As I was reading Matthew 1, I came across the phrase, “Immanuel - God with us”. This got me to try to look at what this really means. It is Christmas time and this is the season when most of us feel good. Yet if we look at the story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, for them the first Christmas and even the succeeding ones were saddled with difficulties.
God with us. When the Spirit descended on Mary, God was literally with her and in her. When that happened things changed in her life. I would imagine that her relationship with Joseph changed. Joseph almost divorced her and her life was threatened because she could be accused of adultery God with us means that Mary had to give birth to her first born in a stable with animals. God with us means that King Herod had to be troubled and the citizens of Jerusalem with him because there was a threat to his throne.
God with us means that Joseph had to pack up and go in the middle of the night to save the God who was with them. It meant he had to live in a foreign country, settle there and eventually pack up and go back to his home land. All these difficulties and disruptions in their lives because God was literally with them.
But God with us also meant that an angel will tell Joseph to take Mary as his wife. It would mean that wise men will come and pay homage to Jesus. It also means that Mary and Joseph were spared of the pain of seeing their Baby killed, the Baby who is the salvation of God, the intervention of God.
So when we say that God is with us, it does not guarantee a life of bliss, one that is free from troubles and difficulties. As we see, God with us is a guarantee of endless uncertainties, surprises if you will. However it is through these uncertainties and surprises that we see the true meaning of Immanuel.
God with us means just that: he is with us. He is faithful to us. Despite our flaws and weaknesses, God is alive and in control through the troubles and difficulties we face.
God with us therefore is not a promise of good feelings. It is not an end to difficulties. It is a guarantee of more difficulties AND most importantly the beginning of our victory over the difficulties.