Emmanuel: “God With Us”
by Rev. Dustin Bartlett
This week, Christians around the world will celebrate Christmas. They’ll celebrate the birth of Jesus, whom the Bible calls “Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” (Matthew 1:18-25)
Christians refer to this as the mystery of the Incarnation. We believe that the fullness of God dwelled in the human person of Jesus Christ. In other words, the God of heaven came down to earth, and lived for a time as a mortal man – as Jesus of Nazareth. In this sense, Jesus is “God with us.”
But it’s about much more than that.
The word “compassion” literally means “to suffer with.” To have compassion is to care about the problems of someone else as though they were your own. Their suffering becomes yours. Their cares become yours.
If Jesus is “God with us,” it is because Jesus shared in all of our suffering. Jesus faced temptation, just like us. Jesus faced mortality, just like us. In fact, Jesus so deeply identified with people that he said that the way we treat others, especially the poor and the hungry and the oppressed, is how we treat him.
In the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said: “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”
The great anthropologist, Margaret Mead, was asked once what she thought was the earliest sign of civilization. The questioner no doubt expected her to refer to a shard of pottery or writing on a cave wall.
Instead, what she said was, “The earliest sign of the civilization of humanity is a healed femur.” Then seeing the puzzled look, she went on to say, “Since the man with the broken leg didn’t die obviously someone cared for him, hunted for him, and protected him until he could walk again. Compassion is the first sign of human civilization.”
It also should be the first and surest sign of a Christian.