On April 25, 2021, life for our family changed suddenly, dramatically and profoundly. In the matter of a few short hours our only child, Christopher, died from COVID-19. On hearing the news, I rushed from our Sunday worship service at Calvary Church, in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I had been preaching. Just a short distance from Calvary, I stood at the side of my dead son at the hospital and experienced a depth of emotion I had never experienced before.
As I looked at my son, I saw the tattoo on his wrist: Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you.” As a young boy, Christopher had placed his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Years later he had that Scripture tattooed on his wrist to remind him that, irrespective of the circumstances of his life, the Lord was with him.
In my indescribable grief at the sudden passing of my son, I was reminded of this glorious promise of our eternal God to His people. He is not a remote or distant God, but a God who is “with us.” This promise of the Lord’s constant presence has sustained my wife and me in our grief and devastation.
Repeatedly in the Old Testament Scriptures we are reminded that God is with His people. After the death of Moses, Joshua is faced with the frightening prospect of leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, which is full of pagan tribes. Here is the promise to Joshua: “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
Facing overwhelming armies, King Jehoshaphat is told, “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. … the Lord will be with you” (2 Chronicles 20:17). Similarly, King Hezekiah, facing the hordes of Assyrians, is told not to be afraid or dismayed, for “with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles” (2 Chronicles 32:8). Even in the valley of the shadow of death, God’s people fear no evil, “for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4).
Psalm 46 portrays natural and national disasters with the mountains being moved into the sea, and the nations raging against God’s people. Again there is the promise, “the Lord of hosts is with us” (Psalm 46:7, 11). Rather than being anxious and afraid, we are told: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Peace in the midst of turmoil and confusion? Yes. We can trust our God, knowing that He is “a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1) and is with us.
We are therefore not surprised that one of the brilliant names given to our Savior is Immanuel. Quoting Isaiah 7:14, Matthew writes, “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,’ (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:23). “God with us” is one of the mind-blowing truths of Christmas. A truth that dispels our fears, brings comfort to our grieving hearts and peace to our anxious souls. With the arrival of God’s Son to Earth at Christmas, we celebrate that the great, eternal, awesome God is now with us: Immanuel.
It is impossible for us to reach God by ourselves. The highest heavens cannot contain God, who is greater than our universe and beyond our universe. As imperfect, sinful people, we could never enter the presence of this holy God who dwells in unapproachable light. How then can the vast distance between God and us be bridged?
But “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son” (Galatians 4:4). This is the miracle of Christmas: Immanuel—God with us on our tiny planet. The little baby born in the stable is none other than the eternal God. From eternity, Jesus is the Son of God; now at His birth He becomes the son of Mary. God “manifested in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16): truly God and truly man. Charles Wesley writes, “Our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man.”
So the message of Christmas is that we can know God—not just about God, but know God through our Lord Jesus, Immanuel. Salvation is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, who is the way to the Father. On the cross, Immanuel—God with us—becomes our Savior and our sin-bearer.
We live in a chaotic world that often seems out of control. The world of COVID-19 has resulted in divisions between those vaccinated and those not vaccinated. It has resulted in isolation, social distancing, lockdowns, furloughs and great personal anxiety and distress. But understanding this great truth of Immanuel will give you stability, security, hope and confidence for the future: God is with you. God is always with His people. Friends may forsake you; loved ones may die; disasters may come; wars may approach; the economy may go into a depression, but God is with you—for all of life, through the valley of the shadow of death, and for all eternity. Don’t be shaken by your difficult circumstances. Look to Immanuel: God with us.
This Christmas, invite Immanuel to perform a miracle in your life. Receive Him as your Savior. Trust Him with all your heart.
O holy child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in—
Be born in us today!
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell—
Oh, come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Immanuel! ©2021 John H. Munro
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
John Munro is senior pastor of Calvary Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. A former attorney in his native Scotland, Munro hosts the broadcast “The Verdict,” heard on more than 60 radio stations in the U.S., Scotland, Liberia and online through major podcasting apps.