“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” – Isaiah 7:14 NRSV
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” – Matthew 1:23 NRSV
I find it compelling that the story of the incarnation, the story of Jesus coming to the world, involves so many different people: the prophets, Zechariah, Elizabeth, John the Baptist, Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, magi, King Herod, and many more. It strikes me that the God of the universe, the great “I AM” who is all-knowing and all-powerful, chooses to include the likes of filthy shepherds and a teenage virgin in the climax of His cosmic story.
God has a beautiful way of inviting His sons and daughters into the work He is doing. It is no different in the story of the incarnation. First we read about the prophets such as Isaiah, Daniel, and more, who anticipated and proclaimed the coming reign of the Messiah centuries before. Then we meet Mary, a young virgin living in a small obscure town who receives the call of God to carry and conceive God Himself. Next we are drawn into the story of John the Baptist, a figure on the fringe of society whose radical “voice in the wilderness” paved the way for the work and ministry of Jesus. We are then introduced to the Shepherds, the outcasts and blue-collar workers of the middle-east living on the outskirts of civilization, who become the first to witness and testify to the miracle and glory of Jesus. We are also introduced to the Magi, the foreign scholars who also demonstrate a faith in and worship of God that is not found even among the religious leaders of Israel. The rest of the Gospels pull us into the life of Jesus Himself, who is the ultimate example of God’s work in human history because He is the culmination of God’s promises in the flesh.
So, why is this? Couldn’t God have just sent Jesus down as a fully grown man in a cosmic bolt of lightning? I imagine that He could have. But God’s story is more beautiful, more creative, and more intricate than what we can imagine. He desires the full participation of His people. He desires to work with and through the faith, the joy, the willingness, the stubbornness, the anxieties, and the hearts of His people to accomplish His good and redeeming purposes.
The season of Advent serves as a reminder that our God is a God who acts in and through history. This historical presence is ultimately evidenced in the name given to Jesus: “Immanuel” meaning “God with us” (Isa. 7:14, Matt. 1:23). This physical, in-the-flesh kind of presence is the great distinction of the Christian faith. No other religion climaxes with their god being born in a feeding trough for cows and donkeys, no other faith has as its central axis a fragile child, susceptible to sickness and death.
So, the Advent season reminds us that God is not a distant God. In fact, He is a God who enters into our historical particularities in order to walk hand-in-hand with His people and invite them into a life of adventure and abundance. His invitation to Mary and Joseph, John the Baptist, the Shepherds and many more, is the same invitation God offers us today.
This season and every season, let us see Advent as an invitation into the story of God. Let us participate in Advent by celebrating, preparing for, and pointing towards, the person of Jesus Christ and the transforming reality that his presence has on our lives and on the life of the world.
Throughout the coming four weeks of Advent, New City Stories will dive into the narrative of the incarnation. Through exploring this story and the people in it (beginning with Mary next week), our prayer is that our community here at New City will be formed by their examples of faith and that our hearts and minds will be prepared for a radically intimate relationship with the God who has come, who desires to come into our hearts now, and who will come again in glory.
Here are some questions to reflect on and wrestle with as we prepare for the coming Advent season beginning next week:
- How does the reality that God has come, is with us now, and is coming again impact your daily life?
- What are some practical ways that you can prepare your hearts and minds for intimacy with Jesus this Advent season?
- Do you feel God calling and inviting you into His work of redemption and reconciliation in the world? If so, how can you be faithful to that invitation?
Mike Terry, New City Stories Contributor