O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel.

Christians often sing these words from the familiar hymn as Christmas approaches. The name Emmanuel (or “Immanuel”) literally means “with-us-God.”

With the advent of Jesus, God is with us dramatically as “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). And yet, the idea of God dwelling in the midst of his people appears in Scripture much earlier than Jesus. God walked with Enoch and Noah, he ate a meal with Abraham, and he wrestled with Jacob (Gen. 5:22; 6:9; 18:5; 32:28). Whenever God calls people into his mission, he gives them a promise of his presence (Exo. 3:12; Josh. 1:5; Judg. 6:16; 1 Kgs. 11:38; Jer. 1:8). Even the title “Immanuel” from the song goes back to the reign of King Ahaz of Judah, when God promised to be “with” even evil Ahaz and his people as they worried about the threatening kingdoms from the north, Israel and Syria (Isa. 7:1-17).

On Biblical’s faculty blog, I’ve been going through the Psalms for the past year and it wasn’t hard to find one which focuses on God being present with his people. The theme of a “with-us-God” dominates Psalm 46.

  1. God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
  2. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
  3. though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
  4. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
  5. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
    God will help her when morning dawns.
  6. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
  7. The LORD of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
  8. Come, behold the works of the LORD,
    how he has brought desolations on the earth.
  9. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the chariots with fire.
  10. Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!"
  11. The LORD of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

The theme of Immanuel is emphasized at the beginning, the end and throughout the middle of this psalm. God is “a very present help” (verse 1), “in the midst” of his city (5) and “with us” (7, 11). God is a refuge, a fortress and a source of strength (1, 7, 11). He stops wars, breaks bows, shatters spears and burns chariots (sounds like the prince of peace to me: Isa. 9:6). All of these actions he does to protect his people. God’s abiding presence removes fear (2), makes glad (4), gives security (5), brings stillness and confidence (10), which leads us to praise and exalt him (10).

As we reflect on Jesus’ advent, remember that before God was present on earth with the incarnation of Jesus, he was also present with his people in the Old Testament, with Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Ahaz and others, and after Jesus’ incarnation he continues to be present with us today.

Therefore, in the midst of the stresses of life, particularly during the craziness of the holiday season, we can “Be still and know” that he is God in our midst.

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