Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Advent Reflections: God with us: the Rest of the Story

One of my favorite Christmas carols is “Emmanuel.”  My family will tell you that I have one version that I blast around the house during the month of December. They are spared this year since we are moving and I haven’t gotten the CD out; I think they are grateful!

Emmanuel means “God with us.”  We sing about this reality, we celebrate it at Christmas, we reflect on what it means.  However, there is so much more to the story . . .it spans all of history as well as pointing us to eternity.  I don’t believe our Heavenly Father wants us to stop with “God with us.”  He has so much more for us; so if you are willing to accept the mission…read on!
God Present to One Person:

Abraham is one who experienced God.  He had several encounters with God; the first being told to go “to an unknown land which I will show you.”  Imagine having to go home to Sarah to tell her the news:  “we are moving….where? ….not sure yet, we have to pack up and start moving and then we will know.”  Probably wasn’t the best conversation in the world!  Abraham’s next encounter involved being told he would have a son in his old age.  When Abraham was 99 years old, the Lord appeared and created a covenant with him; he would become the father of a multitude of nations.  Finally, his last encounter with God came with great sacrifice.  Abraham was to take his long awaited son and put him on the altar.  All together Abraham personally experienced God’s presence four times in his long life. 
In this period of time, out of all humanity, one man experienced God four times in his life. 

God Present to a Nation:
God was present in a cloud and fire to the Israelites after they are delivered from Egypt.  Even so, only Moses and Joshua were able to go up the mountain to meet with God.  When the Tabernacle was built, God’s specific instruction was for one priest to meet him in the Holy of Holies one time per year.  His presence to the whole nation was still limited.

Emmanuel: God with Us:
Almost five hundred years later, Israel’s long awaited Messiah appeared.  Jesus, the baby born in a manger in Bethlehem, came in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy:  “Look!  The virgin will conceive a child!  She will give birth to a son and name him Emmanuel:  God with us.” Is 7:14.

When Jesus was about to be crucified, he told his disciples, “It is best for me to go away because when I do, the counselor, the Holy Spirit will come.” (author’s paraphrase: John 16:7)
Jesus was God in flesh living amongst humanity.

The Rest of the Story:
If the story stopped at this point, we still have much to celebrate.  However, there is much more to God’s story with us.  The heavenly Father sent Jesus to model for us how we live on earth in a human body, but with the realization it is no longer just God with us, but it is now God in us.

God in us is the mystery kept hidden for all history.  At Pentecost, everything changed.  The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, their bodies instantly becoming the Holy of Holies, the place reserved for one priest to enter one time per year.
Imagine this:  throughout the ages, God was present with one man, he was present with a nation, he was even present through his son on earth, but today he is present in us.

We carry the living God with us.  We are tabernacles which brightly reflect the glory of the Lord:  when the angels rejoice in the heavens at Jesus’ birth, they were a prophetic sign for our present reality:  God in us.
We celebrate Jesus birth because he came to show us how to live as God in us.  He taught us how to see and hear the Father’s voice and direction (John 5:19).  He modeled for us the rhythmic pattern of life through moving between abiding and bearing fruit (John 15).  He equipped us to go and do the things he did. He sent us to go and proclaim the kingdom of God is near (Luke 9:1-2).  He taught us the road of sacrifice through his willingness to lay down his life so others, this includes us, could have life through his death (John 12:32).

We have everything we need to live as Jesus did.  He lives in us!  So, this Christmas season as you sing “Emmanuel” and celebrate God with us, remember our true reality is “God in us.”

When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal,  the promised Holy Spirit,  who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.  Ephesians 1:13b-14
Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit,  who lives in you and was given to you by God?  1 Cor 6:19
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory,  just as from the Lord, the Spirit. 2 Cor 3:18

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