Isaiah 7:10-14; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-24
Most of us can expect to live sixty, seventy, eighty years on this earth. We will have many joys, achievements, trials and sufferings. The journey of life will take us through various terrains, meeting a great number of different people, experiences and challenges until finally we come to the end of the journey, our death.
Now if God were to invite you to ask him for one gift which you could take along the way with you, on the way through all the problems and unexpected difficulties you will most certainly encounter in life, what would it be? What would you ask for?
Well, there is one thing God promised to each man and woman he called into his service. This promise was to be their greatest source of strength and encouragement and confidence. It was a simple promise but an unimaginably great one: I will be with you.
God called Moses to free the Hebrews from Egypt and when Moses complained that he was not the right man for the job, that he was not gifted enough, God said: I will be with you.
They carried a tent with them in the desert, the Tent of the Presence. It contained the Ark of the Covenant and it signified that everywhere the People journeyed, God was with them.
Joshua, who succeeded Moses and who was asked by God to actually lead the People into the Promised Land was promised: I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not leave you or desert you. For go where you will Yahweh your God is with you.
When the Hebrews entered the Promised Land and had to fight various savage tribes for possession of the land God said to them: I will be with you.
To Samuel, David, Jeremiah, Jonah, Daniel and so many others God said: Do not be afraid, I will be with you.
This was God's greatest promise, the greatest gift he could bestow - his presence.
To Mary the Angel said: The Lord is with you, and then went on to announce to her that she would conceive and bring forth a son. To Joseph the angel revealed: … they will call him Emmanuel, a name which means `God-is-with-us'.
Surely this is the secret of the celebration of Christmas - that in the coming of the infant Jesus in Bethlehem 2000 years ago - God comes as man to be with us.
In addition to this we are aware that the presence of God to his chosen ones, like the patriarchs, judges, kings and prophets, was always ordered to their specific mission. Moses was to set the people free from Egypt, Joshua was to lead them into the Promised Land, King David was to free the people from the Philistines, and so on. God gave each of them a definite mission and then promised: I will be with you.
Now look at the extremely compact movement of the Gospel narrative which begins so matter-of-factly: This is how Jesus Christ came to be born ...! We are told many things, one fact after the other, and without attentiveness we might fail to notice that the specific and unique mission of Jesus is revealed to Joseph: you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.
Astonishing! Amazing! Astounding! He is to save his people from their sins! What kind of child can this be? What kind of man will he grow into? What kind of man can save people from their sins - and how will he do it?
… they will call him Emmanuel, a name which means `God-is-with-us'.
When he returned to the Father he spoke to his disciples, and said: I am with you always ... until the end of time.
Before I finish, let’s get personal. Let me ask you, and please answer honestly, do you believe you have a special 'mission' from God? ... wife, husband, mother, father, son, daughter, single person, priest, religious? Do you believe Jesus is with you? Do you really believe, right now, with all your heart that he is with you?
If your answer is yes, and only if your answer is yes, in these last hours before the celebration of Christmas raise your eyes to the heavens, feel the yearning in your heart for the Saviour who is coming, and yet, who is already with you. Allow this knowledge of his love-filled presence to take from you all fear and apprehension, all burdens and anxiety about yourself and your future, and the future of your family and friends. Hand it all over to the one who is with you and who never leaves you, even at the moment of death.
And having handed all over to him, open your hearts to the love, joy, peace and light that he gives you in return. Let it flood (baptise) you anew and prepare you to welcome him as the Christ-Child.
Our God is with us and we need not be afraid.