By Dr. Geraldine R. Bowie

Love, joy, peace–we see these words often on our greeting cards, on banners in our churches, and other places during this time of the year.  They all represent the love of our Heavenly Father in sending His Son, the joy of His presence, and the peace that He gives.  All three are seen in our Savior whose birth we celebrate.

In the Old Testament book written by the prophet, Isaiah, chapter 7 verse 14 KJV, we read, “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.  And then in the first book of the New Testament, Matthew, chapter 1 verse 23 we read, “Behold a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a son, and shall call his name Immanuel which being interpreted is “God with us”.

As we celebrate this Christmas holiday with all of the festivities and exchanging of gifts that are a part of the celebration, let us keep in mind the indescribable gift we have received as believers in Christ.  God the Father gave his only Son, Immanuel, “God with us”.  He was sent to earth to rescue, redeem, and restore us to a right relationship with God the Father.

 Unfortunately, this time of the year is also a time when many of us can experience feelings of anxiety and depression.  We remember the times when we were with loved ones who have passed or happier times when our health and finances were probably in better shape and more stable.  Even though these are happy memories of past Christmases, they can also cause us to feel depressed or anxious about where we are now and dampen our enjoyment of this time of the year.  As we look at the meaning of Immanuel, “God with us”, we can still truly celebrate!  For we are surrounded by the presence of a faithful God.  A faithful God who knew we would get to this time in our lives and he knows all about the experiences we have that go with it.  He has given us His promises in Scripture that He will be with us.  These are a few of my favorite scriptures:  Joshua 1:5, 9 “. . . I will never leave you nor forsake you.  Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous; do not be terrified; do not be discouraged; for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”;  Isaiah 43:2-3, ”When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; and Matthew 28:30,  Christ’s words to His disciples, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  These are only a few of His promises to emphasize that “God is with us.” 

So as we think of this indescribable gift that we have been given, what does it mean for each of us?  Let us first look at what it does not mean.  It does not mean that our lives will always be easy; it does not mean that we will be free from all heartache and pain; it does not mean that we will not face failure or that we will live problem free lives; but it does mean that we will not face our struggles and problems alone.  We are surrounded by His grace “His unmerited favor” and we must call on His name, “Immanuel”, and ask for His peace, His power, and His protection in the midst of our struggles.  As believers in Christ, we have this indescribable gift.  God gave us the gift of His Son who came to earth born in a manger, lived among men came, and I repeat, to rescue, redeem. and restore man to a right relationship with God.

The following story is to make it clearer as we think about the significance of God’s wonderful gift to us.  Once there was a man who looked upon Christmas with disbelief and disdain for the number of Christian celebrations that accompany it.  Although he was a very kind and generous man to his family, according to him he just didn’t believe “all that stuff about incarnation” which churches proclaim at Christmas.  He could not believe that God’s Son came to earth from heaven to be born and live among men.  He told his wife, who was a faithful churchgoer, “I am truly sorry to distress you, but I simply cannot understand this claim that God became man.  It doesn’t make any sense to me.”   On Christmas Eve, his wife and children were going to church for the midnight service.   He declined to accompany them.  He explained, “I would feel like a hypocrite, so I’d much rather stay at home.  But I’ll wait up for you.”  Shortly after his family left, snow began to fall.  As he was sitting in his living room, he was startled by a thudding sound.  He heard several thudding sounds, and he thought someone was throwing snowballs at his living room window.  When he went to the front door to investigate, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow.  They had been caught by the storm, and in a desperate search for shelter they had tried to fly through the window and this was the reason for the thudding sounds he had heard.  He thought to himself, “I can’t let these poor creatures lie there and freeze.”  “But how can I help them?”  Then he remembered the barn where the children’s pony was stabled.  It would provide a warm shelter.  He put on his coat and boots and tramped through the deepening snow to the barn.  He opened the doors wide and turned on a light.  But the birds did not come in.  “Food will bring them in,” he thought.  So he hurried back to the house for bread crumbs, which he sprinkled on the snow to make a trail into the barn; but to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs and continued to flop around helplessly in the snow.  He tried shewing them in by walking around and waving his arms.  But they scattered in every direction–except into the warm, lighted barn.  As he watched, he thought to himself, “They find me a strange and frightening creature!  And I can’t seem to think of any way to let them know they can trust me.  If only I could be a bird myself for a few minutes, perhaps I could lead them to safety.”  And it was just at that moment the church bells chimed; the choir was singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.  Rejoice, rejoice Immanuel shall come to you, O Israel.”  

As he was listening, the man dropped to his knees in the snow, and he whispered to God, “Now I understand, now I know why You had to come to do it, I know why You came!”  As we enjoy this season, let us not forget that He came and why He came.

