God with Us

Renfroe

Renfroe

By Rob Renfroe –

Life can be confusing, and our way is often dark. Sometimes it’s as dark and cold as a winter’s night. A lot of people feel like they’re alone: no one smiling down on them, no one looking out for them, no one really understanding what they face, who they are, or what they feel inside.

Funny, for some people, the Christmas season is when they feel most alone. Maybe it’s the crowds that surround us. Or maybe it’s the Norman Rockwell expectations we have that this year all the family will be together, everyone will get along, all the past will be forgotten, and everything will be just perfect – like a Christmas card.

Maybe it’s the time of the year. You step outside into the night near Christmas, and it’s dark and it’s cold and it’s quiet. Strangely quiet. The air is heavy, the sounds are muffled, and the only thing you hear is your own heart beating. A lot of people, deep down they feel alone, they live alone. And for some reason, it seems to be worse at Christmas.

There are many reasons that a baby named Jesus was born into our world. But one of the most important reasons was so you would never have to be alone at Christmas. He was born so you would never have to face a dark night, or a cold world, or a lost cause alone. He was born so you would know there is someone who is looking down and smiling on you, someone who understands you, someone who knows your fears and remembers your sorrows, someone who believes in you and dreams for you. There is someone who knew you before you knew yourself, and no matter where you’ve wandered or what you’ve done, he wants to walk through this world with you.

Why is there a Christmas? Because God didn’t want you ever to be alone. In the Old Testament, God made a promise. Isaiah 7:14 says, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel – which means God with us.” Throughout the Old Testament, the people believed in God. They always believed in God above us. When they sinned, they believed in God against us. And when they did everything right they were able to believe in God for us. But not God with us. Not in the way they needed most.

Not with us like a mother or a father is with a child. Not with us enough to understand what it’s like to be human, a little speck in a monstrously large universe. Not with us enough to feel what it’s like to be one soul against the world, to give your best and see it do no good, to give your heart only to be rejected, to cry at night because those you love are hurting and you can’t take their pain away. They couldn’t believe that God was with us, not like that. So they always wanted someone between God and them: a Moses, a priest, a prophet.

But God wanted to be more than God above us, or God against us, or even God for us. It was in the heart of God to be God with us. It was in his heart to be God with you, so you would never have to be alone – not on Christmas, and not on the best day of your life, and not on the worst day of your life. So what God promised through Isaiah came to pass. The virgin, her name was Mary – the virgin was with child. She gave birth in a Bethlehem stable. The child was Immanuel, God with us. And we call him Jesus.

Let life do to you what it will. Let it take your dreams. Let it take your health. Let it take your loved ones. Let it take your ability to get it all figured out and to make sense of it all. But don’t ever let it take from you the certainty that God is with you, that he will never forsake you, and you are not alone. Wherever you are, whatever you’re facing, God is already there. In the person of Jesus he has been there before you and he’s there with you now. Jesus came to be with us in the cold, dark night that is too often our world, and he knows what it’s like to be you. He knows what you feel when your friends desert you, because his friends deserted him. He knows what it’s like for your enemies to mock you, because his enemies mocked him. He knows what it’s like when one you loved betrays you, because he was betrayed. You’re not alone.

He knows the pain of crying beside a loved one’s grave, when death has torn a chasm in your heart that seems larger than you are and you feel like you’re falling in. He’s been there. You’re not alone. He knows what it’s like to be tempted. He knows what it’s like to struggle to do the Father’s will, even to the point of sweating blood. He knows what it’s like to suffer and to be bruised in body and in spirit. He even knows how hot the breath and how cold the fingers of death are when the final hour comes.

Why? Because he is not God against us. He is not only God above us. He is even more than God for us. He is Immanuel – God with us. Our God is not far off and distant. He is not up there untouched by our suffering and our pain. Our God, no other god but our God, has scars. Scars that he received because he came to live in the same cruel world we live in, because he came to be Immanuel – God with us.

In Matthew’s Gospel, after the baby Jesus grew to be a man, after he was persecuted, and crucified, buried and resurrected – before he returned to be with the Father – he made the most amazing promise. Matthew 28:18-20 says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” His final promise? I will continue to be Immanuel. I will always be with you. No matter what you face, that will be enough.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time and his greatest book is The Brothers Karamazov. Not an easy read, but it’s an incredibly insightful look at the human psyche and at faith in a complex and cruel world. One brother, Ivan, is a rationalist who cannot believe in a God who allows so many innocent people, children especially, to suffer. His brother, Alyosha, is a novice priest, kind and gentle. His brother’s rebuke of the justice of God, his insistence upon a philosophical answer for evil, cuts young Alyosha to the heart. Dostoyevsky, himself a Christian, provides through Alyosha no theoretical rebuttal, no philosophical apologetic to Ivan’s accusations. Instead he simply answers that God knows and God cares because God is with us. He tells his brother about one who came to live among us, more innocent than anyone who has ever lived, and yet he was tortured by evil men, his blood was spilled, and his life was taken. The one who did this was God among us. More than that – he was God with us.

As God with us, he experienced our suffering and our brokenness and the injustice and the evil that is our world. He was touched by all that harms and horrifies us and tells us we are not alone. Sometimes I wish I had a better answer. But what answer is there that could make what happened in Newton, Connecticut, or Aurora, Colorado, or the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, or the historic church in Charleston, South Carolina, or the community college in Oregon, somehow all right or acceptable or understandable? Sometimes I wish I had a better answer. But I’ve learned over the years that there is no better answer.

There are some pains, some questions, some losses that we never really get over. We have to live with them. But we can live – we can live lives that are full and that bless others –if even while we carry that loss we know that we are not alone, and we are sure that God is with us.

The presence and the love of God can bring the healing and the wholeness that all the words in the world could never provide. Words are often forgotten. And answers, when we’re hurting, even if they’re the right answers, often are hard to hear. But someone who is with us, his hand on our face, that’s how healing begins. God is with us.

I used to wish I had a better answer for people who suffer and for people who are mistreated and for people who feel alone. But not anymore. Because what I have is better. I have a story. It’s the story of a God who came among us because he loves us. I have a promise – that a child has been born and his name is Immanuel. And wherever life takes us, he is already there.

I’ve learned that the best answer I can ever give is God is with you and he will never leave you or forsake you. And that is enough.

Rob Renfroe is the president and publisher of Good News.

Comments

  1. Rev. Douglas G. Barton says

    Great article. It was so good I would like your permission to share it with my congregation in worship.
    Thank you and God Bless.
    Thank you all at Good News for all your hard work.

    Merry Christmas

  2. Connie Eichinger says

    I oo would like to share this with my congregation during the Blue Christmas Service in Faith, SD. Thank you for your words, they go to the heart. Have a Merry Christmas

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