Emmanuel is my favorite Christmas word, partly because it is also a missions word. God is a missionary God and provides us with the greatest expression of missions in and through the Christmas event. The reason why the shepherds could accept the angel’s invitation was because God had come to earth: “Let us go and see” (Lu 2:15). The reason why Jesus could say, “Come to me everyone who is tired and burdened” (Mt 11:28) was because he was living in the same world with the same demands, discouragements, obstacles and opposition that we face. The reason why the apostles were so confident in their faith was because they had seen “the Life” with their eyes and touched it with their hands (1 Jn 1:1-2). Missions (pl) is our part in God’s mission to redeem the world. Jesus was sent into the world as the greatest act of that mission. Our participation in God’s mission happens when we play a role through the ongoing sending of the Spirit: either by going ourselves or by becoming the means for sending others.
Emmanuel, God with us
Emmanuel, God with us, is the proclamation of the missionary God. God speaks the eternal Word and it becomes a baby lying in a manger, a man on a mission, a sacrifice on a cross, the resurrected savior, the ascended Lord. But the proclamation of Emmanuel does not end at the ascension. Emmanuel does not become “God no longer with us.” Jesus said, “I will be with you always” (Mt 28:20) and this is not just a comforting metaphor or a pretentious sentiment, but a living reality. The act of Emmanuel continues with the explosion of words and languages at Pentecost – the Spirit of Christ beginning to blast the message of Emmanuel out to the four corners of the earth. It is not the principles and instructions of Christianity that are the essence (as good as they are for living well), but it is the presence of the living Christ impacting lives around the world – Emmanuel, God with us. Words are weak and limited, but the experience of the living Word continues on, and it is our faith in Emmanuel that drives us to be part of that movement, the mission to cross barriers, to face obstacles and to show love for the sake of Emmanuel. The God who came to earth continues to be with us, Emmanuel.