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The power of a promise.

“Surely I will be with you,” (Judges 6:16).  It was the power of that promise that emboldened Gideon to overcome fear, doubt, and overwhelming odds and lead the Israelites to victory over 135,000 Midianites.  Gideon didn’t consider himself to be a “valiant warrior,” the phrase by which the angel of the Lord addressed him.  We tend to see ourselves as we are at the moment and as we have been in the past.  God sees what we can become through Him.  The Lord patiently provided several convincing signs to Gideon so that faith could gain the upper hand on doubt.  But, ultimately, it was Gideon’s confidence in the divine Presence that empowered him to lead his minuscule band of 300 men (0.93% of his original troop strength) into battle, armed with a most unconventional array of weaponry.

“Certainly I will be with you,” God told Moses (Exodus 3:12), as the future deliverer of the enslaved Hebrews offered self-effacing excuses to the Voice that spoke to him from the burning bush.  God promised Moses that he would not have to face Pharaoh alone.  Similarly, as Joshua later took up the mantle of leadership from Moses, the Lord challenged him to gird himself with courage and strength.  But, human valor and military might alone would be insufficient to secure the land of Canaan.  “Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.  Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go,” (Joshua 1:5, 9).

Ahaz, king of Judah, trembled as the armies of Aram and Israel marched toward Jerusalem.  The Lord dispatched the prophet Isaiah to assure Ahaz that the enemy’s plans for laying siege to the holy city would fail.  As a sign of God’s presence and protection, a child would be born and would be given the name Immanuel by his mother (Isaiah 7:14).  It was unnecessary for the meaning of this Hebrew name to be explained.  Isaiah’s audience, like Ahaz, knew well that Immanuel signified God’s presence with His people.

700 years after the days of Ahaz, God brought about an incomprehensibly greater fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.  God wasn’t going to merely provide a sign and symbol of His presence once again.  Instead, God Himself would be enveloped in human flesh through birth by a virgin who had conceived in her womb by the power and overshadowing of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-23).  Incarnation!  Immanuel!  God with us!

As I have mentioned before, I have stopped petitioning God in prayer to “be with” me and others, as if He were distant and aloof and had to be cajoled into showing up and sticking around.  Rather, I joyfully thank Him and praise Him for His unfailing Presence that He has promised and provided through His Son and His Spirit.  I then identify more specifically the blessings and response that my heart desires for His presence and power to provide.

“I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:20).

“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is, the Spirit of truth…,” (John 14:16-17a).

“I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” (Hebrews 13:5; cf. Joshua 1:5).

“Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Your presence?” (Psalm 139:7-12).

As we enter this annual season of remembering and celebrating the advent of God in the flesh, let us rejoice in the blessings and promises that are ours through the Incarnation and Jesus’ subsequent atoning sacrifice and glorious resurrection.

Never alone.  Never forsaken.  Never abandoned.  Never hopeless.

In Jesus Christ, we cry, “Immanuel!”

What are the chances that a member of the British royal family would show up at your front door, just for the purpose of sharing some conversation and afternoon tea?  What are the chances that your favorite rock group (or country band, for some of you) would park their tour bus in front of your house, set up in your backyard, and cater a barbecue dinner for you, your family, and a group of friends while you enjoyed an impromptu concert.  Slim?  None?  Would never happen?

Multiply those remote odds by several billion exponents and you would arrive at a fraction of the chance that the Creator of the cosmos would come to earth in the form of human flesh.  And yet, He did; not to gain anything, but to give everything. 

Following are a couple of excerpts from an excellent article by Michael Horton, “The Good God Who Came Down,” which appears in the current issue of Christianity Today.  

We prefer to climb up to God through argument, experience, and activity.  But God has climbed down to us, meeting us not in the “high places” we erect, but in the lowest places; in a barn, in suffering our scorn, fellowshipping with sinners, and hanging on a cross.  We don’t ascend from particulars to universals.  Rather, the source of all universal truth has descended to us in the concrete particulars of human history.” 

“There is no passable route from us to God.  We cannot climb the ladder of mysticism, speculation, or merit.  In pride, we try to rise to heaven through reason, but God descends to us in humility and self-sacrificial generosity.  We seek the truth within ourselves or in universal laws derived from our moral intuition, but God surprises us – and his name is Jesus.”

“When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4).

“The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

“Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us'” (Matthew 1:22-23).

“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people: for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in a cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).

“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).

“Although He existed in form of God, He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (II Corinthians 9:15).

Merry Christmas, everyone!!!

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February 2023