Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) Kicking Santa Claus in the movie Christmas Vacation.
Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) kicking Santa Claus in the movie Christmas Vacation.

Amidst the hectic nature of the Christmas season, squeezed within the crowds of our shopping malls, and frantically moving from one get-together to the next, we need to remember one essential Christmas truth: Immanuel.

I’m not talking about loosening up your Christmas schedule. I’m not asking you to forego your annual visit to Santa, to boycott those non-Christian Christmas movies, or to sing only churchly Christmas carols. I don’t mean to imply that we simply remember that Jesus is the reason for the season or to suggest that we take some time to focus on him this Christmas. Not at all.

No, what we need to remember this Christmas season is Immanuel. The life-changing truth of Christmas is the advent of Immanuel. God-with-us, which is literally what Immanuel means, is the reality that transforms every aspect of life. The Old Testament is all about God’s presence. The Garden of Eden was all about God-with-us. The post-sin promises in Genesis 3 were about the restoration of God-with-us. The tabernacle and temple were about God-with-us. The exile was the tragic realization that God-is-no-longer-with-us. And the positive side of the message of the prophets was the hope of God-with-us.

And then Jesus was born, and God was with us. In the most profound sense imaginable. He was a human being, walking amongst human beings, teaching us from our midst, guiding and healing us as he stood next to us. And even when Immanuel rose from the grave and returned to the Father, God-with-us was still a present reality. In fact, when Immanuel ascended, he left us with Immanuel on steroids (so to speak).

Jesus was God-with-us in that God walked in our midst. As amazing as that is, Jesus sent an even more intense version of God-with-us to take his place: the Holy Spirit. Now God-with-us means that he lives not beside us, but within us. He is with us on the inside, transforming, convicting, and guiding us. Immanuel has never meant more.

Now back to the point. As we elbow our way through the Christmas crowds, God-is-with-us. As we stand in line for a photo with Santa, God-is-with-us. As we gather with our families, give and receive gifts, sing Christmas carols, and give and receive the worst (or best, depending on your perspective) white elephant gifts, God-is-with-us.

It’s not about abandoning one for the sake of the other. It’s not about taking time away from the shopping mall to think about Jesus. When you walked into that shopping mall, God was with you. And he’s with you still now. And now. And now. He is everywhere in your Christmas schedule. You do it all—shopping, Santa, and singing—by God’s side, or better, with God inside. Immanuel.

So it doesn’t matter if you go to see Santa or watch a movie in which he stars. God is with you. View Santa through eyes of faith and you have nothing to fear. It doesn’t matter if you over-gift your kids or feel a rush of delight as you drink a peppermint mocha at Starbucks. God is with you. If you do these activities as a transformed and transforming bearer of the very Spirit of God, then these “distractions” cannot possibly pull you away from the Christ of Christmas, because he’s already there. On the inside. Immanuel.

So as you navigate this Christmas season, just remember one all-important truth: Immanuel.