“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which means, God with us.” ~ Matthew 1:23
This was revealed to a deeply perplexed Joseph in a dream. He was troubled that, Mary his virgin bride to be, was pregnant. The words in his dream were also the fulfillment of a prophecy given by Isaiah hundreds of years before.
The Gospel is the “Good News” and when it comes to the miracle of the ages, I suspect there are two types of believers. There are those who focus on the mystery of God choosing to become man, Emmanuel and the Advent, and those for whom the really big deal, the really good news is the Crucifixion and Resurrection. I view them as just two parts of the same story–but for me personally, I’m more moved by the mystery of the Christmas story than the Easter story.
Anyway, so I suspect there are at heart Advent Christians and Easter Christians, just like there are introverts and extroverts, Cubs fans and Indian fans, Pharisees and Sadducees, and so it goes.
Likewise there seems to be two basic types of the 31-plus flavors of Christianity. There are those who tend to be more literalist and legalist—folks who live and die with the plenary authority of Scripture–and those who feel more led by the Holy Spirit and the spirit of the law rather than the exact letter of the law. I’m okay with either flavor. Fully embracing one camp or the other is not a deal-breaker for me. I can see both points of view and I don’t have a problem hanging out with believers of either focus.
But it’s a big deal for some believers. The exact nature of the gospel, the good news of scripture, led to a huge fight in my home church this past year. There were heated debates, voluminous emails with dueling scriptures, and eventually hurt feelings and a church split. In one camp the gospel was strictly the forgiveness of sins and in the other camp it was that and more—that it was God’s plan to tell the greater story of the redemption of creation and conforming us to the likeness of His Son. I leaned more toward the latter view–but I really didn’t take much part in the great debate. I thought a lot of it was semantics. Words mean different things to different people—well, semantics and also satan having his way fracturing Christ’s Body for the umpteenth million time.
Anyway, this past Sunday in the megachurch I also attend, Pastor Joel used the above quote from Matthew as his text. What suddenly jumped out at me was that Emmanuel means God is with US. That the “us”is bigger than the you or I and our particular flavor of belief–and that when there is no “us” there is pretty much no Christianity.
In the 17th Chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus’ final discourse, we see Him pleading with us in verse 21 to be as one: “That they all may be one; as thou father art in me, and I in thee, that they may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”
I can never read John 17 without tearing up and realizing how much it meant to Jesus that we be one in Him and how miserably we’ve failed. I think that chapter should be read aloud in every church at least once a month.
And, by the way, Advent—Emmanuel, God with us—should be a time for healing. That God choosing to become man is a miracle. That’s something we all believe and can agree on.