God With Us

I’ve been thinking a lot about that phrase: Immanuel, God With Us, a name given to Christ long before Mary laid her baby in a feeding trough. God – the infinite, the omniscient and omnipresent, the I Am – made Himself tiny and frail. He became one of us. All of the symbolism of the systems that came before pointed to this: God living as one of us and sacrificing Himself for us.

He wasn’t what we expected. The King of the universe came to a poor family from a notoriously poor town. He came in politically fraught times, to a people oppressed. He wasn’t handsome, powerful, or wealthy. He lived a life of struggle and displacement. He was misunderstood and eventually tortured to death at the behest of the very religious authorities who should have hailed his arrival. His own people didn’t recognize Him.

And yet, those He touched were transformed. The power of heaven flowed through Him, so that even those who touched His clothing in faith were healed. The unrestrained love of God met every person where they were and drew them in. It swept away sin and hurt and suffering and left joy and healing and hope. The willing were never the same.

I recently listened to a group discussion about how Christians should define and overcome sin. It was a variation on discussions I’ve heard all my life. It left me sad and frustrated. Too many Christians seem to believe their job is to access the power of God in order to wrestle sin out of their lives. That’s not consistent with what I find in the Bible.  

Sin is not a violation of a moral code created by a God who demands obedience. The law – by which we know sin – is an expression of God’s character. God is perfect love. In His presence, selfishness that births harm and pain and loss cannot exist. Sin by necessity separates us from Him. Sin is death because it cuts us off from the Source of life. No matter how good we are, we can NEVER meet the standard of perfection required to live in communion with God. For this reason, Jesus stood in our place. His perfection and sacrifice – the full measure of selfless love – cover us. We are restored. We live again in relationship with God, and His life and love flow through us. We’re the branch, connected to the Vine. We produce sweet fruit of love in action, not through work and wrestling, but as a natural product of His life in us.

Photo credit: Jean Beaufort

The story of the Gospel starts in Genesis 1 (“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”) and ends in Revelation 22 (“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all”). It is the story of a God of love who is the source of life and longs to be with us. His love expresses itself through creation and relationship. He knew we would stray, but He always had a plan to win us back. The central question of His character – a question introduced out of selfish ambition – would be answered.

We forget this truth. We get bogged down in detail. We slug it out over theological interpretations. We allow our need for control to drive us to extremism. We worry about how we measure up. We judge others for how they measure up. But none of that is where God wants our attention. He wants our attention on Him: knowing Him better, going deeper with Him. The Bible is not a rulebook to live by; it’s a revelation of God. The Gospel thread from Genesis to Revelation is a picture of how incomprehensibly good He is. It’s about a God who is WITH US – walking with us, leading us, transforming us, giving us life.

The message of Christmas is the same as the message of Easter and of every day in between: A God of infinite love gave Himself so that we can live in Him. Our only job is to choose Him. The rest is His beautiful work in us.

My hope this season is that we’ll each see Him in new and clearer ways – and by beholding, we will be changed. Merry Christmas, friends.

P.S. If you’re looking for this God of love, the Bible is the first and last authority. I never stop finding more of Him there. But sometimes, extra content helps me understand and connect to stories that can feel removed from modern language and context. I highly recommend The Chosen – free to stream on any device. It’s the first time I’ve watched a video production and felt a lightning bolt of recognition: There He is. That’s the God I love. The impact has been far-reaching for me. (One caveat: The first episode gets pretty dark. It’s a beautiful story of redemption, but if portrayal of devil possession isn’t your thing, start with the second episode.)