“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee o Israel!”
O Come O Come Emmanuel has always been one of my favorite Christmas carols, not just for its haunting, deeply melodic minor tones, but also because of its very poignant words that speak of the longing of a nation to be visited by their God. One of my favorite names for God is Emmanuel, which means “God with us”. There is not a more appropriate time of year to reflect upon the meaning of that profound word than at Christmastime, when God took on flesh and became man in order that He could be with us—in every sense of the word.
God desires not just for us to know Him, or love Him, or depend on Him, He desires to be with us. God’s initiative in moving toward us did not begin with the first Christmas, it began with His very first stroke of creation in making man and placing him in the Garden. In the Garden, God and man enjoyed sweet, perfect fellowship, walking and talking with one another in the cool of the evening. God was with us, and the proximity was extremely close.
Even after man’s sin and his being cast out of the place of being with God, God’s desire was always to be with His people. In the wilderness, despite their disobedience, God moved toward His people by instructing them to build the Tabernacle—the tented movable structure where God would meet with the priests on behalf of the people. In Hebrew, the word “tabernacle” literally means “dwelling place”. This is where God took up residence and dwelt among His people.
With the advent of Jesus, God became flesh and the second person of the Trinity dwelt, or “tabernacled”, among us. Jesus took on our nature, felt our pain, experienced our humanity. He could not have been more with us than when He lived in Israel in the first century. But Emmanuel-Jesus-did not stay with us. After the resurrection and the ascension, He returned to be with the Father, promising that He would send the third being of the Trinity—the Holy Spirit of God—to be with us.
Jesus tells us that it is better for us that He return to the Father, for in that way the Holy Spirit will come to be with us. Once again God is intentional as He moves toward us to be with us. We who believe are now the temple of the living God, indwelt at all times by His Holy Spirit.
Every bit of Emmanuel, all of Him—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—wants to be with you—every part of you. Not just the Sunday part. Not just the “I’m in a crisis” part. Everyday and all day long, He wants to be with you.
In this busy Advent season, how can we experience the incredible closeness of the presence of God with us? The same way that we always have. In the stillness of the Garden. In the quietness of the holy night in Bethlehem. We have to quiet ourselves down and put ourselves in a place where we can hear from God and allow His Spirit to speak to us. It is essential that we take time to pray alone and in small groups if we want to experience God being with us through His Spirit. Prayer and reflection are difficult things to find time for in the busyness of the Christmas season. But they are the essential things if we want to experience God with us. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to us!