Emmanuel was a handsome boy, bright and cheeky, the firstborn child, the apple of his parents’ eye.
Though born into a poor family, his family situation never bothered him. He always seemed to have more than enough, and abundance and provision always followed him. When he was still very young, some prominent men from afar visited his family and left them with valuable gifts, of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Like so many other boys, he grew up playing on the dusty streets. He went to the temple and studied like everyone else. He learnt the same trade as his father, carpentry, and grew strong and tanned cutting and sanding the wood. He loved seeing the fruits of his workmanship – the beautiful tables and chairs that would be used in people’s homes.
He mixed around with the common folk, fishermen, families with young kids, and some others might deem more questionable, like tax men and prostitutes. Their occupations never seemed to bother him, as he ate with them and shared stories with them.
He lived in a time where things in his country were politically unstable – there was dissension between the leaders in his country, and a greater foreign power had come into his country and was governing them. He never seemed to be bothered by the differences though, and he had friends both amongst the leaders of his country as well as those of the foreign power.
Emmanuel was special. Though he mixed with all sorts of people, saw all kinds of things going on around him, he never became like them. Instead, those who got near to him became like him.
And yet, all too soon he was gone. He was accused of a crime he never committed, and finally surrendered his life after being beaten and tortured in the manner of the foreign ruling power.
You might have heard of him by his other name – Jesus. The name Emmanuel – or Immanuel in Hebrew – means “God with us.” This was the name used by the prophet Isaiah for the baby Jesus when he foretold His birth by a virgin.
The story of Emmanuel is not about an ordinary boy becoming God eventually. It is about an almighty God descending from heaven to become an ordinary boy and man to be with the people He created, the people He loved.
He was born for a singular purpose – to die. And with His death, to bring good news to those who had none, to heal the brokenhearted, to set free those held captive and oppressed, to give sight to those who were blind, and to proclaim the grace and acceptance of God.
He didn’t come to judge or condemn; He came to save. He didn’t even come to show us how to live – He came to show us how He would live in us.
And I’ve just come to realise recently – what a special reminder God has hidden in the twelve days of Christmas.
Laying aside all the traditions, whys and wherefores of how it came about and how it was/is practised, there remains that most people have heard of the twelve days of Christmas. I did too when I was young, thanks to the ever popular Christmas song.
And most of us would also probably agree that the twelve days of Christmas starts with the first day on Christmas Day (Dec 25) and ends on the fifth day of the new year (Jan 5), unlike some of the shopping malls today who have cleverly shifted it forward to the twelve days before Christmas to capitalise on the Christmas shopping period.
So why is Christmas the only holiday that runs from December to January, from one year to the next?
Because, I believe, God wants us to remember that He is there with us in the year that is currently passing away, and He is there with us in the year that is coming. He was there with us in the days that have passed, He is with us in the now, and He will be with us daily in this new year ahead.
He is Emmanuel – God with us.
So, after all the presents have been unwrapped, all the turkey finished, all the family’s gone home, all the festivities have faded and everyday life has settled back in, let us continue to remember Emmanuel – Jesus is still with us.
He’s not just something to celebrate at the year end, a reason to go shopping and to receive gifts, or a nice story to pull out at the end of every year to try to win souls so that we can teach those same souls how to live the rest of the year.
Indeed, the Christmas story is a wonderful reminder of Jesus’s coming into the world and why He came. And more than that, Jesus wants us to also know and remember that He is always near to us. He is with us in our struggles, and He is with us in our triumphs. He is with us in our joy and bliss, and He is with us in our pain.
Even if you have never come to know Him personally before, He is still there, patiently waiting, a smile ever-present on His handsome face, His nail-scarred hands extended out in a loving welcome.
Because when we encounter Jesus, we encounter grace.