god with us

A family struggles to make ends meet. The father faces sporadic work. The mother endures chronic illness. Three kids. Two in school. One just born this fall. Eviction notices greet them monthly as they just barely scrape together enough to pay the bills – a roof over their heads for one more month. This year’s Christmas hamper smaller than usual. 2012 looms with much of the same. They just want to get back on our feet.

A young man lives with rejection. Last year’s holiday included a marriage proposal. Joy. Elation. Expectation ran deep. Plans were made. But then plans have changed. Well, her plans changed. Last year’s expectation is this year’s loneliness and despair. He just wants to be happy again.

She has a great family, career, home, church – independence. “The good life” many would say. She loves her husband and 10-year-old son. But in the rare moments of quiet and self-reflection, dissatisfaction creeps from the shadows. Life is a blur. Christmas only increases the busyness. She barely has time to enjoy this good life she’s made for herself. Success hasn’t brought fulfillment. She just wants some peace and contentment.


At Christmas, the search for happiness and fulfillment is present in many ways, for all people...

Perhaps you hear parts of your story this Christmas in these stories here. We all, in different ways, long for fulfillment in our lives.

The right amount of money.
The right relationships.
The right spirituality.
The right, well, anything.

Everything is fair game in the search for personal happiness. “It’s all about me” is the world’s mantra.

And it’s the same for religious folks. Only now it’s me with God. My ability to connect with God. “Me with God.”

It’s an age-old search, this desire for fulfillment.

But...

all our striving,
all of history’s examples of societal bliss,
all of religion’s attempts to get the spiritual formula just right
all our attempts to have a successful life
all these things are revealed to be, in the words of a wise old man, “a chasing after the wind,” meaningless even. Meaningless in the sense that self-created happiness fades away.

If it ever comes at all.

Striving for happiness and fulfillment, this idea of “Me with God,” is a tragic reversal of the actual reality of Christmas.

It’s not “me with God,” it’s “God with us.”


We read about it. We sing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” – come, God, with us!

The picture is profound, but not in the way we’d expect from the Creator of all things. Not in an “out-there,” esoteric, spiritual way, God identifies with the very reality of human existence; life in this often confusing and broken world.

You know the story:

A questionable couple. A dirty barn. Farm animals. Stench and loneliness intermingled in a picture of physical and social struggle. And then the he comes. The Messiah, the Son of God, Immanuel. Names suggesting royalty, power. But here?

This One comes not in power but in weakness. A baby. God with us in weakness.

We know weakness. In our striving, we fail to find fulfillment. If we’re honest, we’ll never get enough money, or find that perfect relationship, or be continually content with life’s circumstances.

But we don’t walk this journey alone. In our search for fulfillment we're confronted with a different picture altogether. Not God-fixing-everything-in-our-life-so-we’ll-be-happy-all-the-time-with-no-reason-to-complain-ever-again. No, our lives will likely continue to mirror the life of an outcast family in stable of a small obscure town. But weakness meets God’s presence.

God immerses himself in this common part of human experience. Identifying with weakness is God’s avenue to overcoming brokenness, pain and death. After all, what begins with the birth of a baby culminates in the re-birth of new life, resurrection.

No more tears.
No more death.
No more striving for that elusive fulfillment.

After conquering death, rising from the grave, Jesus reaffirmed the Immanuel message of his birth. “I will be with you until the end of the age.”

Our hopes and dreams for this life – and the next – can be complex, filled with a combination of hope and uncertainty. Christmas sometimes brings these to the forefront. And in that moment of trying to figure everything out in our lives, we pause.

We remember
We remind
We treasure
We share
We place our hope
We rest in the presence

of “Immanuel, God with us”

Christmas – all of life! – God. With. Us.


Emmanuel prayer:

God, we thank you for your gift of Emmanuel
God with us!
Where there is pain, sorrow and sickness
God with us!
Where there is healing, care and comfort
God with us!
Where there is addiction, abuse and brokenness
God with us!
Where there is recovery, belonging, and meaning
God with us!
Where there is loneliness, conflict, and despair
God with us!
Where there is belonging and reconciliation
God with us!
May we live our lives and our lives with others in your presence
Emmanuel, God with us!

2 comments:

Ryan said...

Amen. Merry Christmas, Dave.

David Warkentin said...

Yes Ryan, Merry Christmas to you as well!

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