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Seeds of the Kingdom

Immanuel, God with Us

by Sue Sainsbury

19 December 2021

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The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).
Matthew 1:23, NIV

I wonder what you think about when you think of Christmas.

Sometimes it feels easy to look at things that ‘the world’ might think, and dismiss them as missing the point: parties, people, food or presents. Not that such things are bad, but they’re not necessarily the most important. But then I wonder if we Christians simply substitute other things that we deem more acceptable: family, or the children, or even singing carols and Christian hymns. All these things can be lovely, but there’s a bigger story that says none of these are actually the main event.

Jesus is, quite simply, the reason for the season.

But His beginning wasn’t nice or tidy. Actually, far from the sanitised version we sometimes imagine, many of the circumstances around Jesus’ birth were really quite distressing. We often, rightly, linger in wonderment that Jesus was born in a stable amongst the animals, rather than in a palace amongst kings and princes, even though he is actually the King of kings and Prince of Peace. Because of that, we see that He came to give hope to the poor, broken and invisible of this world, rather than the great and the good. How beautiful and true!

But the reality was also that His mummy was a young, unmarried girl in a devout community. What shame and sorrow she would have had to endure! We get a hint of this in Matthew 1:19, ‘Because Joseph was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly’. Public disgrace could have included being punished, stoned, even, for her flagrant waywardness. No-one, of course, would have imagined she really had conceived as a virgin. Thankfully, Joseph believed the angel who came to reassure him, and didn’t abandon Mary and Jesus. But what a confusing and complicated time for both of them!

As I ponder their situation, I’m always reminded of what a truly vulnerable start in life Jesus had. The One through whom all things were made, King of all the earth, was, in fact, a refugee baby. Hunted by the hostile, jealous, earthly king, baby Jesus was protected by His daddy, who again listened to an angel in a dream and immediately ‘got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt’. How difficult for all of them! But what amazing opportunities for God to direct and deliver them and bring about His far greater purposes through this little family!

Jesus’ birth was messy, unconventional, with plenty of reasons that His family might be looked upon disdainfully. But He came to our broken world to reach all of us, including - perhaps especially - those who aren’t in families, who don’t have homes, who can’t give presents, who are outcast.

Sue Sainsbury and her husband, John, have just begun a big, new adventure as part of the leadership team at Ellel Grange, where they are committed to living lives as disciples of Jesus and helping others on their journey with Him.


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