Where is God in the face of war, famine, terrorism, and natural disaster? Where is God in the realities of violence, addiction, abuse, and neglect? There is much to celebrate in this season, but for many around the world and right here at home, life is difficult beyond our understanding. This is the paradox of the world in which we live. There is excruciating beauty and love, a new baby, a breathtaking sunset, the encouragement of a friend, the healing love of a family. There is also devastating loss and pain, not just far away in the refugee crisis, in war and the effects of war in foreign lands, but also in our own neighborhoods. Wounded veterans with lasting scars, those facing a shattering diagnosis or fresh loss, as well as families caught in the cycles of abuse, neglect, and addiction are all around us.
The truth is, for all of us, there are both beautiful and difficult realities in our lives. Herein lies the beauty of the Christmas story, the birth of the baby born in the manger. The power of this story is the promise fulfilled. Emmanuel….God with us. This baby enters into the beauty and difficulty of the world in which we live. He comes in to the mud and the muck of the stable, in to the journey full of trouble and danger. He comes to us humbly, with compassion and mercy to a broken and breaking world, and He travels with us. God with us.
This is our hope, that God isn’t far away, distant and somehow disconnected from our lives, but right here in the midst of it with us. Emmanuel, God with us. He rejoices in the beauty and love, and grieves the loss with us. It doesn’t make any sense, does it? God with us. He enters in to the broken heart, the confusion, the pain. He enters in to the crisis, the devastation, the gaping loss. He enters in to the family, the nation, the inner workings of our lives. Emmanuel, God with us.
He knows our lives, not as an observer, but as an engaged participant. He knows the terror, the discouragement, the pain, the loss, the emptiness, the confusion, and the grip of addiction that swirls through our lives, our hearts, our experience. He knows how that event, that circumstance, that look, that rejection, touches my heart. He understands, and He is with us in the darkness. While we flail around looking for a way out, He enters in. He joins us in the midst of our lives and brings hope. He is, the light in the darkness. Love, enters in. Emmanuel, God with us.
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
Luke 2: 8-14