Joy to the World: The Worship of Christmas (Part 1)

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,and they shall call his name Immanuel” (Matt. 1:23).

It is interesting to think about the value of Christmas gifts that I received many years ago. At the time they were the things I most wanted and treasured, but eventually their meaning faded. I so desperately wanted a Stretch Armstrong toy but once I got it I was ready to trade it in for something cooler. I wanted a Goldfinger album, but now I couldn’t name more than one song on that record. I wanted a Columbus Crew jersey, but I’ve long since lost my passion for the MLS. The list of gifts long since forgotten could go on. But Christmas, as Christians celebrate it, is the reminder of one gift which has never and will never lose its luster. At Christmas we worship the God who gave us Himself.

“Immanuel” is the Hebrew word that is translated as “God with us.” It appears first in the Old Testament book of Isaiah (7:14). There God is speaking to King Ahaz and assuring Him of protection and care. The concept of God’s presence with man, however, predates the prophet going all the way back to the Garden of Eden. The intent of God creating man was that He might dwell with man in perfect harmony and relation. God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden (Gen. 3:8); He spoke to them and they enjoyed fellowship with Him. But sin entered the pictured and ruptured that communion. Man was driven out of the Garden as a symbolic removal from that spiritual communion. Sin has created a separation between man and God (Isa. 59:2). Yet all throughout the Old Testament there are continual reminders that restored fellowship is the ultimate goal.

A regular refrain throughout the Bible is God’s promise that we will be His people and He will be our God (Gen. 17:17-18; Ex. 6:7; Lev. 26:12; Jer. 7:23; 11:4; 30:22; Ezek. 36:28; etc.). There is a passion on God’s part to have communion with us, and that communion is depicted as God’s dwelling with man. This is seen in the establishment of the tabernacle and the temple, where God comes down to make His dwelling place among men. In Exodus 29 God commissions the building of the tabernacle and proclaims this promise, “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God”( v. 45). In Leviticus 26:11-13 he further develops the promise. God desires to dwell with man. In fact, the whole goal of redemptive history is building towards the realization of Revelation 21:3:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

God delights to dwell with man. Sin has created separation, but He enters the brokenness of this world in order to repair the relationship. Jesus comes, as God, to once again dwell with man and make communion possible.

Christmas is a time to rejoice in God’s coming to us! The incarnation is an amazing mystery, but it is a marvelous invitation to praise. We worship God because He has come to us! He is with us! Our God is not some far off deity in the distance who watches on with amusement, nor wound the world and sits back with indifference. He is God with us! Psalm 23 anticipates this when it speaks of His presence with us in trouble. Jesus realizes it when He comes as God in the flesh. The apostle John, in the opening of his gospel, declares that Jesus “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). In fact the text even says that Jesus “tabernacled” among us, fulfilling what the Old Testament foreshadowed. He will be called, the prophet said, “Immanuel.” No other name would do. He mus be known as God with us.

Christmas invites us to worship because there is no other religion that compares to the beauty of God with us. All other religions hold that we must work to get towards God, but in Christianity God comes to us! He comes not simply to check on us, but to rescue us, to dwell with us, to stay with us! We sing at Christmas time these marvelous truths:

Christ, by highest heav’n adored:
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the favored one.
Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, th’incarnate Deity:
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

(Hark the Herald Angels Sing)

In Jesus, God has come. He has come to inaugurate a future in which we dwell in perfect communion with our Creator. This Christmas you are not alone, friend. If you know Christ then God is with you too. Immanuel has come! So, “rejoice, rejoice!”

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