One of my favourite childhood photos is one in which I’m seated on my grandfather’s lap, age nine, his arms wrapped around me, during my family’s annual Christmas reunion. Everyone in the photo—my mum, grandmother, aunts, uncle, cousins, grandfather and I—radiates the joy and togetherness the holiday can bring. Back then, Christmas was not just a day, it was an event!—a multiple-day extravaganza of good food, games, jokes, presents and making music. Those sweet memories sustained me in the aftermath of Grandpa’s passing from Alzheimer’s in 2009 and sustain me now through life’s challenges.
I often reflect on Grandpa, a quiet man whose presence spoke volumes. A native Trinidadian, he sacrificed to create a better life for his family in Canada. He poured into us collectively and individually, leaving a lasting legacy. As a self-taught pianist, organist and guitarist, he insisted that all his children and grandchildren learn at least one instrument. He also enjoyed preaching, writing, travelling and documenting everything with his camera and camcorder. He would be tickled to know I still play the flute in the “Dyett Family Ensemble” whenever possible and serve my church as a communications director.
Interestingly, my grandpa’s first name was Emmanuel, a variation of Immanuel. Jesus has many titles; eg, Bread of Life, Lamb of God, Prince of Peace and King of Kings, but Immanuel resonates most with me. Matthew 1:22 speaks of Jesus fulfilling prophecy as the Messiah, or Saviour, of the world—“‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’” Grandpa was not perfect, but his ministry of presence gave me a glimpse into the promise of “Immanuel”—Jesus, as God with us, exemplifies God’s constant presence in our lives.
Who is Jesus?
Jesus of Nazareth, or Jesus Christ, is one of history’s most renowned figures. In Islam, He is a prophet; in Hinduism, a holy man; in Buddhism, a wise teacher;in Judaism, a rabbi and popular teacher. However, these religions do not acknowledge Christ’s divinity. In contrast, most branches of Christianity do recognise Jesus as the Son of God and as God Himself. Jesus has existed from before creation, as part of the Godhead—Father, Son and Holy Spirit; a unity of three co-eternal Persons.
When sin entered the world, it was impossible for us to bridge the gulf separating us from God. The only solution was for God the Son to come to earth as a human baby—Jesus. He lived among us, engaged in active ministry for three-and-a-half years, beginning age 30, and repaid our debt from sin by dying on the cross. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection offered us the hope of a world beyond this one, where there’ll be no more pain or death, and we will live with God forever. Today, Jesus is our Mediator in heaven, pleading with God for the salvation of all who, by faith, accept the gift of eternal life. God sacrificing His only Son as part of His redemption plan is the greatest evidence of His unfathomable love. A plaque on my wall reminds me: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Jesus, our Friend
Immanuel emphasises the duality of Jesus’ nature—fully human, yet fully divine; born of a woman, yet the Son of God. When we consider His divinity, we realise we are so valuable in His sight that He shed His blood for us. And because of His human nature and life on earth, Jesus understands everything we are going through. This duality makes Him our perfect Advocate and Best Friend. Hebrews 4:15,16 promises, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
God with us—what a beautiful promise! Having made three significant moves since graduating college, I’ve discovered that distance and circumstances can separate even the closest friends. But nothing will ever separate us from the love of Jesus. His life on earth and present intercession as High Priest in heaven prove that He will be with us to the end of time.
Jesus, our Peace
When the novel coronavirus was declared a pandemic on March 11, it disrupted life as we knew it. Globally, schools, churches and non-essential businesses shut down for months. Beyond the danger of contracting a disease infecting millions worldwide, there were other crises—job loss, financial strain, increased mental health challenges and more. During this time, particularly in North America, we also grappled with the unjust killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, and the resulting social unrest. For most, 2020 has been a year of storms.
One of my favourite stories is that of Jesus and His disciples in the storm. After a busy day of healing and teaching, Jesus led the disciples to cross the lake. Once they had left the shore a fierce storm came up and the boat began to fill with water. Jesus slept while the disciples fought the wind and waves. Finally, they awoke Him, crying, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38). Jesus stood, rebuking the wind and the waves and chaos turned to calm. Then He chided the disciples for their lack of faith. After all, hadn’t they seen Him perform miraculous signs and wonders that same day?
The disciples followed a pattern familiar to many of us in troubled times—self-reliance, then failure, then blaming God. In contrast, as He slept soundly amid the crashing waves, Jesus modelled an abiding trust in God. Jesus then relied on God’s power—not His own—as He stilled the waters. This story teaches us to respond to trials with faith rather than fear. It illustrates that we can be at peace even when our boat is sinking, because Jesus is in the boat. For me, this lesson hit home in the early weeks of the Covid-19 lockdown. I recall waking up every morning feeling anxious as I read the latest headlines, worrying that my family members or I would be stricken with the virus. One especially difficult morning, the only thing that could calm my mind was reading Psalm 91, which begins, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” Slowly, painfully, I learned to trust that Jesus’ presence would support me through it all.
Walking with Jesus
Anyone who knew Grandpa would describe him as a man of great faith. Despite many storms in his life, he remained restful and trustful. He encouraged us children and grandchildren to get to know Jesus for ourselves. It took some time for his lessons to stick, but as I got older, I experienced the joy of developing a real relationship with Jesus through Bible study and prayer. As an adult, I realised that when I spent time with the Bible, absorbing His teachings, life’s burdens became lighter and more manageable. When I think I’m “too busy” for God, I am more prone to give in to my natural melancholy. Time with Him provides a necessary daily rest for my mind.
While on earth, Jesus taught us how to live, both implicitly and explicitly. Like a loving father or grandfather, He was intentional in leaving a lasting legacy. While He identified with our human temptations and sufferings, He still perfectly reflected love for God and others; holiness and submission to the Father’s will. And despite persecution and immense pressure during His ministry, His daily moments with the Father strengthened Him to fulfil His mission. As we daily allow God to speak to us from His Word, the Bible, we will also gain strength, wisdom and abiding joy.
Finally, as we draw closer to God, we should let the outpouring of His love flow to our families, friends, colleagues—even strangers we encounter daily. And, as we await Jesus’ second coming, let’s tell those around us about Immanuel and the promise that once we walk with Him, we’ll never walk alone.
Christelle Agboka lives and works in Toronto, Canada, where she coordinates communication for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ontario.