Is Emmanuel a Christmas Word?

Today has me thinking about Christmas. I admit, that sounds a bit weird. Easter was only 2 days ago. There are still many weeks and months and seasons before Christmas comes again.

But I can’t help but think of Christmas when I hear the word “Emmanuel.”

I am thinking about Emmanuel today.

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” gets me every time. I love the haunting tone and the call to rejoice. After all, that’s why we celebrate Christmas. Emmanuel means God with us. Christmas celebrates how God come to earth in the form of Jesus.

Emmanuel is a great message for Christmas. But it is also causes a problem.

After Easter.

Sometime after Jesus’ resurrection appearances, He asked His followers to gather on a mountain side. He told them that He was leaving. He rose from the dead, but that didn’t mean He was staying on the earth. He was returning to the Father. He was leaving the work of spreading His message to them.

If Emmanuel, God with us, was the message of Jesus coming to earth, what happens when Jesus leaves the earth?

Jesus answered that question Himself. He ended His message with the words,

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. –Matthew 28:20

Yes, Jesus ascended into heaven. But He left things fundamentally changed for humanity. Jesus tore the Temple curtain with His death and opened the grave with His resurrection. Where we used to be separated from God, we can now abide in Jesus. When we believe, His Spirit lives in us.

Not just at Christmas, but today. Always.

Emmanuel is the primary reason I believe in the resurrection.

I could point to historical evidence. Belief in a resurrected Jesus is more rational than many people think. But historical evidence is not why I believe.

I believe in the resurrection because I have met Jesus. Matthew 28:20 is true.

How do I describe these experiences? I might talk about my relationship with God, how His Spirit indwells me, or how His living and active Word shapes me. But I know these words might sound confusing or freaky or cheesy. Yet I don’t know how else to say it sometimes. I grasp for descriptions, when words seems so utterly insufficient to express what has happened in my life.

I don’t know what words I should use. But here’s what I do know.

I know that when I was 12 years old, I was depressed. And somehow, somehow, I understood that reading Psalms would bring me comfort. And so I read one, each night, before falling asleep. And when I did, I felt Love wrap around me and hold me in His arms. Emmanuel was with me.

I know that when I was 19 years old, I was searching. I was in the woods with a Bible asking God, would He please, please, speak to me? Would He tell me how He felt about me? And I sensed my hand, guided to verses that spoke specifically to my heart. Jesus answered the questions I didn’t even have the courage to ask. Emmanuel was with me.

I know that when I was 22 years old, I needed direction for my future. I was praying for guidance when opportunities dropped in my lap, when people spoke unrequested words of affirmation. And, before I knew it, Jesus held my hand and guided me on a path to vocational ministry. Emmanuel was with me.

And I know that when I was 27 years old, I was in the hospital. Pregnancy complications put my life and my newborn son’s life at risk. I was scared, but somehow, had peace. An amazing story of name that fit all too well, and I knew I was not alone. Emmanuel was with me.

I know these kinds of stories can sound unbelievable or like Christian jargon. But, they are my experiences. I have met Emmanuel.

I never did anything big to deserve Emmanuel. I just asked for Him to come. I wanted forgiveness. I wanted Jesus to change my life. And I wanted Him to be with me always.

And now, He is. Even when I don’t feel it, I know it. Because I know the stories of my past, and I know the stories there will be in my future.

Happy Easter. Emmanuel is here.

This is the conclusion of the Reveal series for Lent. I would love to hear your comments. What does “I am with you always” mean to you? What have the “I am” statements of Jesus revealed to you this Lenten season?

Read the post before this one: The most terrible and good day in history.

P.S. So excited that this is my 100th post. I love that it fell on the day I post on one of my favorite verses in Scripture. Thanks for joining me on this blogging journey!

The most terrible and good day in history

“I am thirsty.” These are words most of us have spoken at some point in our lives. Perhaps after a long run or after being outside on a hot day.

They are also words spoken by Jesus.

Thirst reveals humanity. God, the Living Water, does not thirst. Jesus comes to earth as God in flesh. A fully human being.

That is significant today. The day we remember Jesus’ time on the cross.

Jesus says the words “I am thirsty” while hanging on the cross. The human being Jesus is being crucified.

“Crucifixion was not simply a convenient way of executing prisoners. It was the ultimate indignity, a public statement by Rome that the crucified one was beyond contempt. The excruciating physical pain was magnified by the degradation and humiliation. No other form of death, no matter how prolonged or physically agonizing, could match crucifixion as an absolute destruction of the person.” – ESV Study Bible Notes

As a human, Jesus is feeling everything that his happening to Him in these moments of torture and death. He feels the thirst of a body that has gone without liquid for too many days. He feels the agony of a body nailed to a tree.

