Summary: It’s Okay to struggle with God - He loves you, he’s going to bless you - He’ll be with you.
Title: Wrestling with Immanuel
Text: Gen 28:13-15; Gen 33:22-32
MP: Don’t be indifferent to Christ.
About this time of year, we tend to sing a lot of Christmas carols too lightly. There are radical claims and contradictions we sometimes pass right over, without a moment’s thought.
This Christmas, I’ve been thinking about one in particular. We just sang, “O Come, O Come Immanuel / and ransom captive Israel.” In doing that, we pass over a contradiction that is itself a great claim of what Christmas really is. In order to really catch it, however, I need to teach you two Hebrew words, both of which we use in English today.
The first is one I bet you already know. I remember was sitting in Hebrew class, conjugating prepositions. Imi – With Me, Imcah – With you, Imah – With Him, Immanu. With Us. Immanuel – God is with us! Maybe we only think about at Christmas, but we know that Jesus’ birth means that God is with us. God himself took on human form and dwelt with us.
Even as far back as the first book of the Bible – Genesis, we saw that God wanted to be with us. There was a guy named Jacob who had a vision of God one night. He saw a giant stairway leading up to heaven. Mind you, this was 4000 years before anyone had even heard of Led Zepplin. Jacob sees this stairway – but he doesn’t need to climb it. God himself comes down the stairs to give Jacob a message. “I love you. I’m going to bless you. I’m with you wherever you go. [Gen 28:13-15]” Immanu. And my name is El.
This is a Christmas message, 2000 years before Christ was born. I love you. I’m going to bless you. I’m with you wherever you go.
But Christmas isn’t every day, and so maybe Jacob forgot.
This Jacob guy knows that God is with him, but life intervenes. He knows God is going bless him. But he still tricks his brother – his big hairy brother Esau out of their Dad’s inheritance. And now, after being tricked into working 14 years for his wife, Jacob knows its time to ask forgiveness. He’s scared.
And if you’re God, you probably have to be asking, “So what do I do now?” How do I tell Jacob I love him? Another beautiful vision isn’t going to cut it. He’s questioning everything. It would just be another fact to store up there along with the kids’ birthdays and Uncle Laban’s recipe for hummus. Jacob wouldn’t settle for a vision. He needed an encounter.
So you know what God does? He comes to Jacob again. But this time, he doesn’t say anything. He and Jacob just get into a wrestling match.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think about spending quality time with God, my first impulse isn’t wrestling. But God loves Jacob. He’s going to spend time with him no matter what they’re doing. So, they wrestle.
All night long, they do nothing but wrestle. Some times, Jacob is up on top, sometimes God. Back and forth, all night long they just wrestle. When morning comes, God tries to leave. Jacob says – I need your blessing! It’s an honest cry. God, I can’t do this! Bless me.
So God says, “I’ll tell you what. You need a new name. You won’t forget this one – I’m going to call you ‘Israel.’” Yisra – He wrestles. El – God. He wrestles with God.
I know when I say “Israel,” you’re thinking of a place. You’re probably thinking of a peaceful Rembrandt painting or else a place where suicide bombers are blowing up shopping malls every day. Of the two, the bomber is probably a little closer to the original. But, when we say Israel, we’re actually talking about a person. We’re saying “Here’s a guy - He struggles with God. He’s wrestling with God.”
Now, isn’t that a little bit strange? Immanuel - God is with us. But what are we doing, Israel? We’re wrestling with him! We’re in a knock-down drag out fight with this God who wants nothing less than to bless us.
Why? Because life intervenes. Visions come and go. Beautiful paintings fade. Nice words are quickly forgotten. Sometimes, the only way you can say “I love you,” to get right in their face. It may not seem lovely, but it is love.
You know this. The girl who is screaming and shaking her fist at her boyfriend is still more in love with him than the dutiful husband who passes by his wife without so much as a second glance. The opposite of love isn’t hate – it’s indifference.
Are you working out your salvation with fear and trembling? Or are you just working out what to have for dinner tonight? It doesn’t really matter. No matter where you are, God is in love with you, even if he has to be in your face to show it.