“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us)”.
Mathew 1: 23
God with us.
God incarnate. A God- baby living and growing right here on the dirt of the earth.
All of Christendom stands on this reality. Most of the time I don’t stop to let these words sink into my soul. Mostly I try to put the incarnation into a box that has more appeal. In a breath I move from God with us, to us with God. It’s a subtle switch but a far more alluring concept.
I desperately want salvation to mean being whisked up to heaven to float around on clouds playing harps with angels. I want an escape or at least a world where there is no infertility, no miscarriage, no sudden death, no Aleppo. And I want to be angry with God for not making it the way that I think is best.
But Mathew insists on, God with us. He starts his book out with a painfully tedious genealogy (which I usually skip over if I ever come across it) towards this point.
Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers
Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, etc. etc. etc.
This year I’ve been reading the Bible stories with my daughter, so some of these names are starting to feel more familiar than ever, some because we read them, others because I carefully edit them out.
Characters like Rahab the prostitute are difficult to explain to a four year old. Then there is Tamar, twice widowed and so desperate for a child that she dresses as a prostitute and seduces her father-in-law (who is the kind of guy apparently that frequents prostitutes). Then the famous King David who takes Bathsheba to bed and when she gets pregnant has her husband Uriah killed in battle to cover up his offense.
There are good stories too, stories like Ruth, a foreigner brought in and made part of a new people. But none of the stories are simple, few of them are what we would look at today and call “christian”. They are stories of a messy people, of real failures, of genuine pain and this list of names is recorded here so we don’t forget it when we come to this next passage,
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
An unmarried pregnant teen who swears she is still a virgin. Her fiance deciding whether to call it off quietly or have her publicly stoned (which would have been a reasonable option back then).
God with us. God enters into a mess that has been growing for generations. He does not rescue us out. He gives us His Spirit. And in the face of our deepest darkness and our ugliest failures He gives us light. He so transforms the world that in the simple act of loving another person we see His face and hope begins growing out of every broken place.
This year has left me lonely, I long for more children, for the growth of a church, for a deep sense of community. Still compared to many my griefs have been small. I have stood alongside of friends who have watching their children and parents and grandparents cross over to death. I have seen bodies that I love wrecked with illness. And I have grown ever more aware of the fragility of the world as I’ve heard the stories of immigrants fleeing violence, traveling by foot through central America to reach our border. I want it to be “Us with God,” I want to escape this pain. All I can do is pray, “Come Lord Jesus.” And He has come, and is to come and will come again, Immanuel, not us with God, but God with us.