At Christmastime we often hear the story of how the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce the miraculous birth of Jesus. But did you know that Gabriel also spoke to Mary's husband? Let's listen to what happened when the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream:
"Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.' All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
'Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel.' (which means, God with us).
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus" (Matthew 1:18-25 ESV).
Matthew quoted the words of the prophet Isaiah: "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (7:14 ESV). Seven hundred years after Isaiah spoke, the archangel appeared to Mary and Joseph to announce that through Jesus, whose name means Yahweh saves, the prophecy would be fulfilled and from that point forward, God would forever be among his people.
In the Old Testament after the fall of Adam and Eve, God was with his people from a distance - in the pillar of cloud and fire in Exodus 13; on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19; and hovering over the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies in Exodus 40. The birth of Jesus brought God ever so much closer to us. In the New Testament gospels, the sweet baby born in a stable would grow and thrive to become the man who would reach out and touch the untouchable, dine with the unmentionables, and die and rise again to save the world from sin. He walked, talked, healed and taught among us, as one of us. As John wrote in his gospel, Jesus was "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—" (1 John 1:1 ESV).
At first, the only New Testament saint to experience the presence of God dwelling within her was the virgin, Mary; but beginning in Acts chapter two, when the church was born through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Jesus' presence with us became even closer, and now he dwells deep in the heart of every believer. Jesus truly is the friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).
Over many years I have participated in ministries that visit and provide comfort and prayer to those who are suffering in nursing homes, hospitals, and jails. The one thing that is unfailingly true in every situation is that the presence of Jesus Christ is with his people in every sick bed and jail cell. I have witnessed men and women come to the Lord in situations where they have felt so lost, forgotten and alone that they did not believe that they could withstand it for another day, and in a single moment, I have seen them repent and return to hope, life, and peace - where although everything outside of them remained the same, everything on the inside was changed forever.
As Isaiah prophesied, the Son who would be given to us would be our Wonderful Counselor, our Everlasting Father and our Peace (9:6). And yet, Jesus is even more than that. He is one of us, and he is with us. When we receive him as our Lord and Savior, he literally sends his own Spirit to live within us. Jesus is with us when we are sick. He is with us when we are alone. God Almighty, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace is with his children when they are in a jail cell. He is with us when we are in a hospital bed or a nursing home. He is always with us, and when we suffer he suffers with us (1 Peter 5:10). When we are lonely, he comforts us (John 14:26). When we are guilty, he saves us by his grace (Ephesians 2:8). When we face disease, by his stripes, we are healed (1 Peter 2:24). When we face persecution, his love never wavers (Romans 8:31-39).
Often when we think about these things, we picture God as out there somewhere, acting on us from a distance. That may have been the case for the Old Testament saints, but for us, on this side of the Cross, Jesus is not "out there," he is "in here." He lives inside each one of us who believe. So when we suffer, he suffers with us and he comforts us. When we are lonely, he is with us. When we are confused, he will guide us from the inside. When anyone is lost who comes to him, Jesus saves.
David, the sweet psalmist who was filled with the Holy Spirit knew this when he wrote:
"O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, 'Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,'
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you."
(Psalm 139:1-12 ESV)
King David's words are true for us too, because Christ lives within us. And because Jesus lives within us, he knows us. He cares for us more deeply than we can possibly imagine. He is Immanuel, God with us.
So if the holiday season is difficult for you, if you're suffering or facing a difficult diagnosis, or you are alone and in a situation that you cannot change - please remember that Jesus, the One who saves, is also called Immanuel - the One who is always with us.
Jesus is the One who stepped down from his throne in glory to be born in a stable and to be nailed to a cross for us. He came to live as a human man, die the death that we should have suffered, and rise again to give us eternal life. And when he had accomplished the work that our Father in heaven gave him to do among us, he sent his Spirit to abide within us, forever, so that we would never be without our Comforter.
Hear the still, small voice within you that says, I Am with you. I AM Immanuel!
"...And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20b ESV).
We hope you enjoy this gorgeous, uplifting version of the ancient hymn:
"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" - (Piano/Cello) - The Piano Guys https://youtu.be/iO7ySn-Swwc