The promise of Immanuel—God with us—demonstrates God’s love for me in the here and now and while I wait.
God’s Love for Me Made Manifest
“Jeeez-us! Just get out of my way, would you?” one of the students, hands on hips, staring at an older student blocking the slide.
“Geez, I’m just trying to have fun,” the older student replied.
I waited to see if the elementary teacher would step in. My older students occupied the swings and the zip line, and I didn’t want to interfere in another teacher’s class culture.
“Please don’t use God’s name that way, Ana and Raymond.” The teacher walked towards the slide as my timer went off, signaling the end of our math break and my eavesdropping.
As I called to my students and we returned to the classroom, I wondered what reason the elementary teacher had given to her students. We work at a Christian school, but few of our students have experienced a Christian upbringing.
In this season of Christmas, how many of my students understand that Jesus is more than a swear word? He’s God’s love for me made manifest as a baby in a manger. In this season of waiting, the promise of Immanuel comforts me.
The distance I feel between myself and certain family members feels heavy. But the promise of Immanuel—God with us—fills the gap and brings light to the darkness while I wait for change. The uncertainty of the future hovers like a dark cloud on the horizon. But the promise of Immanuel comforts me while I live one day at a time.
Jesus Came Alongside Us
I’ve never noticed how the Gospel of Matthew starts and ends with the same promise. Matthew 1:23 says, “She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” And at the end of the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples, “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, NLT).
The same promise of God’s love for you and for me. Jesus, part of the Trinity, came to earth to experience all we experienced. Family betrayal, estranged relationships, uncertainty about the future, great joy, unimaginable sorrow, physical suffering, military rule, and deep friendships. And through it all, he kept a perfect connection with his heavenly father.
Jesus came alongside humanity two thousand years ago so we could feel his presence in the present. Immanuel. God is with us. In addition, he offered himself—his very life—to pay the penalty for my sins. Justice requires payment, recompense, and penalty.
I used to think because I hadn’t committed murder, didn’t lie too often, and treated people decently, I was a pretty good person. Jesus died for me, but I didn’t need the sacrifice as much as SOME people did.
But the older I get, the more I realize I break the law of love daily. I struggle with pride, self-sufficiency, and living for myself. Those things grieve God just as much as school shootings, genocide, famine, and politicians.
I need Jesus to come alongside me and assure me of God’s love for me—despite my imperfections and sins. He promises to calm my fears and help me love with big, bold strokes.
And as Jesus, the risen Messiah, says his last words on earth, he encourages his present and future followers that his presence will continue. If I fall short today, God won’t give up on me. I can stumble, sin, screw up, and have a messy life, but God’s love for me won’t change.
All I must do is accept the promise of Immanuel. No, Jesus isn’t a swear word to me. It hurts me when people use his name to express anger and derision. But it also reminds me I have a lot of loving to do so those around me can come to know Jesus the way I do.
How a Baby Changed My Life
Everyone can claim the promise of Immanuel. In doing so, we enter into a relationship with the Great I Am. We don’t change overnight. Accepting Jesus doesn’t take away our sinful human nature. Forgiveness for sins doesn’t make us perfect; it makes us malleable.
I’ve heard people point out the abundance of sinful Christians as evidence against the existence of God. That’s akin to denying the existence of cows because the milk in your fridge went sour.
God doesn’t produce an instantaneous change in our lives and characters. But Jesus comes alongside us and gives us hope as we grapple with the hard work of change. God doesn’t differentiate between types of sinners. But Jesus promises to be with us while we give up our pride and acknowledge our need for a Savior.
God’s love for me opens the way for positive changes over time. May he continue to work with me and in me in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.