"Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:23
Ever since man developed the first glimmerings of a spiritual life he had begun to seek beyond himself and his immediate needs. First there was artistic endeavour in cave paintings and ornamentation of ordinary objects. Simple music began to be played and the voice was used for more than communication. Somewhere, in all of this, he began to reach out towards some purpose beyond himself. For many thousands of years this led him to look at the sky and the planets and stars and to see them as greater than himself and beyond his reach. Even some animals were revered as having great power or strength and superstition became rife.
It was through the Jewish race that God chose to reveal more of himself than had previously been perceived through nature. He communicated with them in ways that we find hard to understand but which were clear and powerful. There was no doubt in the minds of the Jews that God had spoken to them; their problems lay in doing what he had asked of them. His miraculous power and ultimate authority were not in question. Some of the prophets were even inspired to talk about God's love for his people. In fact the Old Testament contains many references to God's love.
The Jews, of course, had a vision of God which was somewhat distant. They were encouraged to approach God with awe through a priest who was the only one allowed into the 'holy of holies', the inner sanctum, where God was supposed to be. We have the story of Moses taking off his shoes on the holy ground and of God speaking from a burning bush. Men sought God but, in spite of God telling his people that he was near to everyone and knew them before they were born, they still felt he was remote and potentially rather dangerous.
When the angel spoke to Mary and asked her to call her child Emmanuel, which means 'God is with us' it was a sentinel moment. The God of history, whom man had sought for millennia, had suddenly declared in a new and dramatic way that he was not remote but in this child who was going to be with us. Mankind had sought God through prayer, people had cried out to him as they looked at the stars, often in despair, and now he was going to enter the human race as a baby. There had been prophecies of a future Messiah or Saviour and this baby was to be the fulfilment of that vision. I cannot imagine how Mary must have felt when she received this news. I'm sure that she was certain of its truth because people do not doubt the appearance of an angel.
I shall never know how she felt until perhaps I meet her in heaven but I do know how good it makes me feel to say 'God is with me'. As I look at the stars or feel weighed down by hopelessness sometimes, I do not have to face it in the way that people did thousands of years ago. I do not stand alone. God has given us himself and he is willing to enter our hearts and make his home there if we invite him in. I cannot now imagine standing on this lonely planet without him, gazing into infinite space. Neither can I imagine watching loved ones die without knowing that around them are his everlasting arms. I suppose they have always been there for everyone but we were only able to comprehend and believe it when the time was right in the evolution of his world. God has always been with us but now we can experience him in us because Jesus has taken away our sins. The doors of our hearts can lead us to heaven once we open them and our God is so pleased to come in and share his life with us.