Christmastime in the Hope of Immanuel: Part Two

If you have not read part one, you may do so here.

The miracle of Immanuel always leaves room for deep reflection. From the time of nativity until the moment Jesus ascended into heaven, He fulfilled a mission. He was the promised one. He was the awaited one. His mission was to address mankind’s biggest problem. He lived a perfect life imputed to those who, from centuries past and for centuries to come, find life in His name. He suffered on behalf of sinners the fate all those bound in flesh and blood are bound, enduring the wrath of God. He descended to the depths and on the third day, emerged victorious over death and the grave, giving us a glimpse of what is to come.

The incarnation is pivotal to it. The sinless became sin for the sinful so we might be saved. There is no greater love than this. There is no greater Love than His. If this was all that could be said of the work of Christ Jesus, it would be enough.

Yet beyond taking care of my biggest problem, Jesus, both God and man, had a ministry – to love and serve in human form. He is not only the Perfect Priest offering a sacrifice once for all, but an intercessing one. This is most distinct from both past and contemporary religious leaders. I am painting with a large brush stroke here, but from what I know of those worshiped or followed in other religions, they either lead with authority or in compassion. Some offer “saving” (most often, save yourself) and others “loving” as the way to higher living. The triune God of the Bible offers both saving and serving.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb. 4

After Jesus came in flesh, He continued His mission and at the same time, met humanity in service. In the gospels, I am in awe of His response when met by sinners, poor and needy. He did not pass them by. In some accounts, it is said that He indiscriminately healed everyone He encountered (see Matthew 4 & 8, Luke 4 & 6). He wept with those who wept. He rejoiced with those who rejoiced. He felt hunger. He enjoyed fellowship. He entered in to all kinds of human suffering and frailty— casting out demons, healing, and providing for physical needs— to both fulfill the prophecies and moved with compassion. He did not only see needs, he felt them in His skin, and He did not leave those who came to Him as they once were.

He loved His neighbors like no other— both for His people as substitute and as a servant.

This gives me hope today as I think about the flesh and blood babe in the manger. The ones most aware of our neediness ~those abandoned, betrayed, exhausted, childless, sick, lonely, rejected, widowed, orphaned, suffering in every other kind of way~ our Savior also sympathizes with us because He walked among us. When it seems like no one sees us and no one understands, Immanuel does.

This Christmas, I want to sit with you vomit-covered or (hopefully) not, as a person in need of everything God has done and still promises. I wish to marvel at these things, sit with their weight in my chest, and wonder at the curious, compassionate nature of His ways.

God, in the person and work of Christ Jesus, has demolished our biggest problem and proves that He cares deeply about all our smaller ones. Our cries for help, when confronted with our biggest problem, sin, and all the myriad of others, suffering, reach the heavens into the ears of our Great High Priest. The God who has and will intervene. The One who came to save will come again to redeem. In the meantime, I pray for an increased awareness that I do not have a Savior who is unaware or indifferent toward joys and pains of life even now. He is Immanuel— God with us.

Lord I believe, help my unbelief.

 

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Christmastime, in the Hope of Immanuel: Part One

Wrapped in the close and distant memory and not leaving much to be desired highlighting the expanse of human experience,  I feel the most deep, complex nostalgia in this holiday. I have read several written pieces that speak to the profound implications of the incarnation and its anticipation in advent. The ones I have enjoyed the most resonate the deepest, not necessarily because of their articulation of fact (which is always appreciated), but because they understand our ~my~ need. This has been the busiest year and I have felt my limitations more over the past several months than in years past. Who knew the pre-teen years could be so volatile;)! When someone, somewhere hints that I am not alone as I sit here, feeling so much mix of deep joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, remembering Christmases past trying to feel something of the present, as the holy season is whirling by, I take a breath.

In another attempt to thwart the holiday bustle, my husband and I took the kids to Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God concert at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. It was quite the trip. I honestly felt like I was escaping the less desirable parts of the holiday— the ridiculous traffic, long to do lists, short tempers (including my own), the pressures, and all that is between— as we headed out. But the craziness went with me! I was overwhelmed as we hauled the luggage to the van, hurried as we traveled down the highway, anxious as we tossed our belongings in our hotel room and searched for a quick dinner, and exhausted as we landed in a clump in our seats before the concert. Literally covered in vomit, as one of my sweet gals had a bit of first-concert-jitters that spilled right out of her soon after our arrival, I listened, viscerally aware of human plight. (I just want to take this opportunity to apologize to those who sat around me with sensitive olfactory senses. So sorry people.) I don’t know about you, but this year for me has been so full. Not only was I spent physically, mentally, and emotionally from the trip down, but I am spent physically, mentally, and emotionally, from the year. I feel my humanity more and more as years progress and I wasn’t sure that anyone around me understood.

From the sound of the first guitar strum, I was enamored again at the thematic sounds of the season. I have always loved music and once again, found it to be a balm. The experience was fantastic. The artistry, benevolent and beautiful.

The triplets fell asleep right as the Behold the Lamb portion began. This was why we made the trip, as the music tells the story of the birth of Jesus through Old Testament history and the prophets. It is well-loved in our house. It is always ironic to me that even though I work so hard to make something work out, as the point of what we have planned to do arrises, someone misses it somehow! With my big kids self-sufficient, their rest was actually a mercy to me in a way. Four year olds move some part of their bodies constantly and their stillness allowed me to also be still. All the pieces well crafted with unique yet cohesive melodies. There is a song right toward the end where several vocalists echo lines from previous songs. It always seems appropriate to hear echoes of the past in present, like this Theme song. It is a lovely, chaotic, melodious sound, mixing past with present. The lyrics were so moving, I felt a collective sigh rising up, as the cries of the phrases, “pass over us”, “deliver us” and “glory to Jesus, ancient and strong,  come to your people, carry us home”  moved from my overwhelmed heart to my lips.

In my experience, echoes of the past live simultaneously in the present. I remember joyful gatherings with families intact, the ones that follow with dear ones missing, first Christmases with Micah as newlyweds, those waiting and aching for children, first celebrations with my big boys, miscarriages, realizing I have far more than I deserve, feeling anxiety over not enough, three babies in-womb, relationships gained, relationships lost, seasons of sickness and isolation, times of wellness and celebration— the list goes on. My life story reprise plays on and on. Regardless of experiential joys or pain, there lives beneath the surface a cry for intervention. A stubborn neediness. Who knows this song better than I? Who knows all the parts that make up the whole? When I cry for deliverance, Who knows the references of experiences past? Who is outside the bounds of my limited understanding creating the even larger theme? The Creator and Center of remembrance and the One who has intervened, the God who came to be us—Immanuel.

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