I became a believer 29 years ago. On December 23rd.
This week I was transported back to that time. It was an incredibly personal and intimate week with God. He allowed me to remember how preciously Jesus had revealed Himself to me. So, I’ve tried to capture a sense of the world before His appearing. I thought what it might have been like the night Jesus decided to allow the transaction which would bring Him to earth. I dwelled on what it might have been like the moment He entered our existence. I hope it comforts your heart like it did mine.
The entire story is of man running to and from God. No matter what He tried we did not get Him. We saw only God’s authority. We feared Him, we tried to obey Him, appease Him, manipulate Him, but rarely did anyone for very long enjoy Him. It got swallowed up in superstition and creating new gods of their own imagination. It devolved into competing to prove they were more righteous than others. And so, for 1000s of years, man knew there was a God, some saw His displays of power, but few experienced His intimacy and His presence in their real need. They were too busy trying to prove they were worthy of His favor. Israel was weighed down under an impossible Law, but all mankind was brutallyweighed down under their own longing to belong, protected, to be intimately known, to be free from their own sin. Less than 100 yrs after King David’s death, God’s creation is afraid of Him, they have learned to play religious games, they draw close and then run away, they follow after other gods they create, they hate each other, they don’t get His love…So what does He do? He allows them to get tired of running. He lets them run to other gods. He lets them be oppressed under other rulers. Until they cry out for the Messiah.
Israel cried out…“We’re sorry. Come back. Be with us. Be our God. Fight for us. Come close to us. Enter our pain, take away our shame. Let us feel You again. Let us feel known.”
And when they finally cried out with sincerity, they call Him by the name they most need and hunger for…“Immanuel” . That beautiful thought-God with us.
By the time they cry it in earnest, all they have is this ridiculously impossible promise:
Isaiah 7:14-“Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son and she will call His name Immanuel.”
Centuries go by…Nothing. God is silent. For over 400 years, silent.
Then, finally then, it happens. The deep magic begins. The single most important moment in the history of all the galaxies, of all heaven. In the dead of night when no one suspects a thing. In the dead of human history when even the most devout had almost given up all hope. When evil had finally been conceded victory. The world is at it’s darkest, this hour before the first Christmas. Then, w/only a mother’s panting gasp/a newborn’s cry, God suddenly enters into our history…to rescue us. Not in thunder and smoke, or even on a white horse, but in quiet, fragile, helplessness, in a cold, dank corner of the world…God becomes not man, but 1st child… All the angels stand their post/hold their breath…And now we are not alone. He really did remember. God will now be forever with us.
What grace is greater than a Father giving us His Son? Not imposing. Not invading. Not visiting. But given. We will never understand it. He was saying, “I am giving you my Son. To this murderous race. To you I give My Son. I know of no other way to get you home.”
Isaiah 9:6 – “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us.”
John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only…Son”
I imagine Christ’s last night in heaven:
“I’m ready Father.” “Son, the next thought you’ll have will be that of a baby’s. All memories of this home, this glory, this beauty-will be gone. They will be replaced with filth, cold and pain. /the 1st breath you take will pull you on a course to your death. Son, it will take years before you’ll remember this conversation, this arrangement. Then it will dawn on you, who you are and who I am and where home is. That moment will be the loneliest of all-the morning you wake up and realize how far you are from home.”
I imagine Him saying to mankind:
“Hello earth. This is my Son. You will call Him Jesus. I am…giving Him to you. To do with Him as you will. And I am giving Him to you in the most vulnerable way. I am trusting my only begotten Son to you. To you. He will now breathe your air, totally unable to protect Himself. You will hold Him tonight, you will choose to receive Him. You will decide to love Him. This is my Son, in whom I am deeply and wonderfully delighted. Take care of Him.”
- He loves me so much, He loves you so much:
- He came from one universe to another to find me
- He came knowingly into our planet’s disease, fear and anger
- He chose to lose all memory of heaven, to come as a baby to save earth, to rescue me
- He came knowing He’d lose rights to use His powers to protect Himself
- He came knowing He’d experience the pain of deceit, abandonment, including mine
- He came knowing He’d experience violent hatred
- He came knowing He’d experience heart-breaking loneliness, some of which I have caused
- He came knowing He’d be rejected by his closest friends
- He came knowing He’d suffer temptation to its end
- He came knowing it would ultimately kill Him
Almost every year at this time, I freak out. I get lost in the universe. The weight of all the loss I’ve seen, the darkness of all the disappointment, the power of evil around me, the regret of a thousand wrong choices. I feel like I miss out. Though I’m surrounded by incredible love-I can feel outside of it. Like there’s a place, somewhere where I am known fully. And I am not there. I am in traffic, far away from home. That there’s something deeply, fundamentally wrong w/me. That God loves me, more pities me, but I will never fully belong.
Has the God I once seemed to know more intimately been covered by talking about Him too many times, by preparing well crafted messages (thinking they could replace just being with Him,) by disappointment, disillusionment, disbelief of His goodness, discouraging pain and loss?
Invariably I am left walking alone through Christmas-lit neighborhoods calling out His Name, looking for something, waiting for His voice, needing Him again to be Immanuel for me.
So He gently reminds my heart who He is to me, what He has done for me, what He has done to me:
- Jesus was the first to display the love my heart was desperately hoping was possible
- Jesus was the first to bring my heart alive, to bring me delight
- Jesus was the first to convince me He knew the worst about me and adored me still
- Jesus was the first person I ever felt fully protected by
- Jesus was the first person who ever made sense of life
- Jesus was the first to convince me life could have a happy ending
- Jesus was the first to convince me my life had a purpose to it
- Jesus was the first to convince me that I was a new creature
- Jesus was the first person I ever felt completely known by
- Jesus was the first person I ever felt completely safe with
- Jesus was the first person who ever showed me purity/goodness
- Jesus is the first one I ever laid my soul bare to
- Jesus is the one who’s love caused me to risk loving, trusting, being loved by another
- Jesus is the One who convinced my heart I could be vulnerable
- Jesus is the One who convinced my heart I could forgive, let go of.
- Jesus is the One who convinced my heart I could reconcile and confess my wrong
- Jesus is the One who convinced my heart I can give my life away
- Jesus is the one place in the entire universe where I feel truly home
Somehow I became convinced I could trust Him with me-that December 23rd, 1979. Today, I only must again be convinced on December 24th 2008, that I can trust Him with me-that He is here, in my world, in my moment to moment, in my pain, in my dreams, in my hope, in my fears, in my joy, in my tomorrows. And I will-maybe for the first time experience “Immanuel”-God in me, God with me, God next to me, God protecting me, God defending me, God loving me, God enjoying me, God over me, God through me, God for me, God from me, God defining me, God with His arm around me.
…Not bad for people just looking for a fix. Merry Christmas.