On the Incarnation in the New Year
I am notorious for listening to Christmas music at any time of year. This produces a gamut of responses from utter disparaging of the thought to confessions of similar behavior. My reason is never an attempt to sustain the festivities long past their due. Rather, I am deeply and profoundly encouraged by the gift we celebrate at Christmastime, the gift of the incarnation. God truly did so love the world that He gave His Son, and this gift came in the humblest form of a baby in a manger. I am not skilled enough to attempt to explain the miracle of the incarnation. But I do desire to reflect on that miracle year round because I depend on the reality that God’s love is so richly lavished upon us that He came near to us to be with us. Appropriately, He is called Immanuel, God with us. So, it probably comes as no surprise to those of you who know me that after ringing in the new year with friends, I withdrew to my room, put on my Christmas tunes and worshipped in reflection of the holiday we celebrated just prior. To me this is the perfect way to approach a new beginning, for the truth of Immanuel, God with us, is the very truth I cling to and my focus of praise in both the hardships and blessings of life.
Looking for scriptural insight into this beautiful Christian teaching, the prologue to John’s Gospel seems the natural place to go as it is arguably the most profound depiction of the incarnation ever written. Yet in recent readings of Matthew’s Gospel, I have been struck by this Gospel writer’s own unique emphasis on the incarnation. In the opening, after the genealogy and the angelic announcement to Joseph about Mary’s miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit, Matthew explains that this took place to fulfill what was written by the prophet: “’Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,’ which means, God with us” (Matthew 1:23 ESV). With a primarily Jewish audience in mind, Matthew’s attention to this fulfillment draws upon the Old Testament emphasis on God’s presence with his people (Lev. 26:12). Matthew reiterates the promise of God’s presence again through the well-known “Great Commission” which closes with these comforting words: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). I find it interesting that Matthew choses to open and close his Gospel announcing God’s presence among mankind. Truly, as well marked bookends, “God with us” is an uplifting reality that Matthew desires to definitively emphasize to his readers.
In my time of reflection in the dawn of the new year, I recognized that it will inevitably bring new trials, new triumphs, new sorrow and new joys. In anticipation, I am inspired and encouraged to face whatever comes because I know that I do not face it alone, but with the presence of Immanuel, all-powerful God who is closer to me than my own breath.
In carrying on my tradition of year-round Christmas caroling, I start this new year reflecting on the second verse of one of my favorite Christmas hymns:
Christ by highest heaven adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”
May we all be sustained and carried in worship of and fellowship with the incarnate Deity in this new year, from beginning to the end.