God With Us: Part I

God with us. God – the Creator, the Powerful One, and the Righteous One. With – Coming down in the form of a powerless, innocent baby. Us – the very imperfect people of Earth, the ones who choose not to recognize His goodness most of the time.

One of the best themes of Christmas, for me, is this idea of Emmanuel. Of “God with Us”.

Most of us will recognize this, primarily Christmas, theme. It’s just in the past few weeks that I’ve made this amazing discovery: The Bible is packed with verses and chapters where “God with Us” is the underlying theme!

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Don’t you get excited when Christmas can happen all year round? “God with Us” is not just a Christmas theme. God is with us every moment of every day. He always has been. He always will be.

This week, let’s focus on Emmanuel.

I want to start by looking in the Old Testament.

Genesis 3:8a

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day…”

 

Isaiah 41:10

“Do not fear, for I am with you;

Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you;

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

 

Isaiah 30:21

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left,

Your ears will hear a voice behind you

Saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’.”

Genesis tells us that from the very beginning, God was with us! But, even though we messed up by eating that apple, he still wanted to be with us.

We can find so much comfort in knowing this: God wants to be with us.

We can find so much joy knowing this: God is with us.

Isaiah shows us some beautiful, powerful promises. God is with us so much that He gives us this picture where we find him beside us – holding us up. We can allow Him to carry us. We can let Him take control and move us.

He is right behind us in Isaiah 30:21. He is right there, leading us… helping us.

I get quite speechless when I think about all of it. Which doesn’t work well on a blog. So I’ll just suggest this for today to close:

Spend a few minutes meditating on the idea that God wants to be with you. Allow Him to be right there with you. Feel Him holding you up with His hands. Know that He is there to guide you.

Just feel Him with you.

Because His name is “Emmanuel”.

Summer Christmas

STORYINGCHRISTMASIf you live in the northern hemisphere, you will probably have a very different picture of Christmas than people here in New Zealand. We have summer Christmas.

When I am in New Zealand, my Christmas holidays would be amiss if I did not go to the beach… a lot. When I’m dreaming of a “White Christmas”, the closest I get are the white sand beaches of east Auckland. Instead of pine trees, our pohutukawa trees blossom red flowers against their green leaves.

I love this beach life. I love living near the ocean.

Once you have been to the ocean, you will understand this statement: There are just some days when you just feel the need to drive a bit and sit next to the sea.

Today is such a day.

We can learn so much from the ocean. That’s probably why there are so many songs that use it as a metaphor. Here are some lines you may recognize:

“In oceans deep, my faith will stand.”

“When sorrows like sea billows roll…”

“Oceans will part, nations will come, at the whisper of your name.”

“Set my feet upon the sea ‘til I’m dancing in the deep.”

I think of these songs and then I think of Christmas. There’s a question that I ask myself as I sit here at the beginning of December: Is there anything about Christmas that is like this ocean?

At first, I’m thinking no. That’s a ridiculous question. Then, different themes started popping into my mind.

I’m sure we can all come up with some great answers. You can probably come with more than me. Right now, God is using the sea to refresh, restore, heal, and satisfy me. But, when I think of the sea as it relates to Christmas, this is what I’ve come up with:  POWER.

Yes, the original Christmas story is about peace. A silent night. Wise men quietly following a star. Silent shepherds watching their sheep at night. A sweet baby asleep in a manger. It has all of these things.

But we must never forget the POWER of God when he comes down to man.

The sea sounds so peaceful to me right now. The waves are so small that little kids are going a few meters in. There are people parasailing. But there are no surfers because the waves are just not big enough. The ocean is calm and quiet.

But have you seen the ocean roar as a storm comes in? Have you seen crashing waves leap over boulders and into cliffs? Have you heard those horrible stories of people getting caught in the wild current, being swept out to sea?

So it is with the Christmas story. Peace has come. Comfort and joy have, indeed, come to earth with Jesus. But so does power. Because the Son of God came to our planet that first Christmas day.

God. The Great-I-Am. He came to Earth. The One who is so great and holy that even prophets could not look upon Him and live. To even hear the name of Yahweh garnered fear and trembling. The LORD, mighty in battle, came.

Power.

But in a tiny baby.

Power that made blind men see, deaf men hear, and dead men walk.

Power that rose himself from the grave.

Power that takes away the sins of the world.

I’m glad the ocean reminded me of God’s peace. And I’m glad it reminds me of God’s power. I never want to forget this part of Christmas.

…And Joy

Let’s talk about the other half of the phrase Comfort and Joy. Joy. More specifically, joy to the world.

Christmas is such a time for joy. Glad tidings of comfort and joy. The Lord has come. Let earth receive her king.

But let’s look at the time before that joy. Let’s look at the conflict in the story.

