Matthew’s gospel ends with an incredible sentence that is seldom fully appreciated:

“And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20).

It comes at the conclusion of my absolute favourite scripture: The Great Commission:

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-19).

Verse 20 is often read as a sort of addendum, some final words of comfort before sending his disciples to fulfill an undoubtedly difficult calling. This is a tragic reading. All the beauty and literary genius is lost. Thankfully, Christmas provides us an opportunity to reinterpret it within its context and recapture the meaning. You see, at Christmas we also get to reflect in a focused way on the very beginning of Matthew’s gospel, which is summarized in these words:

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”) (1:22-23)

Did you catch that? Immanuel is literally the first and final word of Matthew’s gospel. It begins with God with us, and ends with a promise that Immanuel will continue to be with us. Actually, it is even bigger than that, as alluded to in the reference to the prophet Isaiah. Immanuel is a summary of everything anticipated from the very beginning of Genesis and fully realized at the end of Revelation (22:3-5).

So, let’s start at the beginning. Genesis 1-3 provides us with a unique picture of what the world looked like when everything was “on earth as it is in heaven.” We get the impression that the Garden of Eden is the place where heaven meets earth, even to the point that we see God strolling around enjoying the Garden in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8).

This is the greatest loss of the Fall. It is, in fact, the loss that catalyzes all other losses: Heaven and earth are driven apart. God, though everywhere present, is no longer fully exerting His rule on earth as it is in heaven. His partnership with His co-ruling image bearers is marred as we seize the knowledge of good and evil and demand to define it on our own terms. All of creation feels the loss, from our souls and relationships to the very ground we walk on.

All creation longs for Immanuel.\

Then, in Genesis 12, we see a glimmer of hope as God calls a man named Abraham to a new covenant: “

Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

All the rest of the Older Testament has the reader waiting with bated breath to see this promise  to Abraham fulfilled: Immanuel. How will God once again be God with us?

And so, Matthew begins:

“This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham…All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet” (vv.1, 22).

And so, Matthew ends:
“Go into all the world (the land), and make disciples of all nations (a great nation), baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (I will bless you), and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (you will be a blessing).  

And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age. (All people on earth will be blessed through you).

Immanuel, then, is both the message and the means. This is the Christmas Commission: God is with us, calling, blessing, empowering us to announce the good news: God is with us.