It is Christmas Eve. I don’t know about your house, but mine is blessed with a couple of wound up children! My youngest is about to jump out of her skin in anticipation. We have run the last minute errands, wrapped the last few presents, and are beginning the preparations for a Christmas Eve meal. We are in count-down mode…waiting for the big day! Because the girls are getting older, we have chosen to attend the candlelight service at 10:00 this evening instead of the earlier children’s service that we have attended in recent years. I am personally thrilled with this turn of events; singing Silent Night by candlelight on Christmas Eve helps me to connect with the quiet, anticipatory joy that really “feels” like Christmas for me…now, if we could just get some snow!!
As I have thought about making an entry on this holiest of nights, I have pondered what it is about this holiday that most impacts my personal relationship with God. Certainly, the sheer exuberant, over-the-top nature of the way we celebrate this holiday appeals to the dramatic in me (what, you didn’t know that I like a little drama? 🙂 I love the sparkly lights, the gold and silver tinsel, the burgandy bows and ribbons on everything. I like goofy Christmas sweaters (yes, I own a couple,) the fact that my children wear Santa hats everywhere we go…I even love the outrageous decorations at the malls this time of year. I love that my hardworking, often serious husband becomes a Christmas elf and gleeful little boy this time of year; decorating anything standing still and playing round-the-clock Christmas music starting on Thanksgiving . It is not one bit subtle, this celebrating we do and, I like it! Yes, I can certainly jump on the cynical bandwagon and bemoan the commercialization of Christmas…I certainly see it…but I don’t want to. Personally, I would rather enjoy the idea that we have something really big to celebrate and we are celebrating it really BIG!
And here is what we are celebrating…my favorite thing about Christmas…Emmanuel–God With Us (Matthew 1:23 and Isaiah 7:14) I love the sound of the word Emmanuel and, more than that, I love what it means: “God with us”…not the collective “us” as in humankind, although that it true as well, but “us” as in you and me personally. I have mentioned before that I am intrigued by the idea of God pursuing us; the idea that the God who created the universe is actively pursuing a relationship with me personally just blows me away…I still don’t “get” it, but I do believe it! But God got really serious about this pursuit on Christmas; God took the initiative…here’s what I read about this in an online sermon by Dr. Eugene Bay:
…God who is with us as Jesus is one who takes the initiative. In most religions, the effort comes from the human side. God is the distant mystery to be sought by fervent prayer. God is the eternal enigma whose ways we have to try to discern as best we can. But the God who comes as Jesus doesn’t wait for us to discover Him; He wants to discover us….It doesn’t mean that we stop our own seeking. But it does mean that our experience is likely to be similar to that described in the old hymn I used to sing in the church of my childhood:
I sought the Lord and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me;
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of Thee.
And further, this Emmanuel…God With Us…is what sustains us on those decidedly un-Christmas days…when life is not very sparkly or pretty or festive. For what does it matter if He is with us on Christmas, if He leaves the next day? But Jesus’s promise to us at the end of Matthew reminds us that He is “with you always, to the very end of the age.” That means He is with those of you who have an empty chair at your holiday table this year…He is with you who are contemplating a tough road ahead because of health problems or job problems or relationship problems…He is with you who have a difficult decision to make and don’t know where to turn. He is with you because He promised He would be. He is with you because He loves you madly. He loved you enough to put some skin on and be born in a stable with a bunch of smelly animals. He loved you enough to die so you wouldn’t have to be separated from Him ever again. And, even now, He loves you enough to abide in you forever, if you will just let Him. And He loves me that much too!
O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!
Now that is something to celebrate! That’s what I love about Christmas!! Emmanuel–God With Us!