Immanuel is a name that has always been special to me. Monica and I grew up at Immanuel Lutheran of Frankentrost – a congregation our ancestors helped establish back in 1847. “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)
For our ancestors who traveled across the ocean from Germany, trudged their way through foreign wilderness, and then cleared the trees, built homes, and transformed forests into fields, this promise meant everything. The sign was so simple, and yet so wondrous: a virgin … a Son … Immanuel. God with us.
Mary, a descendant of David, is the one God chose to be the virgin. Impregnated by the Holy Spirit, her initial reaction was that of fear. But the Holy Spirit’s continuing work in her drove away that fear and empowered her to say, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1.38) That same Spirit went on to lead her through additional fears and traumas, grief and pain, simply because … well, you know, God was with her.
Jesus, at our Lord’s command, was the name that was given the Son. “An angel of the Lord appeared to (Joseph) in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, 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.’” (Matthew 1.20-21) A virgin … a Son … a Savior … Immanuel.
The sign is so simple that it remains easy to be missed. We have surrounded it with lights and glitter, feasts, festivities, and gifts galore. Even in a year as challenging as this, the sign can be missed … perhaps because all of the other things we treasure about Christmas will be so different. Yet, when you think about it, our current experience is not so different from that of our ancestors, or even Mary.
And for us the sign remains just as wondrous … and exactly what we need. A virgin … a Son … a Savior … God with us. “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17.20-21) “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; … and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. … He will establish his kingdom with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” (Isaiah 9.6-7) A Son … a Savior … God with us … through this time and forever.
Like Mary, our lives are often filled with fears and traumas, grief and pain – those unanswered questions that can gnaw in our brain. Like our ancestors, it feels as though we are trudging through a foreign wilderness – so many more unknowns and “uncontrollables” than we have ever seen before. How good it is to know that another thing has not changed – the sign … simple and wondrous … Immanuel.
He is here for you today … he is here with you always. He brings to you his grace and truth … and “from his fullness we all receive grace upon grace.” (John 1.16) A Son … a Savior … God with us … now and forever … Immanuel.