Tag Archives: Emmanuel

Emmanuel: Because a Good Story is Worth Retelling

One of the things a theology student learns in studying the Gospel of Matthew is that one of the goals of Matthew’s writing is to show how the story of Jesus’ life parallels the story of Israel.

images-1One of the places we see this parallel within the birth narratives is in Matthew 2. Here see the threat of evil already rising against the plan of God in the self-preserving schemes of Herod. Herod, hearing of the birth of a Jewish king attempts to silence any threat by killing the male babies of Bethlehem. Jesus, however, is secretly taken into Egypt.

Knowing the story of the Exodus, one can see the similarities: Pharaoh and Herod both take the lives of innocent male children, Moses and Jesus both escape this fate and both the Hebrews (God’s people) and Jesus (as the perfect embodiment of God’s people) come out of Egypt.

What’s the importance of Jesus paralleling the story of Israel?

Most basically, is because the story of how God interacted with his people is a story that is so important it is worth retelling. And it is a story worth retelling right.

From time to time over the last several years, Hollywood has been overrun with the remake. It seemed like no movie writer could develop an original idea, and so the industry took old movie after old movie and remade them.

That is what God did with Jesus and the story of Israel. The difference though is that this wasn’t God failing to think up a new idea, rather, God, in Jesus, was retelling the story the way it should have been.

The story of Israel ended like a Shakespearian tragedy: disobedience, idolatry, oppression of the poor, war and exile. Jesus’ story turned the tragedy into the climax of all of human history; not because Jesus was somehow super human but because God, the author and director of the story, came to play the lead role.

Every year when we celebrate Christmas or Easter and every Sunday when churches gather to worship, it is our turn to retell the story Jesus. By re-telling the story of Jesus, we are retelling the story of how God saves and redeems his people- a people that fail, mess up and turn life into a tragedy. But that’s all of us and it’s our story and the story of our salvation is a story worth retelling.

Emmanuel: Because I Hate Your Church

I have a confession to make: I hate your church. It’s true. I hate hearing about your church and what your church is doing. I hate reading about your church on Twitter and I hate your “I Love My Church” hashtag. I hate seeing pictures of your awesome worship services. I hate hearing about your baptisms and how people’s lives are being changed. Mostly, though, I hate that God is moving in your church but not mine.

I have a confession to make: I hate your church.

"Presentation of Christ at the Temple" by Hans Holbein the Elder (1500)

“Presentation of Christ at the Temple” by Hans Holbein the Elder (1500)

In this Advent series, we have been thinking about the word “Emmanuel.” We saw that Emmanuel is the ultimate coming together of God and Man. Additionally, we saw what Emmanuel meant to a group of shepherds who desperately desired a personal encounter with God. But for me, one of the most interesting aspects of the biblical birth narratives and the meaning of Emmanuel actually comes after the story of Jesus’ birth when Jesus is presented in the Temple in Luke 2.

In the Temple that day there were, perhaps, hundreds of people who unknowingly were in the same place as, crossed paths with, saw and heard the newborn cries of the Christ child. But out of all those people, only two knew who Jesus was in the very moment that they laid eyes on the baby: Simeon and Anna.

When Jesus showed up, they weren’t the ones who missed him.

Aged. Wise. Prepared. Observant. Devout. All those words could be used to describe Simeon and Anna. They both knew that God’s Messiah was promised and that God would fulfill that promise and they had assurance that the promise would be fulfilled in their lifetime. They believed they would live to see the one who would be God’s Redeemer. When they saw the baby Jesus, they knew what and who they were seeing. When Jesus showed up, they weren’t the ones who missed him.When God was with them (Emmanuel) they didn’t miss it.

That’s what I fear about my church. If God showed up in our midst, I’m not sure we would know it. I think we would be like the rest of the people in the Temple that day who walked right by the Messiah instead of Simeon and Anna who immediately knew that God was in their presence.

Maybe you feel the same way about your church or yourself personally. Maybe you feel like God is moving in every other church or in every other person’s life but your church or your life. What is there to do?  I won’t say that I know exactly what to do and often I find myself in the same position and asking the questions myself. But maybe just asking the question makes it more likely that we won’t miss God when God does show up.

I don’t really hate your church, but I am jealous because I want God to show up in my church and in my life in amazing ways. I want to be like Simeon and Anna who saw and immediately knew and not like the hundreds of others who passed by and missed Emmanuel.

Emmanuel: Because No One Needed It More

Two years ago, I wrote a post on the Magi or Wise Men found in Matthew’s birth narrative. I wrote that the major meaning behind the Magi story was to foreshadow Jesus’ words in Matthew 28 where he commissions the disciples to take the message of his life, death and resurrection to the ends of the earth. But the wise men weren’t the only people made aware of Jesus’ birth- there were also the shepherds.

Why annouce the birth to a group of shepherds? Were they just the only people awake?

We find the story of the shepherds in Luke’s birth narrative. In the story, a group of shepherds are on the night watch over a herd of sheep when an angel appears and announces the birth of a Savior, the Christ or Messiah. The shepherds go and find the baby and then return “glorifying and praising God” (Luke 2:20).

