“They will name him Immanuel, which is translated ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1:23). That’s a promise that God fulfilled at Advent. But I wonder if that promise can sometimes feel like a threat. After all, before that first Christmas, God’s presence was often feared: Adam and Eve hid themselves in the garden (Genesis 3:8). The Israelites at Sinai trembled and asked Moses to speak to them in place of God, lest they die (Exodus 20:19). The psalmist asked if there is anywhere he can go to escape God (Psalm 139:7). Faced with God’s presence, sin and shame can drive people to fall face down in fear and cover their faces (Genesis 17:1–3; Isaiah 6:1–7)), flee on ships (Jonah 1:3), and hide in caves (Revelation 6:15).
Israel’s story shows a repeated preference to hide from God and to instead seek out idols. Those false gods offer the same thing Adam and Eve ran to in the garden after the fall: isolation. But while we can attempt to hide from an imaginary god, the one true God always pursues us.
Jesus’s family history here is at first glance a stark chronicle of human failure. For every family painted in redemption like Boaz and Ruth, there are more marked by pain and betrayal—Judah and Tamar, David and Uriah’s wife Bathsheba. Solomon’s gift of wisdom and resplendent reign was followed by civil war, then a people taken into exile. One might be forgiven for thinking that when God showed came to be with us, judgment would follow.
But during the exile, Jeremiah prophesied that God would raise up a king who would “administer justice and righteousness in the land” (Jeremiah 23:5). He said, “In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely” (v.6). Though we may try to hide from Him in fear and sin, our God still comes to be with us, and invites us to draw near to Him instead of remaining in isolation.
At Advent, after centuries of idolatry, war, betrayal, and loss, God revealed something altogether inconceivable, like a bright star shining in the sky, among a people whose ancestors had come from barren wombs and were washed down the Nile in baskets. God did come. And He came to save us from our sins, to offer us hope and a future (Matthew 1:21). He came as a gurgling baby, God wrapped in flesh and swaddling clothes, the beginning and end of all our stories—both ”the Root and descendant of David” (Revelation 22:16).
Written by David Chaniott