I love Christmas. The carols, the wonder, the traditions, the too-much-food-only-eaten-once-a-year.
It is the time of year I most miss being with my family, the time when living over seas is most costly, not in money but in feeling, the feeling that comes when you are surrounded by those who know and love you most.
Last Christmas was the third in a row away from all our family, the fifth away from my home country Australia. It felt like that, far and long and all too many days. It felt like three hundred and sixty five days times too many. Life had been full of challenges and as Christmas was approaching I wrote in my prayer journal…
“Is provision not coming? Are we on our own to sort this thing out? Are you there? Do we give up? Will you hold us up? … Please show yourself to be with us … us to be with you.”
In that moment full of doubt and fear my eyes fell on the open Bible in front of me. It had flipped open to Matthew 1:23… the Christmas story. “She will give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us”.
God is with us. It’s the whole point really. The name that names everything.
How quickly I forget.
Two days later I forgot again. It was a Thursday, one of the days we run kids clubs for inner city children in Trench-town, (Kingston, Jamaica). I was tired. My own children were sick, recovering from flu. I had dragged them to kids club with me because I couldn’t leave them with a baby sitter. They had had to sit up the back in sniffling-cold-condition. One of those guilty-mommy moments. The moments you wonder if just anyone should be allowed to have children, whether if there was a test before parenthood you would fail it hands down. I had bribed them with fast food afterwards to ease the blow, and bribed my conscience with, “It’s just a cold, they’ll be fine”.
Later I was sitting in a fast food restaurant watching them anxiously over fries and nuggets (just the thing for colds and flu). Zoë’s cough had suddenly become much worse and she had a rattling sound in her chest when she breathed that I hadn’t noticed before. It didn’t sound good. I was worried and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t even know if I should be worried. I’m not one of those mother-earth mothers that knows all of natures remedies and has a back pocket degree in perfect parenthood. I normally choose to phone a friend… one of my mother-earth mother friends. But this day I had left my phone at home in the charger by accident. Honestly, they just let anyone be parents nowadays!
I couldn’t even phone David (my husband). The chips and nuggets glared at me judgementally chanting silently,“bad mother, not good enough, failure, failure!”
Sometimes, it takes a wits end to find the light at the end… the light at the end of the tunnel of self sufficiency. I didn’t know what else to do.
Finally I prayed quietly and asked God to show me what to do. “Father what should I do?”.
A moment later a woman walked up to where we were sitting in the restaurant. She was unfashionably dressed and rather large but her face was kind.
She looked at me in warm confidence, “The spirit of the Lord told me to tell you that you must go to the pharmacy next door and get some DPH expectorant for your child’s cough”.
I blinked. My prayers are not usually answered quite so quickly. We talked for a moment, during which she also asked me for spare change for her bus fare.
Angels come in all shapes and sizes.
We all of us can get to be Gabriel for one another sometimes, if we are listening.
After she sat back down in her seat a little further off I drew in my breath. I went to the pharmacy next door and bought the DPH. Zoë didn’t enjoy taking it, but it helped clear up her rattling chest and cough quite quickly. I breathed a sigh of relief. As we drove home in the dark I hummed christmas carols softly to myself.
Emmanuel … God is with us. With me. Me the faulty parent who doesn’t know enough about colds, me the girl living in a land far from home, me the one who wishes my mother was just a phone call and not half a planet of time-zones away.
Emmanuel means I am not alone.
Last year, that moment just before Christmas whispered to me the secret, the truth once breathed two thousand years ago in hushed voices around a manger cradle; Emmanuel, God is with us. We are not alone.
This year I am not alone. We are back in Australia with family for Christmas after five long years of being away.
But the truth of Christmas I heard last year still whispers soft, reminding me of the name, the name that names everything.
Emmanuel means God is with us. God. Himself. The Being that spread out the heavens and forged the stars. The Person through whom all things were made and through whom all things hold together. That Person sees me. That Person sees you. Emmanuel. God is with us.
And Emmanuel means God is with us. Is. Here, now, present in this moment. Not later, not tomorrow, not after we get to heaven, not when we get it right, not when we are finally good enough, deserving enough, but now. Present tense. God is with us.
And Emmanuel means God is with us. With. Not from: saving us from pain and struggle.
Not for: doing it for us without our participation. But with. Alongside, in the thick of it, in the trenches beside us, the trenches around us and the trenches within us. He is here. With us. God is with us.
Emmanuel means God is with us. Us; We the faulty ones, the ones that don’t have it all together, the ones that are humans making very human mistakes. The ones that need to phone a friend because we don’t have all the answers. The ones with sometimes no-one to phone. All of us. God is with us.
Emmanuel means I am not alone. And Emmanuel means wherever you are in the world, whether you are with family or far from them this season, you are not alone either.
Emmanuel. God is here! With us! It’s the whole point really. The name that names everything.
May God’s presence fill every corner of your heart this Christmas, and may his grace keep you always.