I don't know about you . . . but this all seems very strange to me.
First, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream - now that is strange. I can't image having the angel of the Lord appear to me in a dream. That would be way too weird because it would freak me out and I wouldn't know if I was having a bad dream or if it really was happening. This is strange stuff.
But that's not the only strange thing that happens in this story; the angel of the Lord doesn't seem to be very clear about the name of this child.
First he says you will call him Jesus - Now, the name Jesus isn't all that unusual in the ancient world. There were lots of little Jesus' running around during that time. Kind of like Bob in our culture - there are lots of Bob's running around. It would be kind of like the angel of the Lord coming to us and saying "you will call him Bob".
Well not really . . . . because if you remember from last week, names in the ancient world were very significant because names were chosen for their meaning.
Jesus is a common derivative of the name Joshua which means "Jehovah saves". It was a name expressive of the faith and history of the Jewish nation that the Lord could and would redeem his people out of all of their troubles.
And so there were many children who carried the name Jesus because it signified their deep faith in a messiah that was to come. So, calling this child "Jesus" was not strange.
But the text doesn't stop there; it goes on to say that this will be done in fulfillment of an OT prophecy that his name would be called "Emmanuel".
Now, this is where it gets strange . . . because the angel just said that his name was going to be "Jesus"?
Why would the scripture say that this was in fulfillment to an OT prophecy in which he was to be called Emmanuel when he just said his name was to be Jesus? As far as we know, no one was called Emmanuel in the ancient world. It just wasn't a name you used. So, was this going to be a nickname? Perhaps his middle name? Surely it wasn't going to be the name he used publicly.
So, from my 21st century, westernized mind, this is all very strange.
But maybe we shouldn't be too literalistic in trying to match the names by which the OT prophets described the coming Savior. Even if Jesus was never actually called "Emmanuel", neither was he called wonderful, counselor, prince of peace, the branch or dayspring on high. None of his friends ever walked up to him and said "yo, dayspring, how's it flowing?" or "hey, branch how's it hanging?
and yet he was all of these.
You see, these names and titles were given to represent the personality and ministry of the Messiah.
And our scripture says that he will be called Jesus which means "Jehovah saves" and that he will be called Emmanuel which means "God with us".
The name Jesus is descriptive of what he does - He redeems and he saves.
But he was not just a savior, temporal and localized.
He was Emmanuel, God with us.
God saves by making his dwelling among us.
This is at the heart of Christmas. We don't just celebrate the birth of Jesus but also God's entrance into human life in a way that had not happened before, nor will ever need to happen again.
As the apostle John writes, "the word - God, the creator the sustainer and the redeemer - became flesh and made his dwelling among us"
This is Emmanuel - God with us
And with this name comes promises that we find throughout scripture . . .
Genesis 28:15 "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go"
Exodus 3:11-12 "But Moses said to God who am that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? And God said, I will be with you.
Joshua 1:5 "I will never leave you nor forsake you"
Isaiah 25:4 "You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat"
Isaiah 43:2-3 "When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior."
Matthew 28:20 "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Hebrews 13:5 "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you"
This is Emmanuel - "God with us" being present with us, never leaving us or forsaking us
But does this name Emmanuel or the promises that go with this name always resonate with you?
I have to be honest, sometimes when I look at the world around me; it is difficult to resonate with the name Emmanuel "God with us" - because I want to know . . .
- â— Where was God when 1 million people were brutally murdered in Rwanda over the course of 3 months because of their race?
- â— Where was God on September 11, 2001 when two planes crashed into the world trade center?
- â— Where was God on April 16, 2007 when a young man ravaged the campus of Virginia Tech, killing 32 people and wounding many more?
- â— Where is God when children are starving to death all over the world?
- â— Where is God in cancer?
- â— Where is God in malaria?
- â— Where is God when little girls in India are forced into prostitution?
- â— Where is God when people are persecuted because of their beliefs?
- â— Where is God when the homeless aren't allowed to sleep in the cities?
- â— Where is God when families have no where to sleep at night?
- â— Where is God when elderly women are forced out of their homes because they aren't able to keep them up to neighborhood standards?
- â— Where is God in the midst of such cruelty, and injustice, and greed, and hatred, and pain and suffering and sorrow
Where is this Emmanuel "God with us"?
Even Jesus wanted to know as he hung on a cross and shouted. . .
"My God, My God why have you forsaken me?"
But when I look at scripture - when I really look for the answers. I begin to realize that there is so much more to this name Emmanuel than an OT prophecy or a child born in a stable.
You see, God's incarnation through Jesus Christ, ultimately, was for the purpose that he might dwell in us and we in him.
Emmanuel, "God with us" in the Old Testament was to become
Emmanuel "God in us" in the New Testament.
The word became flesh in order to save us from our sins . . . not from the consequences of our sins but from the thoughts and desires that bring them about by transforming our nature through the power of his indwelling.
So, by calling yourself a Christ follower, you have allowed God to dwell within you and to transform your nature into the image of God. And it is this power of God in the soul of man that we can heal the hurts, the cruelty, the injustice, the greed, the hatred, and the fear of mankind.
And so the question in the face of injustice, cruelty, greed and hatred is not "Where is God?"
The question is "Where is his church?"
As Christians, we cannot be content to simply worship the Babe in a manger, we must follow him all the way to the cross and beyond, we must have a rebirth of spiritual life that is more real, that is more compassionate, and that is more dedicated than ever before.
As a church, we must dare to think what glorious thing humanity can be when God lights it up from within! That is what Emmanuel means - God in us, transforming us and helping us build his Kingdom in this changing culture; a kingdom that will be described with words like justice, mercy, kindness, hope and grace.
And so now, let us keep nothing back as we steadfastly follow where he may lead!
Let us be His church, God with us and in us.
May God have his way with man, and love them into responsive salvation!