From the Pulpit 1979
Immanuel, God with Us
For Christians, this Sunday is the third Sunday in Advent, the season of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s coming.
There is no way of establishing with certainty the actual season of Jesus’ birth. The church did not celebrate the occasion before AD 386. Even then it seems the church holiday was chosen in part to baptize an already existing pagan festival associated with the winter solstice. In a sense, any day could be the birthday, and this is appropriate, for it is still on unexpected occasions and common days that God’s presence finds us.
Is not this the very core of the Christmas message, that we should expect God just so? A teenage girl swollen with child, a birth in a barn shed out back of the big house, a broken crate for a crib, and field help the only ones on hand to celebrate. With such unlikely proof, Matthew declares the prophecy fulfilled. This is the promised Immanuel, which means, “With us is God.”
If God comes so unpretentious as our Christmas stories say, who can know where to expect him next. A thrilling suspicion percolates this season that perhaps love has indeed invaded the humblest recesses of this world and lurks at large behind the ordinary. Perhaps those inklings of God’s presence are true: the tugs at our hearts’ sleeves, a welling of love in spite of hurt, a pang of gratitude for the sweetness of life, unpredictable strength to wait the long night out. And if God could choose to meet us in a stable as a weak child, then what’s to say he does not still meet us as he promised in the sick, the poor, the helpless?
The message of Christmas for Christians is that God has become one of us. He has pitched his tent in our camp. And so we call the one whose birthday we celebrate “God-is-with-us.”