“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which translated means ‘God with us'”Matthew 1:23
It is important that Immanuel does not simply mean, “God will be with us,” but “God is with us.” The announcement of his name was not simply a sign to Mary and Joseph that God would be among them in the person of Jesus, but that all along, even up to that very moment, God had been with them, and would continue to be. His coming as a human would demonstrate the truth of the eternal reality of His nearness.
As humans, we are both spirit and body. God knows that we need not only spiritual comfort, but tangible comfort as well. He has created it that way. For example, when a mother nurses her baby, a hormone called oxytocin is released in both the mother and the baby. This hormone creates feelings of safety and comfort, and thereby helps bond the mother and baby. Consistent physical contact in various ways keep the levels of oxytocin at a high early in the baby’s life, along with the release of other important hormones, such as dopamine, which encourages feelings of happiness and pleasure. When these messengers are released, the neural pathways they create are strengthened. In one sense, the baby becomes “hardwired” to develop a sense of personal security about themselves and the world they’re entering, and their responses are diminished to stress hormones that can hinder brain development, lead to anti-social behavior, aggression, and feelings of insecurity.
The nearness of someone sends a powerful message to our whole being that everything is going to be ok; deliverance is coming. God Himself entered into that fleshly embodiment of comfort for His people by becoming one with us, showing us in a tangible way that He was there all along.
How can one speak of the nearness of God, the tenderness of this reality? It is an astonishing thing to behold. One is tempted to think that since God is Spirit, that our flesh is a murky, banal thing, too far beneath the heavenly realities of God’s holiness for Him to value. But the truth is He loves our flesh. He not only created it as means of revealing how near he wants to be to us, but then He dignified it to the highest degree by taking it on Himself; He became one with us. This was His desire from the beginning, to become one with humanity.
Jesus experienced this reality as a baby, the flowing bond of love and comfort with a human mother. How can a baby create this sense of comfort to a poor mother in lowly circumstances that society would look on with antagonism and shame? This flow doesn’t only come to the baby; it also is released in the mother. The nearness of God in such a seemingly helpless form was in fact Mary’s deliverance. In His presence, though we await the day when we will see him face-to-face, the effect of His nearness remains the same.
“In repentance and rest you will be saved,Isaiah 30:15b
In quietness and trust is your strength…”
“But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;Psalm 73:28
I have made The Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all your works.”