Emmanuel: God with us.
It’s a name that’s gotten into our language, and a concept that has gotten into our heads. It’s in our culture and history. Things and people are named Immanuel/Emmanuel all the time.
And by some quirk of the human psyche, we have got used to it’s meaning: God with us. We think, of course, God was/is with us.
We forget how huge that is.
You know what helps me remember? The people who deny it ever happened. I don’t know if this is some weird version of “being a good bad example”, but every time I talk to someone or read something from someone asserting that Jesus was no more than a good teacher or a prophet, I think, no, nuh-uh, it’s so much bigger than that. Jesus was God. Jesus is God.
And I think about mythology. Anyone who’s studied mythology knows that monotheism is really rare: most cultures had a pantheon. Loads and loads of gods and goddesses and demigods and so on. And gods would disguise themselves and come down among mortals, usually to mess with them. To put it lightly. Especially in Zeus’ case. But they didn’t stay long; they had no need to. They’d put on a mortal form for awhile, like taking a vacation, and then they’d be back to their own divine realm. It was a joke, a lark, nothing lasting.
And they weren’t really much of gods anyway. Most of them didn’t create the world. (Interesting point: in several major mythologies, the world-creators and the gods were two completely seperate groups, and the world-creators were always the really scary, inhuman ones.) Some of these pantheons were subject to fate, and most of the gods were subject to one another. They could be tricked, they made mistakes, they were cruel and capricious, and they were pretty much as stuck in this mode of being as we are. Just, you know, with lots more powers. And immortality. Having one of them walking around among us would be reason to take cover. While sacrificing a few goats for good measure.
Then there are the religions where “God” is more concept than person, where the Deity is a spirit without locus, without a defined being. It is more what than who. You can have as much a relationship with it as you can with, say, nature. There is nothing specific about such a god. Meaning is nebulous and cannot be put into words. Will is broad and blind. Love may drown with its depths, but it is directed to no specific point – or person. Such a god made flesh would be a faceless cipher. You couldn’t be friends with him any more than you can be friends with a sunny day.
Then there is the God of the Bible. Now this is a god. He is the Creator. He transcends our existence. He has power over the elements, over the very laws of nature. He is unchanging, he is eternal. He has perfect justice, perfect love, perfect mercy, perfect wrath. He knows everything. The entire universe of space-time exists by his design. And he is a person. He has a character. He is specific. In fact, he is the most “person” that anyone could be.
He can be looked up to, because he can be looked at at all, and we look up to do it. He is farther beyond us than a book’s author is beyond its characters.
And he took on flesh.
When you write a book with gods in it, having them interact with the characters is just a matter of coming up with the right excuse. Having yourself as the author step in – well, there is a thing called “self-insertion”, but that doesn’t begin to cover what God the Son was doing here.
Yet it happened. God was made flesh. Not just any god. This holy, transcendent, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator God became on of us. We know he is not a nebulous idea, we know he is not wishful thinking, we know that he is real partly because he became human. He wore skin, like we do. He walked, he ate, he breathed. He was born, the same messy way we are. He grew up, on this earth. He entered time and space and lived.
We could touch him.
All the certainty, all the immediacy, all the intimacy of human touch, applied to God Himself. The Son was among us, not as a spirit or a suggestion, but within reach of the human hand. His was a voice we could hear with our ears, a face we could recognize. When I hear the recording of a dead voice, or hold in my hand an artifact, it is as though a past age has come up and kissed me. This was the point when eternity itself intersected with time and we could reach out and touch it.
In mythology, there is history and then there is dreaming – and gods only show up in dreams. Jesus came in waking life. God was with us.