God With Us

It happened two thousand years ago, not that long in the entirety of human history, I suppose. The people spoke languages that some still speak today. Their experience of life was not much different than people alive in a number of regions of the world today. Technologies like the water well, the block home, the wagon, pack animals, metal working, paved roads and sailing ships were all employed.

In Palestine during the time of Caesar Augustus, men built houses, tended animals, argued in court, worshiped in temples. Women baked bread, raised children, grew gardens and haggled over prices. Children ran and played, chased pets and eagerly awaited the holidays. Yet, a strong and severe empire stamped its rule of Roman justice, Roman strength and Roman ways on a people who dared to think that their One True God would call them back to independence again.

People were going about their business, trying to maintain their lives, their loves, and their hope of deliverance. This people had a checkered history as a nation; from Father Abraham and the Patriarchs to Moses on the Holy Mount, Joshua and Rahab and the establishment of a nation. The Blessings of the Most High had been on the kingdom of Saul and David and Solomon. Yes those were the years of glory, the years of strength, a golden era. And what followed: division, dreams, invasion, and exile. There were times of longing, calls for justice, hoped for return, expectations and dashed hopes, prophets’ visions, dirges in dark times and a tearing of garments.

And then, at some time prior to the advent, there came a brutal intrusion by heathen invaders; cruel armies of idolatrous rulers, representing false gods and unclean ways. Pax Romana came with a cost. The cost to the Jewish people was conformity to a system utterly repugnant and in opposition to the Most High. Some Jews conformed, some rebelled, some withdrew, others played along; for there were children to raise, Torah to study, stomachs to feed, and lives to be led. The Temple remained and the Priests maintained their sacrifices. Rulers made deals with Roman overlords. And somewhere, in the corners, in the shadows on the edges, seekers and visionaries dreamed dreams and heard from God. Yes, in every generation there are those who recognize the voice, respond to an urge, open their eyes, and see the divine.

The story of Emmanuel is a story of people going about their lives, yet waiting for something more. It is the story of hopes, buried within, and manifest in the soaring expectation of life beyond the cruelties of soldiers’ whips and governors’ taxes. Those hopes were borne on the memories of kings and the Great I Am. Hopes were still nurtured by the prophets’ steady stream of challenge and comfort. “God with us” “The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace”. Indeed.

In the temple, very old, yet still bright, a prophet waited in anticipation. Somewhere in his long-passed youth he had heard the still small voice. Or had it been his own mind convincing him that the signs he saw in the politics of the day and the words he read in the Law and Prophets pointed to the Coming King? What did it matter, for by now, he was sure of this and this alone; he knew, God had told him, he would see the King. But, How? When? Who? Come to us, O God.

A peasant girl had a dream. “This means the world for us all. An angel has spoken to me, and as I said to him in reply, I mean it now, “do to me as you please, I am your servant”. But, the shame. Mother and father, and the carpenter, they will be dismayed. A match had been made; Joseph had made the deal with her father and now, this-. How can I explain to him that the most incredible thing has happened? I am with child, yes. But no man has visited my bed. I only know the voice and I believe. What can it mean for me, and him, and us? How will I act, where will I go. O, God be with me. O, Holy One of Israel, be with me.

A vassal king was annoyed. Were these soothsayers really right? Do those who read the stars know for sure? Who was it that was spreading these stories about a coming King of the Jews. “By God, I am king”, he thought. I’ve got to be careful though, I must know if the reports are credible, I will not have my authority usurped! Baby or not, I will eliminate all threats. Find this king. Find him!

A group of herdsmen sheltered in a cave, cold, tired, hungry. The flocks were settled for the night. Yet, a strange breeze blew across the cliff face. “There, I heard it again”, one called to his mates. Like music…and a gradual lightening at the mouth of the cave. What is it? Indescribable, a rush of sensation followed, as all of them were overwhelmed with sights and sounds like none they’d experienced before. Later, much later, after they found the baby as they were told, after the night had passed and the next day, they spoke of it.

“Angels, well, maybe, but I don’t really know what else to make of it.”

“You heard it.”

“Yes, we all did.”

Those colors in the sky, the songs, they were incredible. Is God truly with us?

A man on the road, weary after four day’s travel. “Damned Romans”, he thought. “If its not the bribes to their magistrates or their wretched gods, its these imperial decrees that disrupts my life. Three week’s business lost. How in the world am I to complete that addition to Serenius’ home by the new moon. And to Bethlehem no less. Well, we will be there tomorrow and then we can rest”. This carpenter, son of a carpenter from Nazareth had come to accept that indeed, he was in God’s hands. He did not doubt it any longer. Too many whispered remarks, too many accusations, too many condescending statements from the town elders had worn him down, yet he was resolved. He had heard, and seen and he believed. Believed that his bride was carrying the Anointed One? Well, it was too incredible to believe, true, but…he had heard, he had seen. Help me, O, God and be with us on this journey.

Three scholars were at the table, reading their scrolls. “What else can we make of this? The ancients have left us clear direction. A coming king. Ruler over all. An age of peace. The signs are clear; the star is the final indication. We will carry our hopes and our gifts and travel in search of the truth. Could it be that finally we will know the god that is with us?”

A boy sat with his parents, in the midst of a crowed shelter. With cows on one side and several goats on the other, the place had the deep, full smell of livestock. And the people, travelers and shepherds and some others gathered in the corner. It was warmer in here and the boy was glad that his father had found it. A woman’s cries had brought them here. Now, the cries had ceased, and had been replaced with a happy murmur from the gathered crowd. “Blessings!” “A son, congratulations to you.” “He is a beautiful baby!” The boy pushed in. There, in a stall, propped against the wall was a woman nursing a baby. The boy, in wonder turned to his father, “Papa, it seems so strange, a baby in a stable”. “Ah, but we all need shelter on this night, lad.” “Papa, will God bless this baby, born in a stable?” “Son, God will bless him and God will be with us!”

Two thousand years later, the story continues and God is with us. Whether a young mother, a self-serving ruler, a laborer, a craftsman, scholar or a child; God is at the edge of our attention, looking for the time and place to bring birth in us. The baby’s been born, yet for each of us, there looms a daily opportunity for a new birth.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” (James 1:17-18)

Receive the story, carry the name, listen to the voice, marvel at the indescribable, make God’s meaning of the circumstances of your day and live the life of God with us.

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One Comment on “God With Us”

  1. James Sours Says:

    This is a great story Scot. I love the way it takes us back to daily life 2,000 years ago, which is much like life today.

    Thank you.

    Jimmy


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