“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
In Heathrow airport, there is a poster of Admiral Lord Nelson’s statue in Trafalgar Square taken from an unusual perspective. The photo focusses on his face and his bicorne hat. At a glance, I thought it was Napoleon, but then recognised Nelson – due to context (London airport) and prior experience (I’ve been to Trafalgar Square).
Matthew declares Jesus as Isaiah’s Emmanuel, meaning “God with us”, encouraging us to see Jesus from a particular perspective. Matthew helps us to recognise that this close-up perspective of God found in Jesus is indeed the God revealed in the Torah, by reminding us of the context (Isaiah’s writings) and of their previous experience (the God who is always “with” Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Joshua, etc).
In Isaiah 7, Emmanuel was the sign Ahaz daren’t ask for, but God provided anyway. Emmanuel would be a sign that King Ahaz didn’t need to be afraid of the plots of two neighbouring nations. God would be faithful and be “with” them in these anxious times.
Throughout the gospel of Matthew, Jesus as “God with us” is a very down-to-earth God. And at the end of the gospel, Jesus makes that extraordinary promise – “I am with you always…..” (Matthew 28:20). Emmanuel isn’t going anywhere. The closeness and involvement in our lives that he showed as he walked the earth isn’t going to stop just because the practicalities of how it looked had changed. And seen through the lens of Isaiah’s promise, whatever anxiety the early disciples of Jesus may have had, the clear message was – God was with them.
If it was true in 735 BC and then again in 33 AD, then is there any reason for us to believe it isn’t true today? And always?
Faithful God, Sometimes we are anxious about doing things the way Jesus taught. “Walking the way, living the life of Jesus today” is not always easy. Sometimes you call us to walk in a direction we’ve never walked before. Sometimes you call us to walk in a direction that is different from seemingly everyone else.
Help us to stand, to keep walking with humility the path you have called us to walk. Help us to recognise that you are walking with us.
Thank you, God.
The Rev’d Angela Rigby is minister at Christ Church URC in Tonbridge and St Johns Hill URC in Sevenoaks.