SERVICE VIDEO (link)
TEXT: Lessons and Carols
I remember sitting with a teenager one time many years ago after her father had died in an untimely way. She asked me why God would let that happen. And that scenario or something like it has happened more times than I can count over the years of ministry. Someone is facing an indescribable loss, or challenge, or disappointment, and they ask me – or maybe they ask you – why God would let that happen.
And here’s the thing: there are some theological answers to questions like that. But they can’t answer every situation. More importantly they don’t seem to be what people really need in those moments. I realized that pretty early on as well. Rather, what people seem to need most in moments like those is for someone to be with them, physically and emotionally present, as if to say, “You are not alone.” There seems to be something deeper and more significant about relationship and community than simply having intellectual or philosophical answers for hard questions.
And at the end of the night, after all the scriptures and songs about sin, a curse, God’s salvation plan of rescue, the mission, the Kingdom, and all the rest of the Good News, one of the most significant things I think Christmas offers us is the demonstration that we are not alone. God is with us in Christ, in the flesh, as a human being, one of us, along with us.
Jesus is indeed the answer to our sin and separation from God. Jesus is indeed the Rescuer and Deliverer. Jesus indeed came to announce the Kingdom of God and invite us into fellowship with God and citizenship in that Kingdom. But first and before any of that happens, Jesus is God coming all the way down to where we are – waiting room, kneeling on the floor, full of questions and doubt, helpless to ‘fix’ or improve our situation – and saying, “I am here, with you.” That is the first and deepest meaning of Christmas and the Incarnation: God is with us, right here and right now.
Isn’t that Good news? And Jesus is God with us in all our humanity, with our questions, our suffering, our temptations, our pain. Jesus is with us; God is with us.
That “ministry of presence” is a gift we can give each other, offering our time and our ear and our attention. And it’s something we learn from God because that’s what God did in Jesus. He came near to walk among us, feel what we feel, and hurt like we hurt. You are not alone!
I think we romanticize Mary and Joseph, but they were struggling with the unexpected birth, the weight and responsibility of the angel message, with the travel during pregnancy, no room to stay, and then labor and delivery. And yet, God was with them… in their case literally with them in Jesus Emmanuel.
Another part of their struggle along with all the people of their day was living under the Roman Empire, with its taxes and sometimes brutal rule. The great hope of Mary and Joseph’s people was for the Messiah, the Deliverer God would send. And Jesus was that Messiah and Deliverer, though first he would be God among His people, with His people.
You all look so beautiful and joyful, but I have some idea of how much people are struggling. I know some of the prayers you pray, the questions you ask, and the struggles you face. And I don’t have answers for many of those things. What I do have I can share with you tonight. It is the news that in Christ, God is with us. God is here. God is with YOU. God is with you in your joys and disappointments. God is with you in health and in sickness. God is with you in certainty and in doubt. God is with you in plenty and in want.
God did not remain distant and aloof. God does not simply snap His fingers to fix what needs fixing. Rather God promises never to leave us, never to forsake us. God promises to walk with us through the valley of darkness. God took on humanity to walk and live and suffer and die alongside us.
Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. Hallelujah, Amen.