2020 Christmas: God With Us When No One Else Is
I haven’t historically been a fan of the Christmas season. Don’t get me wrong — I love Jesus, the gospel, the whole reason-for-the-season, but I’m not as into the extra stuff. If I decide to decorate, I usually give it a couple of weeks, and then I take it down the day after Christmas. There are a handful of Christmas movies that I’ll watch: always including The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Grinch, naturally. But this year was different on many levels.
The Covid-19 pandemic has kept people pretty isolated already, and I was no exception. Two separate quarantines, strict work protocols, and most recently, my mom testing positive just before Christmas. Keeping people separated is the way to slow the spread of this virus, but it’s not the way we were created to live.
In a season of loneliness and isolation, Christmas still came.
I wanted to be intentional during advent. I had the extra time, and I needed the sweetness of the holiday that I typically avoid. I was thinking about the Gospel of Matthew as we were preparing for our Christmas sermon series at work.
“‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us.”
We know this title given to Jesus before his birth. We sing songs about it, we hear it taught from the platform — but it was hitting differently for me. Another familiar verse closes out the book of Matthew, and it popped into my head.
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
I love the common word “with” in these verses, but they share another word that I’ve missed before — the word “behold.” Because both verses contain it and nothing is merely coincidence in the bible, I am interested. “Behold” means “to fix the eyes upon; to see with attention; to observe with care” (KJV Bible Dictionary). It’s not just to look or to listen. It’s to take in, to absorb, to allow what you are seeing to make an impression on you — maybe even to change you. “Behold” stops you in your tracks. You are about to hear something that has the power to alter the way you see everything. “Behold” is an invitation into the supernatural. You have encountered the presence of God. Don’t just look up, lean in. Lean in because each of these verses bookend a chapter all about our God who is in our midst.
This entire book is about a God who was born with us and a God who is always with us — from beginning to end.
A bigger-than-life, all-powerful, holy God chose to enter our world through scandal and mess to be with us. He didn’t come in the majesty that He deserves. He didn’t come to place Himself above us. He didn’t come to perfect parents, in a clean room, surrounded by family and friends. It was dirty, wild, and strange. He came to be seen, touched, and felt.
He came to us, as one of us, to be with us.
I have been captivated by a God who is with us — a God who is with me. Especially in this season when no one can be with me.
The only thing worse than loneliness is more loneliness. When there was already an ache for connection, a missing piece, a feeling of being left behind — then you are asked to socially distance, isolate, and stop sharing life with people. Now more than ever we need a God-with-us.
That doesn’t mean life will turn out exactly like you planned. It doesn’t mean you will never suffer. It doesn’t mean you won’t feel lonely. But our circumstances and feelings don’t negate the closeness of God. If I’m learning anything this season, I’m learning to quiet my mind, and set my heart toward the God who is in this with me especially when it doesn’t feel like it.
Maybe that’s just it. Maybe it’s simply God is with me even if it doesn’t turn out the way I hoped. God is with me even when I’m mad at Him. God is with me even when I mess up. God is with me even when it’s messy. God is with me even when I try to ignore Him.
And God is with me even when no one else is.
I’m writing this alone, after spending Christmas alone, and after years of feeling alone. But I know I’m not actually alone. And I’ll have to continue to remind myself of that truth.
God. With. Us. I can hardly believe it.