This month we will be sharing a collection of short readings by Northeastern Seminary alumni as they reflect on and rejoice in the gifts of God's grace and the signs of Christ present during this Advent Season. Today's guest post was written by Marlena Graves.
For the past several years I’ve been thinking about one of the names given to Jesus. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the meaning and implications of the name Immanuel, which most of us know means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). I’ve been trying to be attentive to the ways in which Jesus, in his incarnation, demonstrated just how thoroughly he was present to those in the first century and is present with us. Here is a small sampling of the things I’ve noticed so far.
As a poor, helpless little babe, Jesus was completely dependent on his mother to feed him from her own body and on both Mary and Joseph to protect him from Herod who wanted to rid the world of him. At an early age, Jesus was the intended target of murderous violence unleashed by this paranoid ruler. Though his parents escaped with him to Egypt, the little boys his age in Bethlehem and its vicinity lost their lives (Matt: 2:16-18). And so I think Jesus really is with those babes whose lives are cut short due to all sorts of war, violence, and oppression. In our world, those of us who are poor, and those babes and their parents who are violently hurt and abused by evil people can say with confidence, “Immanuel, God with us.”
Though innocent, Jesus was arrested, put through a sham trial, and found guilty. He endured corrupt religious figures and justice systems. Hanging on the cross and bearing our sins, he was again as helpless as he was as a babe, perhaps more so; except he was a 33 year old man at what was supposed to be the peak of his life. And so Immanuel, God is with us in our helplessness, weakness, in death (even violent ones), and when we are spitefully used and wrongfully accused.
On those nights when we cry ourselves to sleep, when we feel invisible, like a nobody because we go unnoticed by those we want to notice us: Immanuel, God with us. Jesus knew what it was like to dwell in obscurity and to feel the sting of rejection. He lived in obscurity for 30 years. Furthermore, the theology professors and many of the clergy of the first century did not consider him a VIP. Many religious leaders loathed him—considered him a heretic and troublemaker. They rejected him and tried to render him invisible and forgotten by crucifying him—by what they thought was wiping him off of the face of the earth for good.
So when we’re feeling all alone or unimportant, let us remember what Isaiah 53: 2,3 (NIV) tells us:
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
In all types of suffering, whether we are babes, sick, young, aging, feeling invisible and rejected, or victims of injustice: Immanuel, God with us.
But it’s not just in suffering. At parties and wedding celebrations, when we are practicing what Richard Foster calls the discipline of celebration: Immanuel, God with us.
Considering Immanuel, God with us for me has been nourishing, daily bread. I hope it’ll become so for you. Perhaps this Advent you too can begin to look and see and celebrate—to take comfort in: Immanuel, God with us. Indeed, it is central to the good news of the gospel.
Marlena Graves, M.Div. ’07, lives in Findlay, Ohio, and is a writer for CT's Her.meneutics and author of Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness.