Emanuel in Egypt
by Dan Kidd
In the opening pages of Mark's Gospel a pronouncement of Jesus' birth is taken from Isaiah 7, "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means 'God with us')." God's people need God's presence. From creation until the end of all things, God's presence is crucial.
But how might God's people know with certainty that an invisible God is with and among them? In today's passage we encounter one of the countless instances of the Lord-of-all-understanding meeting his people in their limitations and providing for them. In later days in Israelite history, when they were in Exile after the holy temple was demolished, they would remember back to these days in Egypt where the Lord promised his presence to them, wherever they found themselves. As we hear God's instructions towards the building of the Tabernacle (a mobile sacred space) we hear of God's intention and promise to sojourn and provisionally abide with his people.
Notice, as we read about the construction of the ark, the remarkable blend of ornate beauty and strategic practicality. Inside and out was overlayed with "pure gold" (perhaps that which was handed over to them by the Egyptians in their Exodus) with an atonement cover hammer-crafted in the shape of a mercy seat, overshadowed by a pair of winged cherubim. Through golden rings were thread two poles of light-but-durable acacia wood, perfect for this divine palanquin. In order to affirm his presence with them, the Lord instructed his people to use the best materials they had to cooperatively and skillfully create an ornate ark wherein was laid the tablets of God's covenant torah. Then, specifically from between the two cherubim overshadowing the mercy seat of the atonement cover, the Lord would meet with and instruct his people.
Thousands of years later this has not changed: God's people need God's presence. And, if you're like me, you may still struggle to embrace the presence of our invisible God. Even still, we have the assurance that the Spirit of God lives with and within us. When we pray, we do not cast prayers into the infinite void, but to the Lord who is present with and within us. We can see the evidence of him in all creativity: in the delightful beauty of ornate artistry and in the pure efficiency of skilled constructions. He remains seated on mercy, amidst the angels, our God meets with us and guides our steps in his perfect Way. Let us, today, remember and embrace this promised Emanuel.
God who is with us, remind us of yourself and your nearness. However, we have felt ourselves wander, shepherd us home again now. Whether this is a day of celebratory feasting, casual toiling, or walking through the shadowlands, lead us and relieve us knowing you are with us. You are Emanuel, today, tomorrow, and forever. We thank you and we praise you for that and for everything else. Amen.