God with us. This is one of those miracles that I hope never grows old to me. The Creator of everything, living with His creation. We see glimpses of Emmanuel throughout all of history, but we celebrate the ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. God’s Son coming to live with us, so we would never have to be alone again or wonder again about who He is.
I admit, “Who is God?” is a pretty loaded question, but one answer I am becoming good with lately is — God is entirely “other.” God has been using a phrase with me lately to help me remember His other-ness — “I’m not like you.” Of course, He doesn’t say it in a demeaning way or to be condescending at all. Because, again, He’s not like me. That’s not in His nature. But He sweetly reminds me He’s not like me and that’s a good thing. He came to earth as a human to be with me, but He is not like me. He came to earth to be with you, but He’s not like you either. He’s other. Completely other. He’s God.
Let me put it another way. We are made in His image, so while we are a lot like Him, He is not like us. This is a hard concept for us to grasp because we think the phrase goes both ways, but it doesn’t. We are like Him, but He is not like us. One of the ways He is not like us is: He’s invisible. And He remains invisible to us unless He provides a way for us to see Him. Moses desperately wanted to see Him, so God allowed Moses to view his back for a moment as He passed by. There are other examples in Scripture of how He has and continues to make Himself visible to us in many different ways, but ultimately this is exactly what He did in Jesus. I love the way Paul puts it in Colossians:
“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
for through him God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together.”
Every fall, Jewish people around the world celebrate the Old Testament biblical holiday of Sukkot — translated the “Feast of Booths” or the “Feast of Tabernacles.” It’s one of the pilgrimage feasts where Israel’s people, no matter where they were — whether dispersed or living inside the land — were commanded to make the trip to Jerusalem to celebrate. The holiday was a reminder to Israel’s people year after year that their ancestors, having once been enslaved and living in bondage, lived in tents on their way to the Promised Land.
During this nomadic period in Israel’s history, they lived in tents, but so did God to a degree. He was still invisible, but He chose to make a home among them, so they could have a way to see and experience Him. God commanded Moses to build a Tabernacle and it was inside that large, extravagant tent, among the smaller more modest tents that God made His presence known to the people. Day and night He guided them by a cloud and also by fire. See, invisible, and entirely other.
Hebrews tells us that much of what Israel experienced in the Old Testament writings were representations, patterns, of the reality to come in Jesus. Including the Feast of Booths. God guided His people in rehearsing His presence every single year, yes to celebrate the past, but also as a preparation for the future. Just like He had a tent made for Himself that would fit in with the other tents in the wilderness, Jesus came to us in human form, in a tent of a body that fit in with ours.
But even so, it was hard for us to recognize Him. Now we had something to lay our eyes on and He looked like us, but He sure didn’t act like us. And the seeming incongruence was difficult for us as humans to handle. Jesus came as a baby and grew up visible to everyone. He came with the law of love on His human tongue but we expected condemnation instead. He came performing miracles but we expected judgment instead. He came with healing in His wings, but we didn’t even know we were sick. He came looking like one of us, but acting like the One and only God because that’s who He is. Again, we are like Him in some ways, but He is not like us.
But still He came, bringing a new dwelling place with Him. But this Kingdom was not physical like the wilderness had been or even the Promised Land. His Kingdom is invisible, just like He is invisible. This time, there wasn’t fire or a cloud to guide us like there had been with the Tabernacle because the tent of Jesus was here guiding us with His love, words, and actions. And this time, genealogy or gender or ethnicity couldn’t separate us from Him because His Kingdom is not of this world and neither are its citizens.
In the wilderness, He showed Himself to us, but from a distance. In Emmanuel, He made Himself known by His closeness. He showed us who He is once and for all, so we never have to wonder what He looks like again. When we start to conjure up images of the invisible God, based on our past experiences or history or even passages in the Bible we don’t fully understand, stop. We don’t have to wonder what the invisible God looks like any more. We don’t have to wonder what it would look like to live with Him anymore. He provided the perfect picture of Himself in Jesus, Emmanuel.