By Daniel Malakowsky
The very essence of God's nature is found in this simple name. The creator of heaven and earth, the covenant giver and keeper, the one who establishes kings and nations and stewards them to his own purposes would choose to identify himself as Immanuel, God with us. The Great I AM would yield himself to the painful despair of a world detached from his own purposes and enter humanity as a Son, thus revealing a God who made himself known not as one who is distant, but as one who is near in the endearing role of Father.
As Israel would find judgment and the northern kingdom a message of destruction and wrath in the words that were uttered by Isaiah, even their disobedience could not exhaust the immeasurable mercies of YHWH. In death there would be life and despair would yield to hope.
"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." ~ Isaiah 7:14
It is appropriate then that Matthew, pondering life in the kingdom that was manifest in the life of Christ, would see the authority of God expressed not from a detached throne, but in the midst of the desperation, isolation, and fear that are the hearts of men. The arrogant pride and lust, the wretched detachment from God and one another that permeated these hearts and lives would find hope in a king who came as a servant. The name of this king was Immanuel, God with us.
“'Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.' All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us)." ~ Matthew 1:20b-23
The king would find victory in humility and commission others to do the same. Immersing themselves in the reality and truth that was this kingdom, his followers were thus to immerse others in this goodness and grace. With the simple words of 'follow me' the heart of discipleship would be known and its foundation was found in the name of the one they were invited to follow...Immanuel, God with us.
Forming the bookends of his Gospel, Matthew would show that at the core of life in this kingdom was embracing the reality that is ours, that in Christ God is truly with us. In his putting on flesh and coming as a man, God revealed that the solution to the troubles of this world would be a person. To know this person, to embrace Immanuel, would not only be the entry point, but also the source and fountain of our life and restoration.
"Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." ~ Matthew 28:20b
As the advent season beckons us to celebrate the birth of Christ, it also invites us to follow after the 'God with us' life. To engage this life is to the know one who will never leave or forsake you, the one who chooses to be with you, the one who calls you forth in the unending satisfaction of his presence.
Let us celebrate him well, but let us embrace him even more as he embraces us. His name is Immanuel, and he shows us that God is truly with us.