Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Immanuel: I Am With You

“Watch for this: A girl who is presently a virgin will get pregnant. She’ll bear a son and name him Immanuel (God-With-Us) (Isaiah 7:14) (Peterson).”

I will never forget this one Christmas when I was in school, I think I was in the 8th or 9th grade. My family on my mom’s side had traditionally gotten together and went driving around all of Columbia, SC, the small city where I am from, looking at Christmas lights. We would do this year after year when my brother and sister and I came back from sharing Christmas Eve with my dad’s side of the family. It was a magical time and I anticipated it with great excitement. I anticipated this tradition with so much excitement and innocence that I almost did not notice that I had outgrown this tradition. This particular year I noticed things were different though. Something had changed. I was older and was feeling the weight of the world and life on my youthful shoulders.

When we returned to our home from our dad’s house that Christmas Eve, it was dark and my mom was in bed sick and sleeping. I confess I was irritated and angry that things were not going to be the way that they were supposed to be on this particular Christmas Eve. This year would be different. I went into my mom’s room and checked on her. She woke up and apologized, as if she had done something wrong. It was not her fault that she was not feeling well. I assured her that all was fine and that all would be well in the morning and that she would feel better. I kissed her on the forehead and left her sleeping. I felt alone.

I remember talking to God that night as I searched for a stashed can or two of cheap Busch Beer and some Camel cigarettes that I had out in the detached single car garage, which I had converted into my own personal residence. I remember muttering to God, “What am I so angry about? It’s your birthday! I’m so selfish. All I want is peace and for everything to be alright. I don’t want people to be sick. I want the magical feelings of Christmas from my childhood! What is wrong with me?! What is wrong with this world?” I was determined that I was going to go looking at Christmas lights and I was going to go with Jesus. He and I would walk the neighborhood drinking cheap beer and smoking Camels together. It would be great! It was great. God was with me. I felt his presence. It was one of the most memorable Christmases I have ever had.

I told God everything that I was feeling and thinking that night and He comforted me. He was there with me. God was present. We saw some pretty amazing lights in the neighborhood that night. This one house you could have seen from space it was so bright. It looked like something from that movie Christmas Vacation, with Chevy Chase. The most epic display I saw that night summed up the entire evening for me. I stared at it for about a half an hour or so till just past midnight. It was a simple lighted display, the only decoration in the yard. It was the wise men from the east riding at night on camels by starlight to see the baby Jesus. It was beautiful, and ironic I thought as I took a drag of my Camel cigarette. These rich men were traveling from afar to present gifts to the greatest gift ever given to us, God Himself-God with us. These guys, who probably thought they had everything, dropped everything they had to be with baby God when He entered the world to forever be with His people, Immanuel. “This is what Christmas is about!” I said, almost aloud. I bowed my head and whispered, “Happy Birthday Jesus.”

I walked home that night with joy and His presence and fell asleep rejoicing.

God was with me on that wonderful Christmas. God is with us now! God is with you. This is the greatest gift ever. God Himself is with us! This is Christmas!

The prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 7:10-14, prophesied these words to Ahaz that told of the joy and salvation that was to come. These words promise a sign to us that is greater than any magical experience or extravagance that we can ever imagine or hope for. This is the promise that has been fulfilled, Immanuel, and this is what Christmas is about:

“God spoke again to Ahaz. This time he said, “Ask for a sign from your God. Ask anything. Be extravagant. Ask for the moon!”
But Ahaz said, “I’d never do that. I’d never make demands like that on God!”
So Isaiah told him, “Then listen to this, government of David! It’s bad enough that you make people tired with your pious, timid hypocrisies, but now you’re making God tired. So the Master is going to give you a sign anyway. Watch for this: A girl who is presently a virgin will get pregnant. She’ll bear a son and name him Immanuel (God-With-Us) (Peterson).”

May you recognize Immanuel this Christmas and be with Him all of life long and into the eternal.

Merry Christmas!


Peterson, Eugene H. The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 2002.

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