In 1865, a young American minister named Phillips Brooks was traveling in the Holy Land. On Christmas Eve, he arrived in Bethlehem. As the sun set and the stars came out, he passed through a field where, two thousand years earlier, angels alerted the local shepherds to the good news of Christ’s birth. Struck by these humble surroundings, Brooks wrote these lines:
We hear the Christmas angels,
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Immanuel.
Those words make up the closing stanza of Brooks’ now-famous Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” What I love so much about that particular song is the way he speaks to the yearning of mankind for the miracle of the incarnation. You see, the name “Immanuel” is an ancient name for the Messiah and it literally means “God with us.”
For thousands of years, God spoke in dramatic and powerful ways – through prophets, earthquakes and from the Holy of Holies in his Temple. But all of that changed when Jesus was born. Now, he related to us in person, as a fellow human being. Think about how incredible that is! The Son of God, who, with the Father and the Spirit, created the entire universe, now inhabited a human body made of bones, muscle, nerves, and skin. The same God who through the eternal Word smashed atoms together and spun galaxies from stardust, now used a human mind and will to lift a hammer and chisel to shape wood – and in doing so, he reshaped human nature itself.
Last week we spoke about how amazing it is to know a God who offers us his grace through a relationship with Jesus. But that relationship wouldn’t accomplish as much if it weren’t with another human being. That’s why Christ came as a man. He came to be “God with us,” to share the pain, love, temptation and joy of the human experience, with us – sanctifying and redeeming it all.
So the next time you hear or sing “O little town of Bethlehem,” remember that same good news the angels announced so long ago: that we know a God who is with us and for us.
I’m Joseph Tkach, Speaking of LIFE.