God With Us
“Now all this happened in order to make come true what the Lord had said through the prophet, ‘A virgin will become pregnant and have a son, and he will be called Immanuel’ (which means, ‘God with us’)." - Matthew 1:22-23
That wonderful season is upon us again, that time when we gather together with our family and friends to celebrate the birth of our Lord, Jesus. And although our traditions may differ, during this special holiday we seem to make an extra effort to be near those who are important to us. Airports are crowded, mail is slowed, and highways are packed as we try our best to share the beauty of this time.
We often see those things as trials we have to endure in order for Christmas to come. And from time to time we may even get angry that they are distracting us from the real reason for the season. I’m not so sure. You see, just as we long to be close to our loved ones now, so God longed to be close to the ones he loved. That’s us. And because he loved us so much, he sent his only son to be near us. The first chapter of John tells us that in the person of Jesus, God became human and lived among us. That’s the kind of love we celebrate this month.
Of all the names we use to refer to Jesus, the one we use at Christmas is perhaps the most appropriate. For as Matthew told us above, Immanuel means, “God with us.” Now that’s not just a catchy phrase or a line from your favorite Christmas carol, for when Jesus was born, God was truly with us. He was with us way back then and he is still here with us today. And that’s important to each of us as we try our best to live our lives of faith. But this time of year it is easy to remember that. As we sing our songs and exchange our gifts and enjoy our families, reminders of God’s presence are all around us. But what about later, after the tree is down, the decorations are put away, and the family has all gone home? Do we remember God’s presence then?
We should. For the promise of Immanuel is not just a promise for December. It’s not meant to be celebrated once a year and then put away in a box in the attic. For when God came to be with us, he came to be with us forever. And even when our parties have ended and our packages are all unwrapped, God is still here. Waiting and wanting to be a part of our life throughout the year. It’s only up to us to make him feel welcome.
This is an incredibly busy time for rural pastors. The services are numerous, attendance is usually up, and activities abound. We are often challenged and perhaps even a bit stressed by the many obligations that crowd our calendars and our perceptions that each activity is essential to providing a meaningful experience to each of our members. In the process of doing Advent and Christmas it is actually possible to miss out on our own celebration of the season. I have to admit that there have been times when I have come up for air after the Christmas Eve service and realized that everyone else has been celebrating but me. And while it is understandable how we might fall into that trap, it is completely unnecessary. Because the most basic lesson that we learned in seminary applies to this time as well – it is not about us.
Pastors and church leaders are more than just paid employees in the Christmas service machine. Like everyone else in the church, this time is for us as well. When God came to be with us, he came to be with us, too. Not just those in the pew, but everyone who calls Jesus Lord. Therefore, it is up to each one of us, pastors especially, to make an effort to remember that this season is not about what we do, but what we receive. And the greatest gift of all was given in the name of the child we celebrate this week. I hope you will take the time to experience the Christ, not just tell others about him, as you celebrate the nativity with your family, your church community, and your own faith.
In the spirit of his love, Merry Christmas!