Why announce the birth to a group of shepherds? Were they just the only people awake? Or is there another reason?

I always heard that the shepherds represented the unclean and the outcast, meaning that their inclusion in the birth narrative was the show that Jesus was born for the unclean and for the outcast. I think that is a correct and true observation. But perhaps there is more.

Maybe the shepherds were told of the birth of the Savior because they, more than anyone else, needed to hear that message. Perhaps those shepherds sitting in watch night after night, looking at the stars and crying out to God, if there was a God, that there had to be more than life as a shepherd. Maybe they talked about how they were tired of being “ceremonially”‘unclean and cast out by the society that desired the fruit of their flock in meat, clothing and perhaps even in forgiveness- if indeed, as some scholars claim, these shepherds raised the Passover lambs. They could make the nation clean while they could not be clean themselves.

No one needed it more than the shepherds.

When the angel appeared to the shepherds it wasn’t to tell them that their condition was okay but exactly the opposite. Their position wasn’t okay, they were made for more. They were made by a God who showed up in their lives, they were made for a Savior who wouldn’t use them then cast them out and they could go away praising God for all that they had seen and heard which was exactly like it had been told to them.

At Christmas many people find themselves in a similar position as the shepherds. Christmas reminds us that God does act in the world, sometimes even in what we would call miracles, but sometimes we need God to act personally because we are the ones that need a touch, a word, a change or a chance.

For the shepherds, Emmanuel meant that they experienced God’s presence in a way they never had before and in a way that they never even believed was possible.

For some of us that is what we need Emmanuel to be of us this Christmas.

Emmanuel: Because Hot and Cold Go Together

imagesI’m actually a fan of winter- at least for a while anyway. I’ve lived in the Northeast where snow was recorded in feet and I’ve lived in the Rio Grande Valley where we would wear shorts, t-shirts and flip flops on Christmas Day, so I’ve experienced both extremes and there is something nice about winter.  I’m not saying that I want to live in Minnesota or Buffalo, NY but I do enjoy a little cold winter weather.

The main reason I like a little cold weather is because it’s a good excuse to get warm. Cold weather is a good reason to wear sweaters and jackets, to get under a blanket, to light the fireplace and to drink endless cups of coffee, hot chocolate and hot cider. Winter emphasizes the pairing of cold and hot. It emphasizes that opposites can complement each other: hot and cold, sweetimages-1and salty, light and dark.

Christmas is really the ultimate coming together of opposites- God and Man. God and Man; not merely communicating with each other, nor dwelling along side each other but one Being, one Essence (as the early church fathers said it) that is fully God and fully Man. The Emmanuel- God with us.

Unknown-1In Jesus the ultimate opposites of “God” and “Man” came together in a way that showed the fullness of both. Jesus showed us a vision of the fullness and completeness of God as well as the fullness and completeness of Man. Jesus did the things only God could do (forgiving sins, judging hearts, ruling over creation) and Jesus did the things only Man can do (eat, sleep, laugh, cry) and in so doing showed what true divinity and true humanity are. A Jesus who was only divine could not be an example to humanity and a Jesus who was only human could not be a complete representation of God. Jesus was, and had to be, both together- the ultimate coming together of God and Man, the Emmanuel.

O come, O come, Emmanuel

Unknown-1Today is Christmas and I know I’ve been having a little fun in my last few posts- especially about pooping figurines in the nativity scene. But on this morning, Christmas morning, I want to be a little more serious and take a brief look at my favorite Christmas hymn: O come, O come, Emmanuel.

images-1The song was originally composed in Latin, as Veni, veni Emanuel, in the 12th century and the author and the musical arrangement are unknown but the arrangement possibly came from a 15th century processional for French Franciscan nuns. The song was translated into English by John M. Neale and published in 1851.John M Neale




The lyrics of this song are extremely powerful and evoke a variety of biblical images.

The lyrics are as follows:

O come, O come, Emmanuel

and ransom captive Israel,

that mourns in lonely exile here

until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,

who orderest all things mightily;

to us the path of knowledge show,

and teach us in her ways to go.


O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free

thine own from Satan’s tyranny;

from depths of hell thy people save,

and give them victory over the grave


O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer

our spirits by thine advent here;

disperse the gloomy clouds of night,

and death’s dark shadows put to flight


O come, thou Key of David, come

and open wide our heavenly home;

make safe the way that leads of high

and close the path to misery.


O come, O come, great Lord of might,

who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height

in acient times once gave the law

in cloud and majesty and awe.


O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree,

an ensign of the people be;

before three rulers silent fall;

all people on thy mercy call.


O come, Desire of nations, bind

in one the hearts of all mankind;

bid thou our sad divisions cease,

and be thyself our King of Peace


O come, O come, Emmanuel

and ransom captive Israel,

that mourns in lonely exile here

until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.


Rejoice that Emmanuel has come! Rejoice that Emmanuel is coming again!

Merry Christmas!

© Ryan Vanderland 2012