PREPARATION: lighting the candle and readying myself to listen.
An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel”, which means, “God is with us.”
“For he will save his people from their sins.” Stop right there! Don’t rush on! But let these amazing words sink in: Jesus will save you from your sins. I say this because as a pastor and chaplain I often talk with people wanting to know if God does forgive them. Even life-long Christians, brought up in the church, so long to know that God forgives them, that they are really saved.
How wonderfully the story of Immanuel begins with news of God’s forgiveness and of God’s responsibility for our salvation. We see this as the angel directs that this Child, conceived by the Holy Spirit, is to be named “Jesus”, that is, Yeshua, meaning “Yahweh is salvation.” God sends His Son, born of a virgin, assuming our humanity, acting in solidarity with us so that He might take up our cause and do for us, what we cannot do for ourselves. The good news about Immanuel means that “God has really become man, become what we are, and so lives and acts, God though he is, ‘as man for us.’” (Thomas Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith)
Jesus acting ‘as man for us’ is seen in the high priest of Israel who foreshadows Jesus. The high priest of Israel, in his own person, represented God to the people and the people to God (Hebrews 5:1-10:18). The high priest prefigures Jesus in that everything he does, he does in place of the people. This is demonstrated even to the detail of bearing the names of the tribes of Israel on his breastplate as “remembrance” of all the people before the Lord (Exodus 39:7).
Then, on that most high and holy day, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the high priest enters the Holy of Holies alone on behalf of the people. While the people but watch and wait, the high priest acts for them, offering sacrifice for their sins.
The New Testament reveals the good news that Jesus is our High Priest who, acting for us, offers to God His perfect life and obedience as sacrifice for the sins of the world. The apostle Paul explains God’s action in sending His only Son to act on our behalf: “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one [Christ] has died for all; therefore all have died… that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 19). You are forgiven! I am forgiven! Christ has acted for us.
Cyril of Alexandria, an eminent and early defender of the Gospel, summed up the meaning of Immanuel’s life: “On the one hand He accepts what belongs to us, taking it to himself as His own, and on the other hand He gives us in exchange what belongs to him.” (Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John) Jesus is God with us, acting for us, in our place, to do for you and me what we could never do for ourselves.
Martin Luther is well known for his tortured struggles to know God’s forgiveness. Read Luther’s story and see the throes of fear, doubt and longing, until Luther comes to faith in Jesus as Immanuel, God is with us. So Luther can boldly pray:
“Our most merciful Father…sent His only Son into the world and laid upon Him all the sins of all men, saying, ‘Be thou Peter that denier; Paul that persecutor, blasphemer and cruel oppressor; David that adulterer; that sinner which did eat the apple in Paradise; that thief which hanged upon the cross; and briefly, be thou the person which committed the sins of all men; see thou therefore that thou pay and satisfy them’…By this means the whole world is purged and cleansed from all sins.” (Martin Luther, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians)
God has placed on His beloved Son Jesus, your sins, my sins, even the sins of the whole world so that through Him we are cleansed from all sin and forgiven (1 John 2:2). In Jesus’ resurrection, not only death dies, but the sin that brought about death dies. Know that through Jesus Immanuel, we are forgiven!
CONVERSATION: I talk with God about the thoughts and feelings stirring within.
REST: I take time to be present to Immanuel who is present to me.