The Comfort of Advent

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” (Matt. 1:23)

For many people, Christmas is the most brutal time of year. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, a recent divorce, loneliness, or something else, Christmas can be a sad reminder that life is not how it should be. Even if Christmas is a happy time for you, the indwelling power of sin and the general brokenness of the world reminds you that, indeed, life is not how it should be.

On that first Christmas night, when Mary bore Jesus in a dirty stable, the world was no different than ours. It was filled with disease, war, oppression, injustice, famine, hunger, and private sin. The problems were less noticeable because Mary and Joseph didn’t have Twitter or CNN, but they were no less prevalent. While “long lay the world in sin and error pining,” the baby boy Jesus, entered with a most precious name: Immanuel, which means “God with us.”

The God of the Bible is transcendent: he is holy, lifted up, and above all things (Isa.57:15). Nevertheless, he is immanent and personal. God “became flesh and dwelt among us” so that we might see “his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14). The God of the Bible is sovereign over the plight we face, yet he is not immune to it, for not only is “God with us,” he is with us in our sufferings.

The baby called Immanuel would grow up not as a rich, famous ruler who had servants fluff his pillow all the day. No, he grew up “a man of sorrows, and [was] acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces” (Isa. 53:3). He became a servant and though he was God, he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…and [he] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6, 8). His suffering on the cross was for you: he took the penalty of sin you deserved (Rom. 3:21-25; 2 Cor. 5:21; Col. 1:22; 1 Pet. 2:24). His suffering on the cross was also with you: he is the one who “comforts us in all our affliction…For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor. 1:4).

This Advent season, you may ask God, “Why have I suffered so much? Why is life so hard?” You can take comfort in the fact that Jesus–very God and very man–asked his Father the same question: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). You see, Jesus lost the Father’s hand so that you might grab hold of it. He lost fellowship with the Father so that you might enter the Father’s family. He took the wrath of God so that you might only receive grace. Jesus suffered not to eliminate suffering in your life or in the world (though he will do that on the last day). He suffered so that you might ultimately share in his victory over suffering through his resurrection.

What a comfort! What a Savior! Truly, Jesus is Immanuel.