Every Christmas, my family listened to the same album. It was the early ’90s, and Amy Grant’s Home for Christmas found its way to the cassette player before our Thanksgiving spread ever touched the table. My brother and I would let out a dramatic moan, roll our eyes, and stretch our disgruntled “Mom!” over four syllables.
It’s funny how the songs of my youth are more easily committed to memory than what I ate for lunch yesterday. “Emmanuel/God with us/The Son of Israel,” she sang. Twenty years later, I’m grateful for Amy Grant on repeat because her music helped form my theology.
All of Christmas can be wrapped up in two names given to the Messiah. Jesus is a transliteration of the Old Testament name Joshua, meaning, “The Lord is Salvation.” Immanuel, as Amy Grant sung melodiously, means “God with us.” Both of these show us that Christmas is more than just a story about baby Jesus and wise men bearing gifts. It’s the climax of an adventure, when the Father unveiled His great rescue plan. He would provide a solution to the sin that had separated mankind from Him since earth’s first inhabitants were ousted from the garden, and His sinless Son would join the human experience to show what He was really like. Dr. Stanley has often reminded us that without this plan, “every one of us would have to stand before God with all of our sin resting upon us, and our sins would separate us from Him.”
This story combined with the world’s celebration of Christmas makes it a confusing holiday. After pondering the magnificence and mystery of Christ’s birth at our church’s Christmas Eve service, I wake up to a deluge of wrapping paper and shiny presents that make my everyday lack of gadgets and fashions blindingly obvious. The line between needs and wants gets blurred, convincing me it’s all just a ruse to disguise the biggest need I have: God in me.
I’m reluctant to view Christmas as a solution to this need. I tend to focus on the lighter qualities of the holiday, like cookies and exchanging carefully selected tokens of affection. But being separated from God is an enormous problem. And while sin and separation aren’t to be celebrated, a valiant hero on the scene is. You see, in order for the plan to work, it required that God actually be with us—and not just with us, but also within us. Through Immanuel, our heavenly Father gifted us His indwelling presence—the Holy Spirit who “abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:17).
This Christmas, the only gift we need is the one sent over 2,000 years ago: “Emmanuel/God with us/The Son of Israel.” He is Jesus, the God of our salvation, and the One who has saved us from a tragic eternity without Him. So as we bake our cookies and shop for the perfect gifts, may our celebration of the season begin and end with Him, our God with us.
by Jessica Haberkern