Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
Every December, while growing up in snowy Wisconsin, Andy Williams helped our family decorate the Christmas tree. We strung the lights and garland with dad, and helped mom carefully hang the ornaments, all the while Andy hummed through the stereo, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Indeed, Christmas is wonderful! However, for some in our churches, it can be a very painful time of year—when memories bring the losses of the previous year (or years) to the forefront of their minds, provoking additional heartache. Therefore, one of the most helpful ways we can minister grace to hurting hearts this month is by reminding them of one of our Savior’s most precious names: Immanuel.
God Drew Near to Us When Jesus Was Born
Isaiah, “the evangelical prophet,” was the first to prophesy the name Immanuel. He spoke of the good news of the Messiah more than any other Old Testament messenger. This royal prophet ministered during the reign of four kings over 60 years. Biblical prophets spoke on behalf of God, often repeating the phrase thus saith the Lord. By doing so, they compelled their listeners to listen to the words of God. The prophets were confident that God would use His words to comfort hearts as only He can. As speakers for God, the prophets were responsible to forth-tell, to proclaim God’s message with boldness, and to foretell, to predict future events. Isaiah did both by calling God’s people to repentance and faith in the promised Messiah who would offer himself as the sin-atoning sacrifice and by unveiling the Savior’s identity—God in the flesh (see Isaiah 53). The angel who spoke to Joseph in a dream identifies the significance of the name Immanuel, “which means God with us” (Matthew 1:23). When the Son of God became man through the virgin birth, God drew near to us. He entered our sin-laden, broken world to reconcile us to God and carry our griefs and sorrows (Isaiah 53:3). Isaiah brought Christ-centered comfort to his people. As pastors, we have a similar privilege. While we do not predict the future, since God’s revelation is complete in the living Word (Hebrews 1:1) and the written Word (Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 22:18), we can bring the comfort of the gospel as a balm for the hurts of our people. We can remind those who grieve that the God who collects their tears in His bottle (Psalm 56:8) has already drawn near to them in Christ and will continue to be present with them in their time of need.
God Still Draws Near to Us
God is close by when we grieve, says the psalmist: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). The word “near” is a family word. It refers to a next of kin who is nearby. In our sorrow, God draws close to us. The birth of Jesus Christ is a significant proof of this and continues to communicate a simple but powerful message: God draws near to us. Immanuel is our “next-of-kin” who carries our burdens. He who bore the grief of our sins can bear us up in times of grief and loss. Immanuel, God with us, invites us to bring our burdens to him. In Christ, we are never alone! God is close by. He not only is “near to the brokenhearted” but also “daily bears us up” (Psalm 68:19). As pastors, it is our privilege to remind people of the precious promises of God. In times of profound loss, when hearts are broken and spirits crushed, the Lord himself draws near and says to them and us: “I will never leave you” (Hebrews 13:5). Let us remind them that no loss they suffer will be able to separate them “from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). Through personal faith in Jesus, the “great priest over the house of God,” we may continually “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:19–22). In Christ, God has drawn near to us so that we might draw near to Him.
The older I get, the more I realize how our lives are always a mixture of joy and sorrow. We are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,” as the apostle reminds us (2 Cor. 6:10). Immanuel delivers God’s comforting presence and promises. This month, let’s apply Immanuel’s comforting salve to the wounded hearts of our people. Let’s remind our flocks that He is always there, always shouldering their burdens. He is the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4). He is near. He is Immanuel.
*Note: I adapted portions of this article from my 50-day grief devotional: A Small Book for the Hurting Heart: Meditations on Loss, Grief, and Healing.
©2022 Paul Tautges. Used with permission. All rights reserved.