I woke up at 4:32 this morning. I had set the alarm for 5:30, but my body seemed to think that would not do. There was the knowledge that American Girl orders had to be processed by today in order to ensure delivery by Christmas. There was the overflowing email inbox. There was the intention to exercise regularly throughout this season, especially after two nights in a row (and early on in the week, no less) with parties that involved two glasses of wine.
‘Tis the season for stress, and yet I also love this time of year. Yes, I love the lights on the trees and the scent of wood burning fires and the almond cake our neighbors send. Yes, I love the cards and music and festivities. Yes, I love Marilee’s elf pajamas and William’s Carol of the Bells on the piano and Penny’s desire to buy gifts for all her friends. But beneath it all, beneath the noise and lights and clutter and busyness, I also love the story of the baby in the manger, the story of God with us.
I’ve been thinking this year about what this phrase– God with us –actually means. It comes from the word “Emmanuel,” first mentioned in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, and later given to Jesus by Matthew. John hints at the same idea when he says that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
I have been thinking about how easy it is to pretend to be with other people. I pretend to be with our kids every time I nod as if I’m listening but wander away in my thoughts or allow my eyes to linger on my phone. In the years when we considered moving into a low-income, predominantly black neighborhood, I wondered whether in moving there I would be pretending to be with those neighbors, pretending to experience life in a different socio-economic sphere. I imagined transporting myself–with the furniture and paintings we’ve inherited from grandparents–into a new house and new location, and I wondered whether I would really be moving into the neighborhood or just pretending to be there and then heading off to the shore for a vacation with my family.
I remember hearing a story about a missionary who went to a leper colony in order to tell the lepers about Jesus. According to the story, it was only once that missionary contracted leprosy himself, only when he was truly with them, that he understood them, that they listened to him.
God with us. God not pretending, but actually living with us. Not going on vacation from being human. Not escaping the reality of poverty and discomfort and danger but fully immersing himself in human suffering and joy, learning and loving. God with us, from birth to death.
And so I get to the end of days that feel consumed by incidental stresses–wrapping paper and gingerbread houses and remembering to pay the life insurance bill–and I consider what it means for Jesus to be with me. In this. In the waking up early and the to do list and the food and drink. In the busyness and the stress and the delight of it. I pray for Christ to once again enter in to the humanity of my sleepless nights and my anxious days, to be with me where I am. And I trust that somehow, his presence will change me. He is willing to be with me where I am, but he also invites me to be with him where he is. He invites me out of 4:30 am wake ups and into rest, out of relentless to do lists and into peace, out of overindulgence and into joy.