The ongoing glory of Christmas is the fact of EMMANUEL, God with us.
How can we begin to comprehend this incomprehensible wonder, that the Divine presence is fully with each of the billions of people on this earth? And how can we begin to realize that this is personal? That God is with us, and with our loved ones, at each moment?
In every challenge, every need, every joy, every growth, God is with us. Whether or not we believe it. We don’t need to do anything to make this happen; God is already here. There. And everywhere.
My challenge to you, and to myself, is to become increasingly aware of this truth. In Psalm 16:11 David said, “In God’s presence is fullness of joy.” Instead of focusing on our needs, inadequacies, fears, or disappointments, let’s shift our focus to this miraculous presence. Just start, and see what happens.
Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi – The Adoration of the Magi, c. 1440
On Christmas Eve I sat in a beautiful sanctuary. The majestic pipe organ and exquisite choir provided soaring music. Everything was in place for a wonderful celebration of faith, but I was surrounded by doubt and had questions of my own.
Many of us were grieving for departed loved ones; struggling with fear, anger, rejection, and disappointment; unsure of the very existence of God; caught in the grip of dread disease; asking hard questions in search of truth, and not getting any immediate answers. But we were there.
I imagine there was plenty of unbelief on that first Christmas, before the angels appeared. What did Mary wonder, as she pushed through labor without anesthesia? What were Joseph’s doubts? What fears haunted the shepherds as they watched their sheep, what griefs dogged the wise men as they traveled far from home? What crises of faith challenged the participants in that blessed event? And yet, they were there.
The Light of the world came for them in their doubt, for us in our unbelief. Callie Crawford has said that “faith is not certitude.” Our faith ebbs and flows; our confidence moves from high to low and back to high; our strength waxes and wanes with each passing day. But the Light of Love is here, always here, for each of us. Whether or not we see, or believe, or understand. It is here, even now. Emanuel.
Meister der Kahriye-Cami-Kirche, Journey to Bethlehem mosaic at Chora in Istanbul, circa 1315-1320.
Yesterday I went to the Office of Vital Records for a death certificate for my dear husband, who passed into eternal life on December 8.
I cried plenty in the months and weeks leading up to his passing, but not a bit after that until I stood in that gloomy government office yesterday. When Stevie Wonder’s “Always” came over their sound system, though, I heard the truth in the song, and wept.
Billy was a man of strong opinions and massive gifts. He didn’t love perfectly (and who among us loves perfectly?) but he loved deeply, truly, fiercely. He loved—loves—for always. And I believe to the core of my soul that he loves us freely now, unfettered by pain or any other human weight.
If you have lost a treasured friend, if you wonder about your own mortality, know this and be comforted: Love is from God, and it never dies. The love that we receive and the love we give will never go away. Love is for always.
Wilbert E. “Billy” Brown, Jr., with our youngest granddaughter.
Stevie Wonder, “Always” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyFypz1lya8
I generally welcome new experiences, but this one is difficult to embrace: my husband of 27 years is in hospice care, with “days-to-weeks” left to live on earth.
This slow dying is painful, for me and for the kids, beyond words. Billy (hubby) is receiving comfort meds so he is in no physical pain. No attempt is being made to prolong his life; we’re allowing the natural process to occur, as he wanted; so now we have to wait.
But as we walk through this valley of the shadow of death, with no idea of what the next day will bring, I know this: God is with us. He has promised hope and comfort, which he grants on a daily basis. I have the assurance that the life which waits for Billy is far better than anything this world can offer. So it is time for me to embrace this new experience, to recognize and believe that even the waiting is working for our good, and to be deeply grateful for all the wonderful folks who are walking through the valley with us. Death was defeated long ago, and its shadow can’t hurt us.
Cornelis Huysmans, landscape, 1675
In my morning devotional reading, John 11 (ESV), a few words slapped me this morning. “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer…” (verses 5 and 6).
That seems backwards. When you hear that someone you love needs you, you leap up and race to help! You don’t just sit around and wait! This mindset leads us to feel that God doesn’t love us when he doesn’t do what we want, when we want it.
But sometimes God waits: not to punish us, not even to test us, but in order to give us what’s best. I think Jesus’ loving heart pushed him to go to Bethany right away; but I think his godly mind overruled his heart, and he waited. He gave what was best. Eventually Martha, and Mary, and poor dead Lazarus all saw that.
What help do we need today? Let’s rest assured that God has not forgotten us. If he’s waiting to answer, it’s because he loves us.
Head of Christ, Georges Rouault.
I’ve always respected machines and admired their creators. The massive printer/copier at my job is no exception; it performs complicated jobs quickly and well. But it has one feature which I find annoying, mainly because I always forget. To print envelopes, they have to be fed into the machine face down. This made no sense to me, and I regularly grumbled about it until I finally realized that if I knew how the machine worked, it would make perfect sense.
Which led, of course, to a much more important realization: If I knew what God knows, I’d want him to do exactly what he’s doing.
These are difficult times, beyond words, for our family. There seem to be many more unknowns than knowns. And yet faith tells us that God has not changed: He is yet holy, yet loving, yet present, yet merciful, yet creating unimaginable good out of dire distress.
So we say “Yes, Lord.” And also “Amen. So be it.”
Photograph from sharp-world.com
We can learn a lot about ourselves by the questions that we’re asking. They often reveal whether we’re scared, angry, resentful, anxious, frustrated, or confused. They say a lot about where our attention is focused. And I’m beginning to think that a multitude of questions means our thoughts are on humans instead of on God.
There’s nothing wrong with asking who-what-when-where-why in prayer. We can always be honest before God. But after asking, let’s exercise spiritual discipline and commitment so we can yield to his way. Let’s voice our faith and confidence that he is yet working on our behalf. Let’s walk in the blessed assurance that he is by our side through every difficulty.
And then, as time goes by, though there will always be challenges in life, our questions will diminish and our deep joy will increase.
Robert Zund, The Road to Emmaus, 1877.