As Christmas approaches, we are all bracing ourselves for a different Christmas – a cold, COVID Christmas.
Our traditional, social and communal merriment and merrymaking will be drastically scaled down. It will be, for all intents and purposes, a different and difficult Christmas.
Some of us may have lost loved ones during the course of the year – and there will be an empty chair at the table this Christmas.
Many have lost jobs or have been made redundant.
Businesses and finances and markets have bottomed out – and many have little or nothing with which to buy our family, friends, or even themselves any Christmas present.
Millions, if not billions, of our children and young people have lost a full year of proper education and learning.
For many, the psychological and emotional toll of the year is being manifested through the sad and common reality of mental illness.
The year has also caused and effected such relational strains that our relationships as spouses, siblings, family members, business partners, and lifetime friends may be crumbling.
For some of us, deep issues and habits of addictions and abuses may be rearing their ugly, dirty heads again.
For some of us, we may be in a hopeless mortal combat with our shadowy sinful selves, defeated again and again.
Is there really anything to be merry about during a Christmas like this? What difference does the birth of Christ really mean in our dark and dreary personal lives?
When the promise of the birth of Jesus was announced, it was announced thus: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. . . . ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matt. 1.21-23)
Two names are given here: First, Jesus. What does the name Jesus mean? It simply means “The Lord – YHWH – saves.” And what does the Lord save us from? He saves us from sin.
The second name that is given to Jesus is: Immanuel – which literally means “God-with-us.”
It is significant that these two names – Jesus and Immanuel – are placed side by side.
It is significant because sin is that which separates us from God. The Bible says, “Your sins have separated you from God. It is because of your sins that God has turned away and will not hear” (Is. 59.2). It is sin that hides us from God and God from us. But Jesus saves us from our sins.
Jesus saves us from our sin by being Immanuel, “God-with-us.” In Jesus, God bridges the gulf between us and himself, that separation that sin creates between him and us, and comes to us to be with us.
We must be reminded again that, great as all our problems are, our greatest problem is not the loss of education or employment; it is not the loss of health or wealth; it is not the loss of reputation or power; our greatest problem is the loss of God because of sin.
But in Jesus Immanuel, it is possible to find God again – because God has come to us to be with us. God who has turned away from us has now and forever turned the light of his countenance towards us.
In and through Christ, we have access to God. We may be under lockdown, locked in our homes – but we have access to God and his kingdom. Some of us may be in quarantine centres, walled in and blockaded – but we have access to God and his kingdom. Some of us may be seeing our businesses crumbling because of this season – but we have access to God. Some of us may be terribly sick and dying – but we have access to God. Some of us may be far away from our loved ones – but we have access to God. He is near to us. He is with us. In Christ, nothing can separate us from God, not even sin.
The birth of Jesus may not have brought about world peace; he has certainly not eradicated poverty; injustice has not disappeared by his appearance; he has not brought an end to disease, disenfranchisement, debt, death, and destitution. But what he has brought is this: God. He has brought God to us – and as long as we have God, we have ALL, because at the end of it all, when God is all that we have, then we too will realise that God is all we need.