This is our first Christmas in Louisville and it's been a complicated season.
On one hand, it's been a season of immense blessing. We were able to move into our new house. This was something I never thought we could afford back in Washington. We want to make it an inviting, hospitable place- an embassy of God's Kingdom- and it has a lot of potential. It's exciting!
On the other hand, it's been a season of immense difficulty. There's been a lot of work we've had to do on the new house (some was expected, some was not). There have been a lot of less-fun "firsts"- First plumbing issue, first snow storm, first fears about pipes freezing. I wouldn't be exagerating if I said I'd never been more anxious and sleepless in my life.
All of this has been some 2300+ miles away from all the older men in my life- the ones who I would ask for advice. This isn't to say I haven't been calling them, but trying to explain the strange toilet sound (or the mysterious hole in the front yard, or how you tried to winterize the outdoor faucet) on the phone is very different from having that person standing next to you. The person on the phone is at the mercy of my imperfect descriptions. The person standing next to me is sharing the lived experience. When I hang up, the person on the phone is gone. What is left is a season of loneliness.
Perhaps for this reason, this Christmas I've been meditating on how Jesus is Immanuel- God With Us.
After 2000 years of Christianity, I don't think we always appreciate the significance of this word. When God first created the world, he could be with us- he could walk beside us in Eden. After Genesis 3, where humanity rebels, God couldn't have that kind of proximity to us- the taint of evil in our souls would get us killed. This was disasterous for humanity- not only are we at odds with our creator at a fundamental level, but we are cut off from our source of life (see John 1:4, 10:10, 14:6).
After that, God communicated through messengers (angels) and visions. For a time he would dwell in a tabernacle, and later a temple- a place where you could travel to consult a priest who would consult God on your behalf. This was closer to Eden, but still far from the access we had to God before. And then for the 400 years prior to Jesus, there was just silence.
But Immanuel- God With Us- breaks the cold silence and extends the hope of peace.
Immanuel- God With Us- bears the scent of Eden; it's like a fragrance which brings back a forgotten childhood memory of better times.
And Immanuel- God With Us- reminds us that God understands us not as an observer, but as a participant.
This Christmas is a lonely one for me, but ultimately the relationships I am missing now are a reminder of a much greater relationship which was restored by Jesus Christ- Immanuel, God With Us.