First Mennonite Church
December 27, 2020
Jesus: God Is With Us
Text: Matthew 1:18-25
The baby should be named “Emmanuel,” which means, God is with us.”
There are times in life when we feel the need to have someone with whom to share either joy or sadness.
In 2001, I attended a four-week summer course at the Myanmar Institute of Theology. This is a Baptist seminary in Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, the capital of Burma. On the last week, all the international participants went on a field trip to one of Burma’s most famous cities. The city of Mandalay is known as the “City of the Thousand Pagodas.” And indeed, Mandalay lives to its name. Throughout the city, as well as the surrounding countryside, ancient and newly-built Pagodas dot the landscape. On the last evening we were in Mandalay, we went to have dinner in one of the city’s nicest diners near the Irrawaddy River. As the sun was setting down in the distant west and across the mile-wide river, we had a picture-perfect background in the patio of the restaurant. Although, I was with friends, I wanted Lilian to share with me that moment. I had never been away from home for more than a week, therefore, after a month of not seeing Lilian and Josue and being in place was so beautiful, I wished she could have been there with me. I just couldn’t call her either. In Burma, making international phone calls was not only forbiddingly expensive, but must also have a government approval. I made only one call after the seminary secured the government permit for me. So, I just could not just call her. She was in Los Angeles with her sister while I was gone.
On the other hand, I have a vivid memory with my paternal grandmother. I was about seven, that time, when I saw my grandfather’s penknife. It look really interesting to have. I stole and hid it for one day. The following day my grandmother sat me on her knees and kindly asked me whether I had the missing knife. I started to cry and said, yes. I went to get it from its hiding place and gave it back to her. I was scared and embarrassed about what I had done and wanted someone to hold me. She did.
I am sure that in our moments of peace or fear, of joy or sadness, we all wish to have someone to be with us to share what is in our heart. Having someone with whom to share always makes our joy more joyous and our pain more bearable.
As we come to the last day of this year, we can remember the occasions we confided to someone, a family member or close friend, the occasions of joy or the moments of frustration, concern or sadness we were going through. For some, that someone close to them is their spouse, for others, their adult children, still yet for others, a very close friend. But, regardless of who that person might be, we always need someone to be with us, although not necessarily physically, but in our heart with whom we can share.
Now as we are still in the Christmas season and on the threshold of a New Year, let us hear once again the never ending promise of the Emmanuel.
After Matthew tells how Joseph overcame his dilemma after he found out that Mary was with child, Matthew reveals the identity of the coming child. Matthew interprets the prophecy found in Isaiah seven, 14, and identifies the child of Mary as the Emmanuel. “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
The coming of Jesus ushered a new era about the relationship of God with the world. In Jesus, God offers us the possibility of a closer, intimate and direct relationship with Himself.
It is needless to say that the year ending today has been an extremely difficult one. There were many things we had to give up, like being in the company of friends, the freedom to go places, gathering for worship, and enjoy having a nice meal in a restaurant, among others. Yet, in the midst of all the restrictions we abided by and continue to abide by, the One no one—not even the pandemic, can take away from us is the presence of the Incarnate God.
God has He been with you and me. He has been with us when the world around was put upside down. The Emmanuel was with you when you could not visit your loved one or when you could not attend a funeral and share in your friend’s loss or attend a wedding to share in the joy of a couple’s most special day. The Emmanuel patiently put up with us when we were angry, confused, or even defiant about the restrictions, especially when we could not understand the logic behind them. He listened and rejoiced in your singing even when the only opportunity you had to praise him with song was when you were by yourself. He proved to us his grace by blotting our willful transgressions or those by omission. But he had also been with us carrying us in triumphant victory in Christ Jesus.
The Emmanuel gave us grace to pass on offenses hurled at us. He touched our hearts and moved us to help the neighbor, friend, or even stranger when they needed help.
The Lord was with us when we needed guidance on how to go about with our lives yet keeping safe or on those major decisions we had to make this year. For some, it was to go or not to go to college campus, for others it was to which doctor they should consult or to travel or not to travel or which house they should buy.
This year, while the monthly bills never stopped coming, the question many asked was, how will we pay them? But, the Lord provided for our needs and at times, even for our wants.
In light of the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness, it is only appropriate to pause and to give him thanks and all the glory. God was with us throughout the year, ending today.
Now, as we look forward to the coming New Year, let us be confident that Jesus, the God who is with us, is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
We will have surprises this year, again. There might come reasons our heart will be troubled, but let us remember that by our side is the One calmed the storm. There might come moments when we do not know how we might make ends meet, but again, let us remember that with us abides the One who feeds the birds of air, who dresses the lilies and who promises to provide for our needs. There might come time when the doctors will give us a not-so-good report about our health. Again, when that time comes, let us remember that although having good health is a precious gift from God, however, his grace is more than sufficient for us, as Paul says. (1Corinthians 12:9).
So, let us rejoice before the Lord for the gift of his presence to us. Let us commit to tell him every trouble we might face and to rejoice before him for every blessing. Let us give thanks that there is nothing that can separate us from him, not the unknown, dangers, or even death (Romans 8:35). Let us give thanks to the Lord for giving us the opportunity to see the end of this year and are now looking forward to a new one. Let us walk confidently in the Lord and say, the Lord is with us, who can be against us. May the Lord bless and guide each of us throughout the year 2021. Amen!