Emmanuel. Or “Immanuel.” No matter how you spell it, the meaning and the implications can’t be ignored. Jesus was a declaration that God is with us. John 1:14 describes Him as having “taken up residence among us” (HCSB), as having “moved into the neighborhood” (the Message). So amazing how God both called us as well as modeled for us how to cultivate daily into our own neighborhood.
As you are celebrating Emmanuel this year, may I ask you a question regarding your neighbors (all those who live on the daily pathways of your life right there in your community). And I admit up front that this question is a loaded one. It will be followed by some personal thoughts of reflection on the story of the Shepherds and how Emmanuel’s arrival changed forever those individuals and that community and our world.
So, here’s the question:
If the people of your community believed and lived as though “God with us” was actually with us, what might surprisingly be different about the neighborhood, the community, and the city where you live?
As you ponder this question, please consider the following personal reflections (with accompanying Scriptures) from the story of the Shepherds in Luke 2 (NASB).
:: Emmanuel challenges our community’s religious norms, bypassing the ritually religious people to show up among those who weren’t necessarily religiously active.
8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.
:: Emmanuel questions who our community values, highlighting the presence of the powerless and exposing the powerful who have no actual presence.
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
:: Emmanuel rebukes how our community typically thinks of God, not that we must perform well to please Him in order to gain His presence but rather that He is pleased to give us His presence in spite of our performance.
13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
:: Emmanuel causes us to look for God differently, searching for Him away from our erected mountains of worship only to find Him out in the midst of the ignored, unimportant, overlooked, dirtiest of places.
15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.
:: Emmanuel transforms wayward loners into loving worshippers, making us to become a community of people who learn the ways of God together even from the most unexpected of teachers.
18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
How might Emmanuel change the way you and I think and live and interact in our community? May we remember daily what God desires, who He values, how He loves us, where He is, and why He is so worthy of our worship. Because while we were still sinners, both self-indulgent and self-righteous, He came to be with us.
And that changes things.
Even how we celebrate His coming.
So, what would you suggest? In response to what we have learned and continue to learn from Emmanuel, how might the local church expressions in the neighborhoods where you live join together to do more than just celebrate “Christmas” in the same old ways? How might you together go and be Emmanuel into your community?
Please leave your stories and thoughts so we can celebrate and learn His ways together!!!
PS: If you have access to it, I encourage you to purchase and download Bebo Norman’s Christmas song “Rebel Jesus” as you reflect upon how Emmanuel moved into the neighborhood and now compels us to love our neighbor.