Summary: It’s Okay to struggle with God - He loves you, he’s going to bless you - He’ll be with you.

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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.

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