Emmanuel — one of the names for the Savior — has as its meaning, “God is with us.” The angel says it when he appears to Joseph to tell him that Mary will give birth to a baby boy who will save people from their sins. Actually, the angel quotes the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who said, “Look, the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and you shall name him Emmanuel, which means, ‘God with us.’” (Isaiah 7:14)
Emmanuel — what a great word to describe who God is! He is “God with us.” In the Old Testament, God reminded Isaiah that he was with both him and the people of Israel. And in Matthew’s Gospel in the New Testament, God reminded Joseph that he was with him, and with all people! God was with them, giving them this physical sign — the birth of a baby — to show that God cared.
In the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God was assuring the human race that — no matter how dark the circumstances, no matter how afraid you might be, no matter what problems there might be in your own personal life or in the world — God is always with us. And Jesus is the visible sign that “God is with us.”
But let’s take this a step further. Because this prophecy of “Emmanuel,” it seems to me, says something about the role that we human beings have, too. Certainly, Jesus is unique. He is the great Emmanuel, born to save us from our sins. Only he can do that!
But, in a sense, those who follow Jesus are also called to incarnate God’s presence in the world. We, too, are called to be signs of Emmanuel — God’s presence in the world. We are called to be visible reminders of hope in this dark world.
All of us know people who are walking through hard times: relatives, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, people at work or school. People who feel besieged in one way or another. Maybe it’s someone who lost a loved one this past year, and it will be their first Christmas without them. How will people like that know that God is with them? Sure, they can read it in the Bible. But, not everyone reads the Bible.
How will they ever come to know that they are not alone if someone — you or me — doesn’t embody God’s love and presence to them?
I remember hearing a story a long time ago about a boy who was sleeping peacefully in bed one night when a huge thunderstorm came up. There was thunder and lightning, and it woke the boy up with a start. The boy was terribly frightened and called out to his father, “Daddy, come here quick. I’m scared!”
His father ran into the boy’s room and tried to comfort him. “Don’t be afraid, son. It’ll be OK. God will protect you.”
The boy answered, “Yes, I know, Dad. I just needed someone with skin on.”
“Someone with skin on.” Isn’t that a perfect definition of the true meaning of Christmas? Jesus, the Emmanuel, came into this world as God “with skin on.”
And you see, as human beings, we are called to do the same kind of thing. Not in a saving way, of course. We could never do that. Only Jesus could. But we can act as a reminder to others that “God is with you.” To come alongside someone and say, “God hasn’t forgotten you.”
A good example of this took place the other night when a number of people from our church went out to visit our shut-ins and sing Christmas carols to them. It was very evident that those visits meant a great deal to every single person we visited. Do you know what I saw? I saw smiles, hugs, heart-felt “thank yous” and even tears of joy. Those people knew they were members of our church. They knew their names were on the rolls. If you ask me, it had something to do with “having skin on.” The personal touch reminded these folks that they are not alone. Someone cares. Their church cares. But more than that, God cares. God loves, and there’s nothing quite like it!
In his book, "The Journey," Adam Hamilton writes: “When I visit church members in the hospital, I always pray as I’m walking in, that I might embody the presence of God for the person I am visiting. I pray, ‘God please help me to be a physical reminder to this person that you are with them.’” But let me tell you, brothers and sisters, it’s not just for pastors to do. It’s for all of us to do — to be “Emmanuel” for others, to remind them that there is a God, and that He is a God who cares and that He cares deeply about them. And that there is hope.
God showed us that in a most remarkable way by sending his Son into the world. But he also sends you and me. Do you know someone during this Christmas season to whom you can be a sign of “Emmanuel?” I think you do.
— By the Rev. John Koedyker is pastor of Word of Hope Church in Fruitport.