But saying “I am thirsty” also reveals Jesus’ divinity. At the same time as being fully present, Jesus is fully transcendent.

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. – John 19:28-29

In the midst of the human agony, Jesus still maintains divine knowledge. He knows that everything that is happening fulfills Scripture. This terrible event is according to God’s plan. Even to the level of detail as thirst being quenched by vinegar (as prophesied in Psalm 69:21.)

Jesus’ death fulfills a divine promise. Jesus, as fully God and fully human, is choosing to die on a cross. It is the only way to save us, His beloved children.

The truth of this is brought to life for me in the way The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the story of the crucifixion.

“They nailed Jesus to the cross.

‘Father, forgive them,’ Jesus gaped. ‘They don’t understand what they’re doing.’

‘You say you’ve come to rescue us!’ people shouted. ‘But you can’t even rescue yourself!’

But they were wrong. Jesus could have rescued himself. A legion of angels would have flown to his side- if he’d called.

‘If you were really the Son of God, you could just climb down off that cross!’ they said.

And of course they were right. Jesus could have just climbed down. Actually, he could have just said a word and made it all stop. Like when he healed that little girl. And stilled the storm. And fed 5,000 people.

But Jesus stayed.

You see, they didn’t understand. It wasn’t the nails that kept Jesus there. It was love.

‘Papa?’ Jesus cried, frantically searching the sky. ‘Papa? Where are you? Don’t leave me!’

And for the first time- and the last- when he spoke, nothing happened. Just a horrible, endless silence. God didn’t answer. He turned away from his boy…

The full force of the storm of God’s fierce anger at sin was coming down. On his own Son. Instead of his people. It was the only way God could destroy sin, and not destroy his children whose hearts were filled with sin.

Then Jesus shouted out in a loud voice, ‘It is finished!’

And it was. He had done it. Jesus had rescued the whole world.

‘Father!’ Jesus cried. ‘I give you my life.’ And with a great sigh, he let himself die.

And so, the terrible day of Jesus’ death is called Good Friday. For today we remember the most amazing display of love that has ever taken place.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16

Jesus died so we could be free. That is good, indeed. Thanks be to God.

This is what Jesus saying, "I am thirsty" reveals to me. What does it reveal to you?

Read the post before this one: A cup accepted and a love revealed.

A Cup Accepted and A Love Revealed

This post will not begin with a story from me. What story do I have that compares with THE Story?

It is Holy Week- a time to remember Jesus’ final days on earth.

In His final days, Jesus prays. He doesn’t run. Or worry. Or strategize. Or plan a counter-attack. He prays.

He prays for Himself. He wrestles with the future that is now just moments away. But yet, always, always, His desire is for God to be glorified, whatever the cost.

And that is not His only prayer.

Jesus also prays for His followers. Moments before His own arrest, Jesus is found praying for His disciples- that they would be protected when He is taken from them. And us, the followers yet to come: that we would be one so the world would see His love.

God’s glory and love. It has always been and will always be about that.

And then, it happens.

When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.

Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.  – John 18:1-6

This is a holy declaration. This is Jesus of Nazareth. This is I AM, Yahweh, the Holy One. The voice that asked Moses to take of His sandals now causes soldiers to fall down.

This is Jesus. God in human form who walked on seas and could stroll right out of that garden unharmed if He wants to. That might show His glory.

But it would not show His love. And it is in His love that glory is most clearly revealed.

Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.

Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.” John 18:7-8

In this moment, still in this moment, Jesus thinks of others. He cares for His disciples.

It is always about love.

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. –John 18:10-13

The cup of suffering. Jesus always knew it would come to this. And He is ready. He is ready to accept this bitter cup from the Father on our behalf.

Jesus, the great I AM, takes the cup. He is ready to spill His love in blood.

And then, in just few verses, the contrast. Oh the contrast between this loving, selfless, honest Jesus and fickle, egocentric, lying humanity.

After Jesus declares “I am he,” Peter declares “I am not.”

An acceptance born of love and a denial born of fear.

And I realize I am Peter. We all are. We are the frightened humanity unable to bear the cup that Jesus bore for us.

Jesus runs towards what we all run away from. But the cup He takes leaves His arms open wide, ready to hold us when we come running back.

This is what Jesus saying “I am he” when He is arrested reveals to me. What does it reveal to you?

Read the post before this one: How do we bear fruit in our lives?

P.S. Looking for a way to reflect this week? I highly recommend watching The Gospel of John. It brings the words of Scripture to life for me. (Though The Passion of the Christ is also good for reflection, I appreciate the more holistic view of The Gospel of John.)