By Keith Boyette
The incarnation is a linchpin of the Christian faith. Orthodox Christianity, as confessed in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, asserts that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. God the Son entered human time and space in a particular person, Jesus, in a particular place, Bethlehem, at a particular time, during the reign of the Roman emperor, Augustus.
We confess that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human – a mystery but a reality nonetheless. The birth of Jesus fulfilled many messianic prophecies, chief among them the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 – “The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).”
Reflecting on this prophecy, the Apostle John boldly proclaims in John 1:14, “So the Word became human and made his home among us” (NLT). I also love the Message paraphrase, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, true from start to finish.”
While God continues to be high and lifted up, appearing to those who believe in pillars of cloud and fire, speaking to specially chosen individuals from mountaintops, revealing Himself in a whisper, and engaging His creation as the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, He is also present in a deeply personal and intimate way in Jesus. In the weakness and vulnerability of an infant, in the ordinariness of a carpenter, in the actions of one who is moved with compassion at seeing people without a shepherd, in conversation with tax collectors and other disreputable sinners, in confronting hypocritical pharisees, in raising a close friend (Lazarus) from the dead, and in healing countless others from dreaded conditions, Jesus demonstrated that the presence of God does not dwell only in a Temple in Jerusalem, but God is truly with each of us. He is Immanuel.
Jesus uniquely fulfills the promises of God to visit humanity at the right time to save us from our sins – our alienation from God. Jesus accomplished for us what we could never accomplish for ourselves. Jesus – God with us – alone saves! Forevermore, we know that God has seen our journey from our perspective. He “understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He lives forever to intercede with God on our behalf. Because Jesus lives throughout eternity, there is never a moment when we are alone. Jesus Immanuel is with us in our joys and our sorrows – in our living and dying – as he ushers us into eternal communion and rest with him. Because of Jesus Immanuel we can live each day in confident hope that God faithfully delivers on each and every one of his promises.
In the aftermath of Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, Paul joyfully proclaimed this “great mystery of our faith” when he wrote to Timothy, God “was revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit. He was seen by angels and announced to the nations. He was believed in throughout the world and taken to heaven in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16).
In Advent, we celebrate not only the fulfillment of the prophesy in Isaiah 7:14 in Jesus’ first coming, but we anticipate its continued fulfillment when he returns at the culmination of human history. Immanuel will once again be with us in a deep and personal way. He has promised to return to restore creation to God’s ultimate design – when the new heaven and new earth will be established and the old heaven and old earth will have disappeared. On that day, Jesus assures us we “will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world – from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven” (Matthew 24:30-31). Our mission in this season is to be the vanguard of such an in-gathering.
John’s vision of Immanuel’s return in Jesus’ second coming assures us that God will be with us in yet another unique way as a shout from the throne of God declares, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever” (Revelation 21:3-4). Our earnest longing for the arrival of that day compels us to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Our personal relationship with Jesus assures us that there will never be a day when we are separated from His presence. Indeed, He is Immanuel – God with us! Our prayer for you has been for you to experience a blessed Advent, Christmas, and New Year full of the presence of Immanuel.
The Rev. Keith Boyette is the Transitional Connectional Officer for the Global Methodist Church, its chief executive and administrative officer.