God With Us

by Pastor Vera Guebert-Steward

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As I write this, North Sinai is reeling from the worst militant attack on Egyptian soil with 300 people dead and 100 injured. Such stories of violence are commonplace anymore. Either in the US, England, France, or the Middle East, hatred and savagery are perpetrated upon innocent people; often people gathered in their houses of worship. The world is a dangerous and pretty harsh place. There has never been a more important and crucial time to seek the Son of God born in a manger; born in his own, turbulent world.

Soon we will enter the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. The Sunday lessons during Advent instill us with pensive anticipation of the coming of the Christ child. The Season of Christmas gives us the joyful opportunity to celebrate the birth of God’s own Son. And the Season of Epiphany manifests Jesus to the Gentiles. The characters we come face to face with during the Christmas and Epiphany seasons are rich with meaning. The Magi come humbly seeking an encounter with Baby Jesus. Mary bears her firstborn in a stable and Joseph relents and claims Jesus as his own baby child.

Barbara Brown Taylor believes that other than Jesus, Joseph is one of the more important characters of the Christmas story. It is his life that is so much like ours: “A just man who wakes up one day to find his life changed dramatically,” Taylor writes, “even wrecked: his wife pregnant, his trust betrayed, his name ruined, his future revoked. It is about a righteous man who surveys a mess he has had absolutely nothing to do with and decides to believe that God is present in it. He is the one in the story who is most like us, presented day by day by day with circumstances beyond our control, with lives we would never have chosen for ourselves, tempted to divorce ourselves from it all when an angel whispers in our ears: “Do not fear. God is here. It may not be the life you planned, but God may be born here, too, if you will permit it.”

That if, she writes, “is the real shocker – that God’s yes depends on our own, that God’s birth requires human partners – a Mary, Joseph, a you and a me – willing to believe the impossible, willing
to claim the scandal, to adopt it and give it our names, accepting the whole sticky mess and rocking it in our arms. Our lives, our losses, our Lord. And not just each of us alone, but the whole church of God, surveying a world that seems to have run amuck and proclaiming over and over again to anyone who will hear that God is still with us, that God is still being born in the mess and through it, within and among those who will still believe what angels tell them in their dreams.”

I hear it today in the midst of our agitated world; angels whispering in our ears, “Do not be afraid, for God is with you.” Without those words, we would be unable to rejoice. Without the angel’s song, promises would be shallow and hearts would remain broken. Without the angel’s proclamation of good tidings, our world would be lost forever in a state of disarray. Christ is born, the angels told the Shepherds, “born in the city of David.” Born in a place very near the heart of the violence and political struggle of Jesus’ day. His mommy and daddy were no less akin to the heart ache of human hatred than we are. Yes, into this untidiness, Jesus was born.

The Seasons of the church year we are about to enter are sacred; holy times that might still get disturbed by the ferocity of hatred, unkindness, and violence. We must listen for the angel’s voice, seek the Light and cradle the Son of God in our own hearts. This, my brothers and sisters, will be the only way to endure. God is with us; not just today but every day. It is a sure and certain promise that comes true in the baby in Bethlehem. Fear not. You are not alone and you never will be. Even in the harshest times, God is with us. Rest in these words and live into the anticipation, joy and light of the seasons before you.

Blessed Advent, Merry Christmas, and Happy, Happy New Year to my dear family of faith.