Here at Immanuel Church we just celebrated our 120th birthday a few short weeks ago. The word “Immanuel” has been a part of our name for 89 of those years.
As our Swedish founders recognized that they needed to change the language used in services, they also knew that the name Swedish Baptist Church needed to change as well to better open the doors to all who needed to hear about Jesus. So, they chose to rename their local body with the word Immanuel in its title. The Hebrew word means “God is with us,” and so He has been for over a century.
The prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” This was a continuation of the promise that God first spoke in the garden of Eden when he told Eve and the serpent in Genesis 3, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
God’s promise to humanity would take thousands of years to begin its fulfillment. Yes, BEGIN its fulfillment.
The promise made to Eve was added to in the promise made to Abraham and then to Jacob and then to David. The town of Bethlehem was even promised to be the birthplace of a ruler of Israel from “ancient times.” The Messiah, Immanuel, God is with us.
When Matthew concluded Jesus’s genealogy at the beginning of his gospel, he gave us (ever so briefly) Joseph’s decisions around whether to marry Mary or not and the intercession of an angel in his dream. It is here that Matthew let us know that this all happened to fulfill the words of the prophet “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).”
And so it begins: Immanuel, God is with us.
Jesus lived life for 33 years “with us” here on planet earth. Christmas puts into full motion God’s rescue plan for a humanity that could not reach Him on their own. He comes to be “with us.” Even after Jesus’s death & resurrection, He confirmed to His disciples then and to us now that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Thus, he instructs us, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He will still be Immanuel, God is with us.
So we return to December 2015 and that by the fact that our very name as a local church, we are Immanuel, God is with us. And He has been. And He will be.
One hundred twenty years of committed Jesus followers experiencing God’s growing, pruning, blessing, leading and walking alongside. It is in the seeking to be with Him that He continues to reveal that He is with us. In His being with us, we are drawn to seek after and to be with Him. Growth does not happen without this circle of relationship, and yes it is just that, a relationship. Why, you ask? Because He is Immanuel, God is with us. Proximity allows for the beginning of real relationships. So it was with God when Jesus came to be “with us.” So it remains as in Jesus’s physical absence as each Christ follower is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He is still with us.
Is this a season of joy? He joins us. He is Immanuel, God is with us.
Is this a season of sorrow? He joins us. He is Immanuel, God is with us.
Is this a season of uncertainty? He joins us. He is Immanuel, God is with us.
Is this a season of wondering if Jesus is even real. He joins us. He is still He is Immanuel, God is with us.
So, in this Christmas time when we often reflect upon the past and begin to look towards the future, may it be with this filter…..
We are Immanuel because He is Immanuel, God is with us.
Ben Ondo is the father of four (Noah, Jacob, Sarah, & Caleb) and the husband of Robyn (of whom he says he truly married up!). As a long-time member of Immanuel, Ben has served in a number of ministries over the years. Currently he serves as an Elder, Coordinator of VP3 with Robyn, member of the 2nd-5th Grade Sunday morning Worship Team, and occasionally you’ll catch him on stage on a Sunday morning as well. Ben loves Immanuel and desires for her to continue growing into a community where all “help others to know Jesus and grow to be like Him.”