This evening while doing my nightly hygiene rituals, I began to think about Christmas and the name Emmanuel. And as the hot water cascaded like a spring that had just erupted from the faucet, I considered the phrase “God with us.”
And then it hit me, like soap flying out of my hand. This name, this Jesus, this Savior, this man, this God, was not just totally countercultural but completely counter the Bible. Except He wasn’t.
And I’m just a layman. I have no formal biblical training, so please move onto a more articulated and well thought out Christmas message if you don’t like this one, but hear me out…
Until Jesus… God wasn’t “with us.” In fact, the entire Old Testament is filled with an often far removed and distant God. And I know far removed and distant are the same thing, but it’s to add dramatic effect………long pause……..distant God.
In fact, God was so distant that a priest had to tie a rope around his leg to enter the tabernacle because if he messed something up he died and then they’d have to drag him out by said rope. God was so distant that sometimes prophets would cry out for extended periods of time, or His chosen people would wander in the wilderness without even a sign.
Most atheists who argue about God usually argue about the Old Testament God. I’ve carefully listened to tens or even hundreds of debates and never once have I heard anyone refute God by saying Jesus was a jerk or a hypocrite, or a bad son, or unspiritual. In fact, usually atheists have some type of respect for Jesus. They think that He was a good guy, even if they think he was a little bonkers. He was not, they just think He was because it’s the worst they can say about Him while still maintaining logic.
The God of the Old Testament was not an easy God to love, or even like (don’t get me wrong, I do, but mostly in light of Jesus). He was an easy God to be obedient to simply because He took a prescriptive approach to following Him. So not only was He distant, but He required you to follow His many many rules. And there are many people who adhere to or subscribe to things because they find comfort in works. He was a works God. But I doubt many people took joy in actually doing most of those works. I bet there weren’t a lot of people who enjoyed sacrificing animals. And some of the approaches to womanly matters seemed unfair and sometimes even a little weird… I bet most of the people in historical times worshipped God because the alternative was also countercultural and could get them stoned or at least orphaned by their families. He was a God of tradition and they loved their tradition.
God had many requirements and even when you met those requirements He did not present Himself as a close God who wanted to be personal with you. He was the God of smoke and fire that you worshipped in a temple. He was more akin to the Smoke Monster in the series “Lost,” than an all loving God who wanted to dwell in His children. And of course there was a more Jesus side to the God of the Old Testament, but it was rarely seen.
And yet… Emmanuel. God with us.
God the son made it possible for God the Father to enjoy communion with us like it was supposed to be. However, only Jesus could have done this. But it almost seems impossible for this Jesus to be the same God. Jesus stands as a contrast to the God of the Old Testament, unless you carefully read the beginning of Genesis and see how God communed with man in the garden.
Jesus was almost the anti-God. Yet He wasn’t. And I feel like the sharp contrasts between Jehovah God and Jesus God demonstrate why Jesus had to be. C.S. Lewis once commented that for a man to make the claims that Jesus did, he was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord, and I believe this statement really encapsulates Emmanuel.
God with us?
He wasn’t. He was the sacrificial God. He was the rope around the leg God. He was the tabernacle God. The pillar of fire God. The plagues God. He was the vengeful God. The God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and who commands His soldiers to kill women and children. He was the God who demanded all sorts of animals be sacrificed, from goats to doves and everything in between. He was the jealous God. He was the feared God. He was the death by glancing at you God.
God with us? Hardly.
And yet. In the middle of time. There was a Savior. Born of a virgin. A baby. On a peaceful, silent night. There was a Messiah in a manger on hay. There were shepherds. There were sheep. There were cows and mules. And there was a king. Emmanuel.
And all of sudden He was. His message was peace and Love. He was not laws but grace. Yet at the same time He was the very fulfillment of those laws. I believe Emmanuel may be be the most powerful word in all of history. God with us. God wasn’t with us until Jesus. And now He is not just with us, He is in us.
His claims were totally against what people thought they would be. His claims even seemed to be against the very philosophies He saw as foundational. His claims were so ridiculous at the time they seemed audacious. And they were.
Jesus was audacious. Audacious – to take wildly bold risks in the face of fear.
Sometimes the truth is the most audacious thing possible. Sometimes someone does something so ridiculous and out of character, the very fact that they did it seems to confirm its truth. Or it’s entirely in their character, but it’s nearly impossible to believe still, even if it makes sense.
If you look at Donald Trump, some of the things he says are so ridiculous you almost can’t believe it happened until you hear it. In fact, the whole Republican party right now seems to be championing this cause of audacity. You wonder how a doctor can say the things he does about people. How a businessman can believe the things he does. And then you wonder how a Savior, how a God who breathed universes could reconcile Himself to His people. How a God who formed man from dust can reconcile an Old, works-driven Testament, with a New, grace-filled Testament.
God with us.