The Layers of Immanuel

The title "Immanuel" comes from the Hebrew: עִמָּנוּאֵל which means, "God with us". You may have also see the romanized version of this spelled Emmanuel. However you have seen it, if you are a Christian attending worship in the month of December, chances are you have heard this before. 

When Christians talk about Jesus as "Immanuel" we may overlook a few of the layers of the implications of "God with us". I invite you consider at least three layers embedded in the Good News of "God with us".

  • God with us as in God is among us - such as in the Gospel of John which says that Jesus pitched tent and dwelt with us. God with us as a traveling companion and who walks with and beside us. This pastoral image of God with us, is not only comforting but also empowering because God is among us. 
  • God with us as in God is an advocate for us - Jesus reminds us that with the advent of the Holy Spirit the disciples will have an Advocate to remind them of all that Jesus has taught. God with us as advocate clearly calls to mind the image of God as a defense attorney standing up for us against the accuser (which is the role of Satan in the Bible. Satan is the character that stands in for humans when humans take a posture of accusing rather than advocating).
  • God with us as opposed to God without us, meaning that God chooses to be with us rather than going it alone or without us. God is not out there doing things without us, but Immanuel implies that God is with us and all our limitations. The very idea that God would choose to work with humans is remarkable and if that is not Good News I am not sure I know what Good News may be.

So when we hear the Gospel story this Advent and Christmas seasons might we reflect just a bit more on the depth of Immanuel - God with us. 


The national leader had an irrational fear of people with a different religion

Just a portion of a recent sermon I delivered prior to Thanksgiving this year:

The book of Deuteronomy derives its name from a word meaning “a second” or “a copy” of the law. Meaning that this book is a copy of the law given to Moses from Mount Sinai. Deuteronomy is a book that is set in time before the people enter the promised land.

Deuteronomy takes seriously the reality that people do NOT innately know how to build relationships, how to build a healthy sense of self and how to be in right relationship with God. Deuteronomy assumes that even those the people have been living together for 40 years in the wilderness, they need help in order to be in right relationship with others, self and God.

The text expresses that when the people enter the promised land there are some basic things that you need to do in order to not lose your way and become like the Egyptians that oppressed them.

It is easy to think that just because you won the battle for your freedom or just because your side is the victor you know how to govern and how to build a society built on the things that last such as justice, mercy and love.

By Lucas Cranach the Elder - Own work (BurgererSF), Public Domain,

By Lucas Cranach the Elder - Own work (BurgererSF), Public Domain,

God saw what happened when a society grew powerful and did not practice the foundations of humility and love. They were the Egyptians and they enslaved a whole group of people based upon their religion. Then the leader of the nation had such an irrational fear of the numbers of these people with an odd religion that the Pharaoh called for the death of all baby boys of the group.

What we see in Egypt is that if power is left unchecked by love, mercy and justice then power becomes oppressive and sacrifices others for the benefit of the few. Scripture tells the story of God’s displeasure with such a way of living for instance the prophet Hosea said, God desires mercy and not sacrifice.

"The Pole Vaulter Fallacy"

A lot of my time is spent listening to people beat themselves up for a wide range of reasons. However, a large bulk of reasons that I hear people being so hard on themselves is what I am going to call the "Pole Vaulter Fallacy."

Generally speaking, listening to people I hear them talk about the shame or disappointment or anger they feel when they were not able to live up to some standard. Some of those standards are internal standards that a person has for what they expect of themselves. Some of those standards are perceptions of what others have of them. Either way, when these standards are not met, there is a lot of hurt that is shared. 

Here is why I call it the "Pole Vaulter Fallacy": The internal or external standards that are perceived to be so high that we need a pole vault in order to clear them. What makes it a fallacy, is that too often the reality is that the standards are only as high as a high jumper. Meaning, that many people are more than clearing the bar, but the pole they are using is knocking the bar down and so it looks like failure. 

Friends, consider the ways that the "bar" that is before us is not as high as you think it is. You don't need to grab a pole in order to clear the mark. Your jump is more than enough. You are more than enough. Trust in that.

Put the pole down, you are only hurting yourself. 

What a Stuck Nut Teaches Us About Scripture

I think that I have this story correct, but I may have it a bit off, however here we go:

My mother in law took her pool pump to be repaired. The repair man shared with her that there was a nut stuck in the pump which is why it was not working. This made sense to her since the pump has many nuts, bolts and screws in order to hold it together. A nut breaking loose would cause the pump to break. The news made it to my father in law who was told that there was a screw stuck in the pump and that it was all repaired. When my father in law saw the invoice, he began to crack up. 

From a nut to a screw back to a different nut. 

It is just a reminder that no matter how clear you think you may be when you are communicating, once you communicate there is a bit of trust that what you are communicating is received. 

If three people use the same language within the same hour, through both written and verbal mediums and STILL have misunderstanding, then perhaps we need to take a breath when we read scripture. As a reminder, scripture was written by several people in a different language in a different time and place translated at least three times before most of us read it. Oh, and it is talking about the mysteries of God and not a broken pool pump. 

Perhaps we "understand" the Bible is talking about hardware and we are going to share that with everyone but in fact scripture is talking about pecans.