“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us) – Matthew 1:23
As we’re drawing closer to Christmas, it’s beginning to look more and more like this year, yet again, won’t be the ‘normal’ Christmas we were hoping for. The majority of us will have started working from home again this week following new government guidance and wondering just where we’re heading with this new variant.
It feels apt, then, that this week’s Bible passage and hymn centre around Jesus as Emmanuel – God with us. Advent is a time where we really focus on this title of God: Emmanuel – God with us. It’s also a time where days become darker and the nights longer – almost as if the light is dimming from the world. But in Scripture we see Jesus declare that he is the light of the world: “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).
We see throughout the Bible God appearing as light to His people, particularly as fire. In Exodus 3, God appears to Moses as a burning bush, where He promises to take the Israelites out of Egypt into a land that is good and flowing with milk and honey. In Exodus 13 we see how God fulfils this promise by going before His people in a pillar of fire by night in order to give them light so that they could continue to travel, whether that was by day or night. Exodus 13:22 details that neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.
This isn’t a promise just reserved for the Israelites in Egypt. Just as God was there with His people in the wilderness, He is here with us in both our everyday, and in our wilderness.
When I think about what that fire must have been like for the Israelites in the wilderness, I’m drawn to how it was life sustaining and life enhancing for them. Life sustaining, because through it God took them out of exile and into a land of their own, away from danger and on a path that avoided more war (Exodus 13:17). It was life enhancing because God was with them and taking them into a better place.
But I am also drawn to the fact that God was the light in the dark. As we move deeper into the darkness of winter, God still offers light. When the world feels dark and difficult, God still offers a way that is shrouded in light and life. He offers Emmanuel – God with us – who walks with us through every step, leading us out of the wilderness and into new life, restoration and hope.
So let us pray this week: Lord Jesus, light of the world, John told the prophets to prepare, for you were very near. As Christmas grows closer day by day, help us to be ready to welcome you now. Amen