Emmanuel, God with us.
There’s a lot riding on that little word “with.” What exactly does “with” mean? The Hebrew scriptures describe God as being “with” the first people, walking with them in the garden in the cool of the night. Later God was with the Israelites in different forms as they fled Egypt and navigated the desert. God was with them in a pillar of fire and of cloud. God was present with them in the Tabernacle – that portable tent set up as a place where heaven and earth met. Eventually, when Solomon built and dedicated the magnificent temple, God descended in what Scripture calls shekinah or glory, filling the space with a thick presence that prevented the priests from entering. What was that presence like? It was palpable and visible and material. And it was intermittent.
And then … Christmas.
Speaking of material, have you ever witnessed a birth? Live? On video or documentary? In your own body? It’s messy. And painful. And exhausting. It’s noisy and often frantic. Women sometimes say things they don’t mean. It’s not the kind of image we have on Christmas cards, is it? Mary is perfectly composed looking serene, sitting up or on her knees in worship over the Christ-child; always attentive to Baby Jesus and the guests who show up unannounced. Ancient art and icons are even more sanitized, depicting Mary and chubby Jesus as smiling and haloed, no disheveled hair or bags under her eyes! Fair enough. This is a sacred and O Holy Night – God bursting forth into creation through the womb of a teenager, the cry of a baby, and bodily fluids. There’s a reverence that Christianity has wanted to preserve and yet, isn’t the point of the incarnation that God took on flesh with all of its mess and bodily fluids? That God is WITH us in an irreversible, material, embodied way? God so loved the world that God became part of it, putting a divine stamp of approval on it, demonstrating the dignity and the destiny that is ours; when He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
Christmas celebrates the incarnation of God in human flesh, through human flesh.
Emmanuel – God with us.
As you ponder the meaning and impact of that today, may you fall on your knees, feel a thrill of hope, and maybe, just maybe, hear angel voices if only in the laughter of family and friends.
Merry Christmas, Lakeside. May your homes be filled with the wonder of God-with-us, as us, and for us.
Reflection Question: What does it mean to you that God incarnates, embodies your life in such a real and personal and bodily way? That God chose to use bodies to carry God’s image, God’s redemption, God’s mission?