hen I take it out of its Christmas storage box and see it etched into the side of the cradle, that word engraved right into the wood… I kinda catch my breath at how it erases a bit of the pain.
God with us.
I run my fingers across the etched letters of the manger, like I’m reading Braille, like I’ve been blind and now I see.
But I don’t just see it, don’t just assent to it — I actually sense it, like the way you sense the wind turning, the way you can’t see it, but feel it on your face. Emmanuel. EMMANUEL.
Christ-followers do more than believe somethings are true, they trust that SomeOne is here.
SomeOne is actually here — SomeOne unseen who is actually closer than the next unseen breath that fills your lungs, and that which is unseen can be here, keeping you alive.
SomeOne is actually here, and the weight carried in the knots across shoulders, the tender hurts that don’t know how to fit into words, the hope that’s grown heavier than bearing but there is no letting go of this hope,
SomeOne is here to lean in, touch the tenderness of those places and put the whole of Himself under the bulk of that load.
Breathe. SomeOne is here.
Not some idea, not some philosophy, not some theology — SomeOne. I could not go to Him, so He has come to me. We follow more than words on a page, we follow a Person who stays at our side.
“I feel utterly alone,“ a friend texts me those four words while boarding a plane, and I crack a bit. There is no fixing this. I have no idea how to fix this for her.
How do I tell her: We all are.
We all are starkly alone in our own skin — no one will ever see the world the way you do, through your eyes, from your vantage point.
You are utterly alone looking through your eyes into the world — and sometimes there is existential terror in this. No one will feel exactly what you feel, when you feel it, how you feel it — the feelings that run through your being are forever yours alone.
You are locked up in the aloneness of you.
Maybe the loneliest moment in your whole life is when dreams are imploding in on you — and you wonder if anyone is with you, and you reach for a hand — and there is no one anywhere reaching back.
I may know a bit of this implosion:
I may miserably fail at this mothering deal and not seem good enough to pass muster in all kinds of eyes.
And we may have no idea what’s around the corner for the farm or the fields or the animals in the barn come this next spring, and the doctor’s report for Mama’s next round of tests could end up as some alarming news being batted around on the church’s prayer chain for the next 6 years, and the diabetes alarm that jolts us awake at 3:17 am may have us holding a seizuring son while his eyes roll back in his head and someone fumbles with the glucagon needle to shoot a lifeline of glucose into his blood.
Prodigals may never come home. Addictions might suck the hope right out of the veins. Mental illness may lurk omnimous around the edges of family, strained relationships may yank out chunks of pulpy heart, and I may go ahead and let myself down so hard for the gazillionth time that I smash all my hope in any shiny tomorrows.
But God. But. God.
That is what I text her — what her Maker, her Lover, her Rescuer says:
“Do not yield to fear, for I am always near. Never turn your gaze from me, for I am your faithful God. I will infuse you with my strength and help you in every situation. I will hold you firmly with my victorious right hand.’” Isaiah 41:10
Some things are brutally hard — but SomeOne is literally here.
I do not face the way alone, I face the face of God.
That is the bare truth: We do not need to understand all the things — We simply need to not stand alone.
And by this, I simply mean: We do not want someone to reach out and touch our hand, but to reach out and touch our soul and this is why we need God.
Either we are utterly alone in this universe or God is utterly close. Both take your breath away — until God takes your hand.
It is only the withness of Emmanuel, God with us, that lets us withstand.
We can only withstand life because we have a God who stands with us.
My crisis needs His withness. Selah.
His withness sits with my mess. Selah.
His withness is my hopefulness. Selah.
I need not know the way — I only need to know the WayMaker’s here.
We light the candle of the wooden Advent Wreath and witness the silhouette of Mary on the donkey moving closer everyday to Bethlehem, to Emmanuel coming, to His coming close live in Withness with us. Three times a day, I hand our baby girl her beta-blocker to slow down her racing heart. I lose count of how many times a night the diabetes alarm goes off and I stumble through the dark to our boy.
All through the wait of Advent, we keep moving, we keep following the Light, waiting and trusting, and turning toward the Light. We are not alone and I believe.
Christ-followers actually do more than turn pages of ancient text — we turn to the Ancient One who reads their soul.
Christ-followers know that suffering is a given, and suffering alone is unbearable, but we are given SomeOne who bears the suffering with us.
Christ-followers hold to certain truths— and know ultimately that they are truly held by SomeOne.
The advent candle flickers and kids lean in and there is light even here and a moment can feel like relief: We believe that God is not only in the world — we believe that all the world is in God.
This is a heart-broken planet, but this is not a forsaken planet.
Emmanuel. No one is alone.
His Withness heals our brokenness.
I move the candle a day closer on our winding way to Bethlehem — and this journey of Advent feels like walking the Emmaus Road, a waking to Emmanuel here with us.
Is that why Advent is all this light, all this lights everywhere — all our hearts burning within us?
* * * * * * * *
Jesus came down — and a bit of heaven can begin now, even here. With every step, we are walking into our forever now.
Come let Jesus touch your wounds & heal your hurt with His HOPE.
This Advent, Stay in the Story that the rest of your year, your family, will need.
The Greatest Gift (adult edition): Best Devotional of the Year, ECPA, 2014
Unwrapping the Greatest Gift (Family Edition): Best Inspirational Book of the Year, CBA, 2016
The Wonder of the Greatest Gift: Best Devotional & Gift Book of the Year, CBA, 2019