I’ve had the pleasure of caroling twice this season, as well as doing Christmas music at church, leading the children’s choir, and singing in a choir full of wonderful senior citizens who have become my Opas and Omas (maybe I’d call a few of them Onkel and Tante, since I myself am now in my 40’s).
What I’ve been keenly aware of, not just in songs but in Christmas devotionals, sermons, and just about everywhere else is the theme God with us.
Simultaneously, my historical fiction series of the same title (Gott Mit Uns in German) has come back around to really dealing with that theme as I’ve taken the time to examine the life of one of my characters. Christian is handsome, likeable, and big-hearted in spite of his own suffering, but he is by no means a traditional hero-protagonist for my genre.
Christian’s story has caused me to reflect more deeply on the words God with us and what it means for God to have come down to be with us.
Sometimes as we sing Christmas carols in church, we forget that God with us isn’t just intended for a select few who have their stuff together and who are actively seeking to be good, holy, Christian people.
Christ’s coming was evidence that He desires to be with all of us. The Bible is clear that He didn’t discriminate between tax collector, prostitute, leper… in fact the people He had the hardest time being around were the super-religious. The people who thought they were doing all the right things. Yet He saw the multitudes, and it is on them that He had compassion.
Even the people with which He spent most of His time didn’t have their stuff together. I think the streaming series The Chosen does an amazing job of depicting the real-life struggles of Jesus’ disciples. Even Mary, who loves Him devoutly, allows herself to be drawn back into her old life during one episode.
This Christmas, an amazing realization of the meaning of God with us has come into my heart. The Bible starts out with the words In the beginning, God… Yet if He was there in the beginning, before creation, what on earth would He want to do with any of us, especially if the Bible also tells us how quickly Adam and Eve messed up, and is full of stories of people continuing to mess up in major ways (David and Bathsheba come to mind)?
We all want to believe we’re good people, and most of us are, even if we can look into our hearts and see all the ways in which we still fall short of perfection. However, there are many people out there who are plagued by those shortcomings, and if they were to be truly honest, they would say they are beset by them and can’t find a way out.
The problem is, God also says He is Holy and that sin can’t dwell in His presence. This makes it all the more amazing that He sent Jesus down to a sinful, messy place like Nazareth. It makes it all the more amazing that He befriended a woman named Mary of Magdala, who was possibly some kind of demon-possessed prostitute. It makes it all the more amazing that He hung around with a bunch of guys who may have loved Him and wanted to follow Him, but were full of their own shortcomings and constantly trying to get ahead of one another.
God. Us. And, the word that links them together: with. He didn’t hesitate to send Jesus down to be with us. In fact, He knew it was absolutely necessary, so we could be sure that Jesus identified with us, in all the things that make us human. The Bible says He didn’t sin, but that He was tempted to do so in every way we are.
As I think about this, it would be easy to assume that Jesus just looks at us and says, “Well if I can be tempted and yet not sin, then you can do it too.” But that’s not the point. The point is that He knows the struggle, He feels our pain, and He wants to help as we struggle through things. I think of the times I’ve seen my children fall into the same dumb things I used to get myself into. Or maybe an unmarried friend is struggling with getting into one bad relationship after another. I don’t have to berate them: I can sympathize, I can pray, and I can comfort, because I’ve been there. Rather than slamming the door in their face because I think they’re being stupid, I can throw open the door to my heart and wrap them in arms of compassion. I can listen and not judge. My advice is tempered with the fact that I know how hard it is to simply stop a behavior.
If we’ve been really hurt by someone important in our lives, especially a parent, it is hard to believe—to trust—that God wants to do that. We’re almost positive He’s going to slam the door in our face if we can’t get our act together. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but some day. I get that too. I spent years wondering when the other shoe was going to drop.
I know how hard it can be to learn to trust God, and I don’t believe for a second that He is put off by our baby steps. Sometimes we feel we can’t meet the demands of our church, our Christian friends, or other religious sources that seem to be demanding extreme demonstrations of faith. I think that Christ’s coming is evidence that God truly wants to meet us where we’re at. In a manger. An animal’s feeding trough. To a young girl who was keenly aware of the ways she fell short of the honor God was bestowing upon her:
Humble is the Greek word tapeinosis, which can mean spiritual abasement, leading one to perceive and lament his moral littleness and guilt (Thayer’s Lexicon). In other places it is translated humiliation or even the state of being vile. I don’t think she’s being hyperbolic or taking on false humility. Perhaps she wasn’t an extremely sinful person, but this statement evidences that she was thoroughly aware of her own inability toward perfection, and her knowledge that she herself needed a Savior.
Christmas is difficult for many people. Many spend the whole season in a general sense of discomfort, not truly able to enter into a joy that is supposed to be for the whole world. Others bask in this joy for weeks, only to crash into a state of despair after the season has passed. I am reminded that Jesus was a man of sorrows and born with the knowledge that He would one day die a horrible death. It is not something of which we like to be reminded at Christmas, but it is part of the story—part of His saga. I have characters about which I am currently writing, and I already know the end of their story. It breaks my heart and I wish I could change their trajectory. But, it is their purpose. They’re just fictional. Jesus had a real life with a real purpose. He also knew that He wouldn’t stay dead (hence we celebrate the Resurrection at Easter). For the joy set before Him He endured the cross. Part of that joy was knowing that He would be with His own again.
It is evidence of how much He wants to be with us. If you are struggling to trust that God really loves you and has your best interest at heart, if Christmas is a bane for you instead of a delight, perhaps there is one truth you can cling to as you go through the season, and through the coming months of winter in which so many of us suffer an extra-large dose of fatigue, sickness and misery: God desires to be with me.
Write it on a card and tape it somewhere you’ll see it every day. Sometimes we need that constant reminder!
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Praying for you this holiday season!