wonder of God Incarnate
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. What does it mean? Emmanuel is translated “God with us.” Jesus is Emmanuel, God coming to earth to change the status quo. And ransom captive Israel. The Jewish people, Israel, were “slaves” to sin. Jesus came in human form to redeem and save not only Israel but all humanity from the consequences of sin. Jesus lived among us, experiencing human physical and emotional joy as well as pain. He was the Word that became flesh (John 1:14). His coming had been predicted by the prophets. Jesus would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23). He would be “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). The people of Israel looked forward to Messiah’s coming because of the testimony of the prophets. But they had no idea when he would come or exactly how.
The coming of Messiah was necessary because the Mosaic covenant established with the Jews on their exodus from Egypt was not working out. God’s people continually broke the laws God had given them. The prophet Jeremiah described God’s plan for a new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” God sent his Son to establish a new covenant not only for the Jews but for the world. Today we pray in Jesus’ name with the assurance that the God of creation and the One who saved us all from our sins will hear us. What wonderful news!
The Wonder of God as Our Teacher and Savior
Jesus came as an infant, born of a woman like all of us. But he had always existed with God, having been present at creation. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, . . . and the Word was God.” The Word was Jesus. As a child growing up, Jesus displayed great wisdom. At 12 years of age he sat in the temple with the teachers and conversed with them as an equal (Luke 2:41-52). As he grew, he “increased in wisdom and stature” (v. 52). When he began his ministry, those who had always known him wondered where he acquired his vast knowledge (Matthew 13:54, Mark 6:2).
Jesus taught his disciples how to minister to others, praying with them and for them. He affirmed the Jewish law, but he showed them how the religious establishment had gone wrong in teaching and “enforcing” the law. Trying to trick Jesus, one of the Pharisees asked him to identify the greatest commandment. Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40).
Jesus, “God with us,” came to earth as a man and suffered and died for our sins. His followers wrote down their remembrances of his time on earth and the things that happened afterward. How wonderful is it that we have the teachings of Jesus in the Bible, the written testimony of his life and work?
The Wonder of God With Us Forever
As Jesus taught his disciples about his approaching suffering and death, he promised an advocate or comforter (John 14:15-17). This advocate would be with his disciples and is with us today. The comforter, the Holy Spirit, was also present at creation as the Spirit of God that moved over the waters (Genesis 1:2). The Holy Spirit is also mentioned in the Old Testament in Psalm 51:11 and Isaiah 63:10, 11.
Jesus made several earthly appearances following the resurrection. He appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden (Mark 16:9-11), to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (vv. 12, 13), and to his disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:33-49). He appeared to the disciples in Galilee and on the Mount of Olives before he ascended to Heaven. After the ascension, Stephen looked up into Heaven as he was being stoned and saw the Lord Jesus (Acts 7:55, 56). Saul (Paul) saw him on the road to Damascus (9:3-6). Jesus also appeared to the apostle John according to Revelation 1:9-19.
As he was saying goodbye to the disciples, Jesus reminded them, “Surely I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). Later the Holy Spirit came on the disciples at Pentecost as Jesus promised (Acts 2). The Holy Spirit inspired people then and he’s still with us today. The Spirit helps us pray when we have no words (Romans 8:26, 27). Think about that! God the Creator, Jesus the Word, and the Holy Spirit were all present at creation. And they are with us today. We just have to acknowledge their presence and reach out to them for help. Wonder of wonders—God is with us.
Celebrating the birth of Christ this week, we rejoice in the knowledge that God loved us so much that he gave his only son so that we can have life eternal (John 3:16). We praise God for the presence of the Holy Spirit in all of us. Let’s go all out with church and community Christmas activities, remembering what we’re celebrating. God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are present in our lives every day.
Yes, God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are with us for eternity. John Wesley, English preacher and founder of Methodism, said on his deathbed, “The best of all is God is with us.” Indeed, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. Let’s pray that those who have not heard the message of Christ will hear and believe this Christmas. Come, Emmanuel.
Emily M. Akin is a freelance writer and organist at First Christian Church, Union City, Tennessee.