O Immanuel: God is with Us

O Immanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Most of us are familiar with the Immanuel prophecy through Isaiah 7. In context, Jerusalem is under threat from the combined armies of Israel and Aram and the prophecy offers hope that a royal baby will be born and within a matter of years Judah’s enemies will be destroyed. It is at heart a prophecy that God would not abandon God’s people. But, who are “God’s people” exactly? (This is particularly relevant in the situation at hand, since one of the enemies at Jerusalem’s gates is its fellow Hebrew nation!)

The next chapter in Isaiah makes it clear that “God’s people” is an exclusive group. In it the prophet warns the nations against attacking Judah because God is on Judah‘s side:

God is with us!
Understand, you nations, and humble yourselves!
Listen unto the end of the earth, you strong ones, and humble yourselves!
And even if you should be strong again, you will again humble yourselves.
If ever you should take counsel together, the Lord will disperse you,
And if you should make a pronouncement, it will not persist for you.
For God the Lord is with us.”
(Isa 8.8b-10, LXX)

But as the first Christians came to understand Jesus to be the ultimate fulfillment of the Immanuel prophecy, a beautiful thing happened. They saw that in Jesus we needed a radical redefinition of what it means to be God’s people, or rather who the “us” is whom “God is with.” In him, all those old divisions that keep humanity divided are broken down; for in him there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free (Gal. 3.28).

In light of this, Isaiah 8 was reframed by the gospel, no longer a verbal warning shot over the port bow of Judah’s enemies, but a call to faith for all peoples: No longer did the faithful sing, “God is with us and and so submit yourselves to us” but “God is with us and so humble yourselves before God.”

No longer “God is with us (and not you)” but now “God is with (all of) us.”

This is the message of the feast of the incarnation, which we call Christmas: That God has come down to be with us in the flesh, for us and for our salvation. And this is true for both Simeon, “righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel,” and the Samaritan woman, who knew a good Jew of her day would have nothing to do with her; for Mary’s betrothed Joseph and the Ethiopian eunuch; for Peter and Zacchaeus, for Elizabeth and Zechariah and the woman caught in adultery, for Jew and Gentile, for slave and free, for rich and poor, for the “righteous” and the “tax collectors and sinners.” For me and for you.

O Immanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

God with with us.

Amen.

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