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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!”

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May 2023