“…and they shall name him ‘Emmanu-el,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’” ~Matthew 1:23b

Now that the Welch family has made the switch to an artificial Christmas Tree, our tree will have no trouble making it to Epiphany, January 6, the 12th day of Christmas. In previous years I could sing, “On the 2nd day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, an ultimatum on vacuuming up pine needles and watering a dried-out tree.”

For many of us, there’s something strange about our observances of the great feasts of Christmas and Easter. We go heavy on Lent, but don’t indulge in 40 days of celebration from Easter to Ascension (plus ten bonus days until Pentecost!). For Advent, we light candles to watch for Messiah, but once Christmas Day has come it’s on to a new year and a return to school and work. Why do we seem more interested in preparing than in basking?

I don’t have a definitive thought on this question, but I’m wrestling with the idea of God’s presence among us. Do our preparations for Christmas and Easter subtly trick us into pretending God is not present and we are in control? We prepare the way of the Lord, prepare our hearts, make sacrifices, and take up new disciplines. We decorate, shop, and bake. But, once Christ is born or raised from the dead, we are faced with God’s sheer, all-encompassing presence among us. What is left for me to do once God has been made flesh or when God’s flesh, once dead, has been raised anew? I’d rather decorate than defer; rather shop than submit.

It’s not entirely comfortable to bask in the Christ child’s presence, for “this child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). It can be likewise discomforting when confronted by the Risen One my own sin had sent to a cross.

But these reservations make the good news all the more good. When the Christ child reveals the inner thoughts of sinners, he does so as the one named Jesus, Ye-shua, “the Lord saves.” When the Risen Christ seeks out sinners, he does so to deliver the promise, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you…Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:21-22).

The one who is Emmanu-el, “God is with us,” is also Emmanu-adam, “man-with-us.” Jesus reveals to us not only who God is, but who man is, who people were created to be. Perhaps that is what makes it more difficult to bask and celebrate than to prepare and anticipate. Jesus has come not only to show us who God is, but to show us who we are. And I’m not sure I’m ready to change.

Shalom, Pastor Tom