During the Christmas season we proclaim (and sing!) that Jesus is Emmanuel/Immanuel (these words mean the same and come from how it is transliterated into English from Hebrew – Immanuel – or English from Greek – Emmanuel) and celebrate that “God is with us.” This is fitting because Matthew 1:23 quotes Isaiah 7:14 which speaks of a son being born and called “Immanuel/Emmanuel” in his discussion of the birth of Jesus. Matthew further notes that this name means “God with us.” God was not just with “us” in the incarnation and earthly life of Jesus, however, but continues to be with us. In fact, he is in us – after his return to heaven, we can remember and celebrate the truth that “God is with us” at all times of the year.
The Promise of Jesus to Be With Us
While the name “Immanuel” doesn’t occur again in the Gospel of Matthew, there are other places in which Jesus speaks about his presence with his disciples and points to this presence continuing after his ascension. One is found in Matthew 18:20, where Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.” Something often overlooked when people quote this passage is that it begins with “For,” which means that it is closely connected to the words that precede it. There Jesus speaks about disciples agreeing with each other in prayer, and this is in the context of talking about witnesses being in agreement that someone has sinned and is unwilling to repent even after being confronted by it. Thus, it is not primarily a statement that signals that as long as two people are in a meeting, God is present there with them. Rather, it seems to be pointing out that Jesus’s presence is found as his people seek to discern and follow hIs leading together in relation to sin that occurs within the visible community of the church. Jesus does not leave his church, but continues to guide and direct the church in these situations when they seek him.
The other place in Matthew where Jesus speaks about continuing to be with his disciples is Matthew 28:20: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” These words follow the commission that Jesus gives his disciples to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that Jesus taught. These words show that Jesus does not give us an assignment and then abandons us, but he remains with us and, in fact, is the one at work in this work of mission. It also recalls for us God’s words to Joshua in Joshua 1:9 that God was with him as he led God’s people in Moses’s absence. We don’t see Jesus visibly now, but he continues to be with us and accompanies us while on mission.
The Presence of the Holy Spirit to Be In Us
Matthew is not the only place where Jesus speaks about his continuing presence with his disciples, as it is a key theme in the Gospel of John with an interesting twist. Jesus notes that his departure from this world is good for the disciples because he will send “the Counselor” (John 16:7), who is the Holy Spirit. Earlier, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “another Counselor” (14:16-17), which implies that they already had a Counselor – that Counselor would be Jesus. The Holy Spirit continues the work of Jesus, reminding us of what he taught and leading and guiding the church. But Jesus does not simply tell the disciples that the Spirit, and thus God, will continue to be with them, he also notes that the Spirit will be “in” them (14:17). Therefore, we should rejoice that God is with us because God is in us – we are now the temple of the living God and thus are never alone and never without help!
The Proclamation of Paul That God Is In and With Us
There are also many notes in the letters the Apostle Paul wrote to churches about this idea that God is with us and in us through the presence of both the Holy Spirit and Jesus in us. For example, in Romans 8:9-11, he writes that “the Spirit of God lives in” Christians and that “Christ is in you.” The reality of the presence of the Spirit in us means that we consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to righteousness, recognizing that the Spirit brings life to us. In Colossians 1:27, Paul speaks about a glorious mystery that is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” This reality of “Christ in us” is true for anyone who is in the faith, as he told the Corinthians that examination of their hearts should lead to them recognizing that “Jesus Christ is in you” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Paul applies this truth of Christ’s presence in believers to himself in his words in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” While there is a sense in which Christ dwells in every believer, we also see Paul praying for a deeper presence of Christ in the hearts of believers, as he notes in his prayer in Ephesians 3:16-17 “that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
Remember that God is Still With Us – And in Us!
May this reminder that God continues to be with us and in us be a source of comfort and challenge for us. May we be comforted by the fact that we are not alone as we seek to follow Him and proclaim His name and that He will guide us to the right decisions. May God’s living presence in us challenge us to resist sinful desires and walk in His ways, knowing that the power of obedience comes not from ourselves but the one who lives in us. Christmas may be over, but God’s presence with us is not, so let’s keep celebrating the meaning and significance of “Immanuel” each day of the new year.
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