One of the names for God that you tend to hear used a lot more at this time of year is ‘Emmanuel’ meaning God with us…
It appears on countless Christmas cards, in some of the old carols we sing, and it is also enacted through countless nativity stories and plays at schools and nurseries everywhere.
But when you look just beyond all the cute little shepherds, kings, angels, and stars, in this manger scene which has been romanticised for some 2000 years, at the heart of the Christmas story is the simple yet life-changing message that He is Emmanuel, God with us.
I think that much of my early church upbringing encouraged too much separation between the secular and the sacred, and between the physical and the spiritual spaces, which can leave you feeling sort of divided and out of sorts.
But what adulthood has gradually been revealing to me is that there actually is no other way to find God, apart from in the ordinary and everyday grit of real life, experienced through our humanity.
And actually, every time I open up my Bible I am reminded of the fact that no one was more invested in our physical life, here on earth, than Jesus himself.
So for me, the Christmas story is firstly the much needed reminder that our God is not far off, distant or disinterested, and He’s not removed from our human experience either.
He is the God who actually chose to come down from heaven, to live as one of us here on planet earth, and to be a part of our human struggle…
So many people just see a baby in a manger when they look at the nativity story, yet fail to fully appreciate the truth that lies just beyond it, which is that the Almighty God took on all of our humanity, and He did it simply for the sake of drawing us near.
But not only did He come in human form, but as a new born baby, who was as tiny and vulnerable and defenceless as any human baby has ever been. And He came not just as any old baby either, but as one born out of wedlock, in some stables, into a displaced family, identifying as part of a persecuted people group, and without any particular human standing, advantage, or wealth.
To me, all of this speaks a God who chose to be a part of our human story, and to identify with our struggle. And not just as a one-time gesture either; because this same God is also still intimately engaged and involved in our lives, and it’s not even as if we need to look very hard for Him either. His very breath of life and His presence are within each one of us.
There are so many wonderful things to enjoy in this busy festive season, but often I find myself too distracted by all those other things that I fail to really even notice or remember this ‘God with us’ at all…
And this year I desperately don’t want to be so caught up in it all that I miss the chance to pause and remember. Because what I am discovering, is that whenever I actually do make time for that stillness and space, I still find Him there; still Emmanuel, still God with me – some 2000 years on.
And so my prayer for every reader is simply that you would experience Him as Emmanuel, God with you afresh this Christmas time, regardless of whatever else is happening in your life.
And my hope is that you discover anew that whenever you really look for Him, you still find that He is there; still all around; still speaking, still working, and still drawing close.