James IV, one of Scotland’s greatest kings in the Middle Ages, employed a curious method in the government of his people. He would often disappear from the palace in disguise and walk unrecognised amongst his subjects in their everyday surroundings. Sometimes he was absent for weeks at a time, and even his closest advisers were unaware of his whereabouts. Fears arose for the king’s safety, but when James was asked to halt this unusual practice, he responded, “I cannot rule my people unless I know how they live.”
In his desire to rule his subjects fairly, James IV of Scotland tried to identify with them. He came down to their level for a while, but always he returned to the luxury and majesty of the royal palace.
It is a remarkable story, but James’ actions only faintly reflect the tremendous humility of Jesus in stepping down into our world. In leaving heaven to come to earth, Jesus completely identified with us. He did not disguise himself as a human; he became truly human. As the apostle Paul put it in one of his letters, Jesus took ‘the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness’ (Philippians 2:7). That is the wonder of the Christmas story, which is expressed in one of the names given to Jesus: Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23).
Jesus is the only person who has ever lived who could have chosen his birthplace and everything associated with it, but consider what he did. He was born in a crude stable and brought up in a peasant home amongst a despised people. Jesus tasted the full range of human emotions and experience. He came down to our level. He understands what it is like to be human.
And because Jesus has identified with us, we can trust him with our fears, doubts and needs in the knowledge that He understands and cares. He is Immanuel not just for Christmas, but for every day of our lives. Because of what Jesus did on that first Christmas, these words of comfort and encouragement are true, ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need’. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
May God bless each one of you as you celebrate the wonder and gift of Immanuel this Christmas season, and may you experience the reality of ‘God with us’ throughout the year ahead.
Pastor David McKibben
Galston Seventh-day Adventist Church