“Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they will call him, Emmanuel (God with us).”
Matthew 1:23 (Common English Bible)
During the past two weeks, I have walked with several families through tragedies and terminal illnesses that have weighed heavily on all of our hearts and lives. In the midst of trauma and tragedy, we often cannot even pray for ourselves because words just will not come... At those times when we can’t even think of the words, the Holy Spirit in us prays for us, even interpreting our groans and sighs into prayers that God understands.
Who knew that when I wrote these words last Thursday, they would be more meaningful than ever on Friday? As we gathered around the news flash on the computer at the office to watch the horrible aftermath, the words rang out like bells on Christmas morning: God is with us. God is with us.
As we gathered around to pray for the families and those in the wake of the storm that claimed so many lives in Connecticut, our prayer was simply, “Dear God, be with them.”
Who knew that the Longest Night service planned for Sunday night would take on even greater significance than any of us had imagined? As we gathered to remember those losses in our own lives, somehow those losses were overshadowed by a greater loss — the loss of the innocents. The words “Rachel weeping for her children because they were no more” brought to us the sober truth that the manger birth that we see displayed on Christmas cards and on church lawns was in reality no pretty sight. Who knew that as a nation, we would learn what those words really meant as we wept for those children and adults who are no more?
Some people ask, “Where was God in this tragedy?” God was in the school with those huddled around in safe spaces waiting for the silence of gunfire. God was cradling those who died in invisible loving arms. God was with the parents who rushed to get their children, only to find out that, like those children so long ago, their children were no more. God was with us as we watched the tragedy and awaited the press conferences.
God is with us, even in the messy stuff of life. Christmas is not about the presents and the gifts, but about the Presence — the gift of Emmanuel — God with us even in the worst situations that we could imagine — even on Friday when time slowed down and peace on earth was shattered by the silence of gunfire. In the dying words of John Wesley, “The best of all, God is with us.”
That is the best news of all. In the best and even in the worst moments of our lives, God is with us. We are not alone.