 Let us look at the significance of some of the events surrounding Christ’s coming. Over two thousand years ago, a quiet night ended abruptly when an angel told the shepherds a babe had been born.  “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people” (Luke 2:10) Then a multitude of angels began praising God and saying. “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (vs. 14)  It is interesting to note, and of great significance when we look at the fact that the angels appeared first to the shepherds.  The role of shepherd is one of the oldest occupations named in the Bible (Gen.4.2).  In studying about shepherds, I learned that shepherds were thought of by many to be irreligious and irreverent because in taking their flock into the wilderness to find pasture, they could not perform their religious duties in the temple.  And being in contact with animals (often dead sheep) they were considered “unclean”.  The fact that God would announce the birth of the Savior of the world to a group of shepherds adds further emphasis to the fact of Jesus’ Mission to save the poor and raise up the lowly.  In God’s word we often read that Jesus is both the Lamb of God (John1:29) and the Good Shepherd (John 10:11).  This emphasizes the truth that God’s gracious, indescribable gift, His Son, which was announced on that long-ago silent night is available to everyone.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)  As we think about the many joys that accompany this time of the year, the most important one should be our acknowledging the fact that Immanuel, “God is with us”.  We may not have everything we want or think we need; but as we look back over our lives, we must thank Him for the many blessings we have received.  I know in my life so many of my blessings were unexpected and many of them were miraculously filled–needs I thought impossible to fill.

Let me share with you the testimony of a family who received such a blessing in their lives a few years ago around this time of the year.  This is the personal testimony of Bill Campbell of Flora, Illinois, and the author of the Magnificent Journey.   A few years ago, when he was completing his doctoral project in seminary, he and his family were undergoing some financial problems.  His son had suffered a leg injury and needed surgery, and Bill needed a large sum of money to pay for his doctoral project.  He and his family were already living on a very tight budget.  So bill decided that he would quit seminary and put the money he had into paying for the medical care of his son and his other financial obligations.  Bill prayed that God would somehow open a door for him to complete his seminary degree.

During this time, his mother-in-law entered the name of several of the family members (including Bill) into the Bowling for Dollars television Contest.  Bill’s name was drawn to appear on the program. 

According to Bill, during the practice rounds he bowled horribly, but during the actual show he bowled 3 strikes and actually won 2 bowling bags, 3 bowling balls, 2 pairs of bowling shoes, and a sizeable jackpot of money.  This allowed him to pay off his son’s medical bills, pay for his seminary project, and he had enough money left over to take his wife out for an elegant dinner.  But that is not all because each participant was asked to draw a name of a pen pal with whom to share the jackpot.  Bill drew the name of a woman who lived in his community.  When he called the woman to let her know how happy he was to share with her and how grateful he was to God, she replied that he had given her family the Christmas miracle they had been praying for.  When Bill hung up the phone, tears were streaming down his face because while he had been thinking of not having anything to give his family and pay his bills, God had blessed him and used him to bless someone else!

You have probably heard of O. Henry’s classic tale “The Gift of the Magi”.  It tells of Jim and Della, a young married couple who were struggling financially.  And as Christmas approaches they want to give special gifts to each other but they have no money.  So they decide on “drastic measures” to accomplish their desires to give to each other.  Jim‘s prized possession is a gold watch, while Della’s prized possession is her long, beautiful hair.  Jim sells his watch in order to buy combs for Della’s hair, while Della sells her hair to buy a chain for Jim’s watch.  This story is so well loved because it reminds us that sacrifice is really at the heart of true love.  It is particularly appropriate for Christmas because God sacrificed His Son who sacrificed His life.  Jesus Christ, Immanuel, was born to die.

My dears, isn’t this really what this season is all about?  The God who gave His only Son, the God who sacrificed His only Son, the Son who sacrificed His life.  

It is nice to join into the various festivities with our friends and loved ones, but we must forever keep in mind that Christmas is about our Christ, our Immanuel’s love which is seen most clearly in His sacrifice for us.

One of the songs we often hear in our churches or on the airways is one that was born out of the author’s concern for how we celebrate the birth of our Christ.  Robert MacGimsey, the author, was born in Pineville, Louisiana.  Growing up around African Americans, most of his songs were written using the early African American dialect.  One Christmas evening after attending the midnight service at a church near where he was living in New York City, while walking home, he passed by a number of night clubs and bars.  He noticed how the people were singing and cursing and rousing.  Many of them were drunk; some had even passed out on the sidewalk.  Seeing all of this disturbed him.  He thought, “What an awful way to celebrate God’s greatest gift to the world–the Savior.”  He went home and wrote the words to this song on the back of an envelope. 

“Sweet little Jesus Boy, born in a manger, sweet little Holy child and we didn’t know who You were; didn’t know you’d come to save us all; to take our sins away; our eyes were blind we did not see; we didn’t know who You were.  Long time ago you were born–born in a manger low, sweet little Jesus.  The world treat you mean Lord, treats me mean too; but that’s how things are down here; we didn’t know it was you.  Sweet little Jesus boy born long time ago; born in a manger low, sweet little Jesus boy.”