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There was a young teenager named Mary who was engaged to a man named Joseph. A good man – a man of God. But she becomes pregnant. Imagine becoming pregnant while engaged to a good man. And the baby is not his child. There’s so much grief in that – for Mary, for Joseph, for the families of both, and for the village in which they live. It’s not something that is easy. Nine whole months of people talking about you. They say Mary is crazy and a harlot. They say Joseph should get rid of her, leaving her and her baby to fend for themselves.

There was a man named Zechariah who had no children with his wife Elizabeth because she was barren. They were old and childless, but they had prayed for a baby. That is so hard.

There were shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks at night. They were doing what they did every single day – the lower class life of working and herding sheep. No kings came to them. They had no ambition – no dreams. They could not hope for joy.

Long before any of this, there were these two nations, divided from one nation: Israel and Judah. They had been united in the glory days of David and Solomon and they longed for that time when God would bless them once again. They felt abandoned, punished. All they had was a cryptic prophecy that a leader would rise up and be their uniting king once more. The Babylonians came and the Assyrians and the Romans. They lived in a war-torn land. They were oppressed and afraid. Many were forced to immigrate. They were spread out – families torn apart.

So much pain.

Can we imagine what all of this was like? Can you identify with any of these stories? A couple with an unplanned pregnancy. Another couple with no hope of having children. A lower class citizen, feeling hopeless – feeling that there is no place you can go to escape the life you have. A displaced people, longing for the glory days – or even just for home.

But then, joy.

All of these stories end in joy.

For Zechariah and Elizabeth, God gave a baby. So much joy!

For the shepherds, God sent the Lamb of God – and proclaimed his coming with angels!

For Israel and Judah, God sent the Messiah, the hope for which they had prayed for centuries!

For Mary and Joseph, God sent Jesus – a baby, the Lamb of God, the Messiah. A small child who would take away the sins of the world.

God sends joy to us. He has already done so. And what we see right now as pain, sadness, or hopelessness, we will one day see as joy. What a beautiful thing to remember this season – that in Jesus the baby, we have been given eternal comfort… and joy.

Storying Christmas: Comfort

storyingchristmas“Comfort” is one of the English language’s most warm & fuzzy words. So I think it suits Christmas perfectly. In the middle of winter, comfort is a big mug full of hot cocoa and marshmallows. It’s a red flannel blanket and a well-loved book. Comfort is the feeling of a fireplace; it’s the feeling of a big bear hug.

I’ve really been thinking and praying for a few months on what to write this December – Christmas season. There are endless articles and sermons and memes that seem to represent this month. There’s so much noise out there – mostly consumeristic. I want to quiet the noise with simplicity.

So, let’s do a little series. Let’s call it, simply, Storying Christmas. Let’s just focus on themes within the Christmas story. Because stories are how we see the world. Stories are how we learn. Stories are how we think and begin to hope. And let’s start with the story of comfort.

I haven’t written on A Little Sanctuary in a couple of months. In many ways, these couple of months have been very difficult. This blog is all about comfort – it’s all about finding “sanctuary”, finding rescue in loneliness. So coming back with a post on this subject seems fitting.

It’s early December, but you’ve probably already started listening to your Christmas carols. Like this one:

God rest ye merry gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay

Remember Christ our Saviour

Was born on Christmas Day

To save us all from Satan’s power

When we were gone astray

 

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy,

Comfort and joy!

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy!

 

From God our heavenly father

A blessed angel came,

And unto certain shepherds

Brought tidings of the same:

How that in Bethlehem

Was born the Son of God by name

 

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy,

Comfort and joy!

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy!

 

The shepherds at these tidings

Rejoiced much in mind

And left their flocks a feeding

In tempest storm and wind

And went to Bethlehem straightway,

The blessed babe to find

 

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy,

Comfort and joy!

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy!

Wstorying-christmase’ll get to the second half, joy, next time; but, just pay attention to the ending of each verse to find the feeling of comfort. The first verse ends with the comfort of being rescued from darkness – Comfort. The second ends with a baby, God’s own son, a Messiah the Hebrew people had waited for centuries to come – Comfort. The third verse ends finding that baby at the end of a storm – Comfort.

The Christmas story is an outpouring of comfort (and joy). That “peace on earth”. Mary is told by the angel not to be afraid – that God the Most High has found favor with her (Mark 1:30). Zechariah prophesied after his son John the Baptist was born that God had come to redeem and save them (Mark 2:68). And I love when Matthew reminds us of prophesy from Isaiah – that Jesus will be called God with us (Matthew 1:22-23).

God with us.

God rest you, merry gentlemen, boys, girls, ladies. Be at rest. Do not be afraid. A baby was born – Emmanuel. God with us. Live in comfort this Christmas season. Live in the feeling of that baby boy coming, sleeping peacefully. There is nothing much more comforting than a mother holding a baby – a baby that grew up and now comforts us, holding us in his hands.