One year, because of a bereavement in our family, we celebrated a different sort of Christmas. Since we weren’t spending the holiday at home, we couldn’t devote the usual time to preparing special meals and gifts. So we tried—some days more successfully than others—to focus on the gift of God becoming Man to be with us. That is, Immanuel, who comforts us in our grief and reassures us that He’s with us, each and every day (Matthew 1:23).

This idea of the gift of Jesus as Immanuel is unique to Matthew’s gospel. The author tells the story through the eyes of Joseph, the man to whom Mary was betrothed. In the ancient Near East, a betrothal was a legally binding covenant between a man and a woman. So when Joseph found out that Mary was expecting a child who was not his own, he pondered how he could be released from this contract to remain pure before God, but without destroying Mary’s future (Matthew 1:19). Then the angel of the Lord appeared and reassured him that the baby had been conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20). The angel quoted the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14), saying the child would be Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

For Joseph, “God with us” meant a unique invitation to accept Mary as his wife and to raise this special One. His dream—which revealed God’s message—would give him comfort and assurance as he faced questions and perhaps ridicule from the community as to why he would wed Mary.

For those who follow Jesus, “God with us” means the promise of Him living within us through His Spirit (1 John 4:13; Galatians 2:20). We’re now never alone, whether we face grief, pain, or hardship, for God is always with us. May we seek His strength as we prepare to celebrate the gift of Immanuel this Christmas.

NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: Colossians 3:1-17