Emmanuel, God with us
Tiny baby, mother cradling there
Flesh and blood,
toes, fingers, eyes and hair
Come to save the world from sin
Come to show us how God loves
Come to teach, to laugh, to cry
Come to live like you and I
Come to die
Emmanuel, God with us
Come to save from chains of sin
But only if we let him in.
Darkness falls early
The night lingers long
Life’s maze a puzzle
Wrong turns, dead ends
Struggles and doubts
Frail, fragile flesh
Then just short of quitting
Eyes struggling to see
A flicker of light
A promise fulfilled
Another glimpse of glory
Faith’s eyes open wide
Christmas comes in Winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the darkest time of the year, but so often it is a dark time for people because the advertisements promise joy and plenty, family and friends, love and kindness. Even folks in the Southern Hemisphere experience shrouds of that darkness. Why? Because Christmas is not about all that…Christmas is Emmanuel, God With US! He is with us whether we are having a great year or an unbelievably lousy one.
All we have to do is OPEN OUR EYES and BELIEVE.
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
John 11:40 NIV
Four hundred years without a word
Four hundred years performing the sacrifices, following the traditions, interpreting and reinterpreting the laws and the prophets
Four hundred years of squabbles among religious leaders, with two main parties, the Pharisees and the Sadducees emerging
Four hundred years of humanistic, ritualistic, legalistic and for the Sadducees, pragmatic and progressive actions.
Four hundred years without a word.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
He came for all, but some had wrapped themselves so tightly in their own interpretations, their own way of doing things, their own defensive stances that
His voice was unrecognizable. Their ears so attuned to their own rhetoric that He became the enemy.
Emmanuel, God with us, how will we respond?
“Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.””
Isaiah 30:20-21 NIV
Emmanuel, God with us, Will WE HEAR HIS VOICE?
The paradox is that people who cease all pretenses of personal strength, admitting their weakness, are often the ones others see as brave, strong, and all together.
God delights in taking the ordinary, the cowardly, the folks with rough edges to dare the most and accomplish the most in the dark places.
Consider Mary and Joseph. A couple, who their individual roles, their individual acquiescence to their places in the salvation of the world differed. Both lives bear witness to their submission which brought the Light to the world, protected and loved that Light, and raised him to manhood.
People, who own up to their sins, their powerlessness, their need for help,
People, who end up slam dunked by life, whose song line “I’ve been down so far it looks like up to me”,
People who in a moment of revelation, murmur like Mary did, “Behold the handmaiden[the servant] of the Lord.”
People, like you and I, who never intend to act courageously, who tremble in their boots in the dark but who admit those feelings and rely on God,
These are the ones who shine in the darkness.
While people, so caught up in their own bravado and ambition, who cannot get off the image treadmill, find they are running scared. Yet, even these, if they lay down their pretense, admit their weakness, can become strong.
The saddest people cling to the World and its expectations, seeking power of wealth, health, popularity, notoriety, beauty, and influence. Clinging to threads of image even as they age and wither. Refusing to turn loose of of the fraying rope attached to the false world they’ve built to trust God’s arms to catch them.
Living the Great Paradox–when I am weak then He is strong–requires turning loose.
Living the Great Paradox requires trusting His arms to catch you.
Living the Great Paradox requires a radical shift of belief from a broken world’s promises to belief that God always keeps His promises.
Living the Great Paradox requires that like Mary, the handmaiden of the Lord, like Jesus in the garden, the prayer “Thy Will be Done.”
To do so, changes everything for the Christian…it is the stuff of heroes
How does the admission of weakness before the Lord, who, by the way, knew it all the time, manifest in daily life?
How does the admission of weakness appear as we open our vulnerability to others?
How can submission to his plans, his direction, benefit?
How does ‘when I am weak, then he is strong’ play out?
Will it bring richness, fame, popularity, health?
Consider what the ’emptying’ of himself, what leaving heaven, what becoming Emmanuel ACCOMPLISHED for all who would believe and follow.
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Philippians 2:5-11 NIV. [bold, mine]
May God bless us as we allow our weakness to be filled with his strength so that others may drop their defenses and bravado before Emmanuel, that we may serve one another with his love, which is our greatest strength. Amen
My 6th grade teacher, Mr. Wilson, brought persimmons to class, told us how sweet they were and we ate the “mouth puckering” unripened fruit. Imagine in today’s world if that were to happen in a classroom.
Mr. Wilson was right. Persimmons when ripe are very sweet. The fruit of the spirit in the life of the believer when mature sweetens the world. Freedom in Christ infuses the tender fruit with the nutrients to mature.
We are free as we navigate the road to the manger. How we live free among non-believers matters. Excuses for impatience, unkindness, lack of self control because we are stressed, but ‘thank God, forgiven’, erodes the power of freedom in Christ.
The fruit of the Spirit becomes like unripened persimmons, sucking joy from the journey. Freedom misused contaminates. Freedom used to love and serve nurtures.
Choose to live freely enabled to love. Choose the nutrients necessary to become ripened fruit appealing and nurturing to those who need it most.
My attitude and my actions make a difference, but how I choose comes from how connected I remain to the living Vine. The sweetness of the persimmon depends on its maturity.
“It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?”
Galatians 5:13-15 MSG
Never held Bethlehem’s Babe
Or cradled him in my arms
Never tended sheep
Never heard Heaven’s Host
Burst forth with song
Or followed a star like the Magi did.
But I have held a baby
Cradled in my arms
Heard music inspired by the divine
Heard singing from choirs indeed sublime.
Stood on a hill on a crystal clear night
Amazed that stars great ships can guide
Read the words:
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.”
Perceived Truth not revealed by senses
Joined the great cloud of witnesses bound by faith.
And experienced the very presence of Emmanuel
So I have to tell.
Initial reactions to our fellow travelers, so many who do not seek the Christ child. Instead the masses appear caught up in holiday cheer and materialism that leaves them exhausted, inebriated, and often angry. With no vision beyond the celebration, all the cheer in the world cannot fill the emptiness.
This journey may be the only opportunity some people have to find Jesus, the real Jesus. You may be the only one who speaks graciously and attractively to them.
Do not be afraid to engage people of other beliefs or no belief in conversation. Listen to their statements. Listen to their questions, overt or covert. Respond from your heart, the very heart where the Holy Spirit resides.
Engage your fellow travelers today.
“Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.”
Colossians 4:5-6 NLT
There are no shortcuts to Bethlehem. Other roads will lead you astray. What appears to be the straighter course will cause you to lose your way.
There are no shortcuts to Bethlehem. Follow the star! Follow the angels! Don’t be distracted by crowds, noise, seasonal displays. If you seek the Babe, and stay the course, you will find the way.
Find time today to watch and pray. Find time to offer kindness. Find time to rest with the Prince of Peace, let his presence be the light that shows the way.
There are no shortcuts to Bethlehem. There is really only THE WAY!
“Show me the right path, O LORD; point out the road for me to follow.”
Psalms 25:4 NLT