Emmanuel, God with us. The Prophet Isaiah foretold: the coming Messiah, the Savior, will be called by this name. And this name is very special because it reveals one important nature of God. What kind of nature is this? The name tells us, God is the one who wants to be with us; God is the one who seeks a reconciled relationship and a fellowship with us. Why? It’s because this God’s nature is love. We habitually hear and say, “God is love.” And I know, such phrase is too worn-out to our ears. But think about it. Before we found God, before we even knew God, God loved us first and wanted to be with us and walk beside us in our lives. This surely is good news for us. And this surely can be a meaning and reason for living. This might be why, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said, “Best of it all is, God is with us.”
The Bible in many places testifies to this God who always comes to people first, when they are yet sinners and when they have no idea about God. The Bible tells us, God came to Abraham to make a covenant with him. God revealed Godself to Moses in the burning bush to save the Hebrews from slavery. God spoke to the prophets to turn the people of God back from their wrong ways. And finally, God came down to earth and was incarnated in Jesus. Why? It’s because God is love and the best expression of this love is to be with the beloved. So, the God of true love doesn’t only stay in a higher or lofty position to be adored. But this God doesn’t mind coming down to lowly places in our midst to be with us. This surely is good news for us.
Today, we are celebrating the very first Sunday of 2019, as Epiphany Sunday. The word “epiphany” means a revelation or manifestation of something divine. And for Christians, this epiphany is about Jesus and the day of his humble birth. On this day, the Magi, the three wise men, followed the starlight, traveled a long way to visit the baby Jesus, and finally, they witnessed the shimmering revelation of something divine in him. What would be that something these three wise men witnessed? It’s still a great mystery with full of wonder. But we do know one thing for sure. The baby Jesus in a manger manifested the heart of God for the world, the heart abundant in love. God loves us and wants to be with us, so God comes and dwells among us. As the Angel Gabriel announced, the name of Jesus is indeed, “Emmanuel, God with us.”
And the love manifested in Jesus Christ is not an idealistic or philosophical love. It is a down-to-earth love, the love incarnate. To be with us, this God of love doesn’t mind taking a human form, having flesh and blood. God doesn’t mind coming to dwell in humble places among us. Jesus was born in a shabby and smelly stable. There was no crowd and no visit from any family or friends. However, right in this stable, which looks farthermost away from divine glory, Jesus manifested the humble love of God. Here, we know… even in the lowliest and loneliest places of our lives, God is with us. And God wants to be with us no matter where we are. This surely is good news for us.
The true love of God also doesn’t mind enduring any suffering and danger with us. In the story of the Gospel of Mathew, Jesus’ birth was immediately followed by a great threat and danger. All of them in the stable were overjoyed. But they needed to hide that joy because Herod, the king of Judea, looked for Jesus to kill him. His life was immediately set in a vulnerable and precarious situation. However, right in this situation, which looks farthermost away from divine blessing, Jesus manifested the audacious love of God. Here, we see, even when our circumstances are unstable and unfavorable, God is with us. And God wants to be with us no matter what we are going through. This surely is good news for us.
Finally, the true love of God doesn’t mind taking up the cross on our behalf. As we all know, Jesus’ life was not just a happy one. He was not the majority’s favorite at all. He was constantly accused by the Jewish authorities and excluded by his hometown people. Most of the time, he was a friend of the marginalized and the oppressed of the society. Although he healed numerous people and taught the gospel to many, at the moment when he was dying on the cross, there were only a handful of people beside him. Even his disciples betrayed him. However, right in the life, which seems farthermost away from divine favor, Jesus manifested the life-giving love of God. Jesus on the cross indeed perfected God’s love for us. Here, we find, even when our lives are tough, God is always with us and suffers with us. And God wants to be with us no matter who we are. This surely is good news for us.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, on this first Sunday of 2019, I hope we all keep this Epiphany faith and all the good news brought by Epiphany to us. God doesn’t want to be without us. No matter what, we are loved with the love that is humble, audacious, and life-giving. We surely know this truth because of Jesus. Whenever you feel weary, tired, or lonely through this year, I hope you remember Jesus again and remind yourself of this core Christian faith.
Today as we continue our worship service, we will have two meaningful rituals that will remind us of divine love. One is the anointing and the other is Holy Communion. Anointing may be not familiar to you. But in the Bible, anointing is a sign of blessing and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Prophets were anointed to proclaim God’s word; priests were anointed to carry out their ministry; kings were anointed so they could rule; many people were anointed for healing and wholeness. So this anointing simply tells us, God is with us and God’s blessing rests on us. Holy Communion is much more familiar to us. Holy Communion is a sacrament that visibly manifests invisible grace of God. By sharing bread and wine, we remember the love of Jesus Christ who gives us all, even his body and blood on the cross for our salvation. Today, in anointing and in Holy Communion, I hope and pray that we may deeply feel the enduring presence of God’s love in our lives, and we may renew our faith in Jesus, so that we all can live out the call to ministry this new year and share his love that overcomes any suffering and injustice the world. Beloved, no matter what, God is with us. Hear this good news! And go, and tell to others in all the way you can, by all the means you can, and as long as ever you can. Amen.