God NOT With Us

I haven’t written much around here lately – it seems as though the move (despite being almost 6 months behind us) still has us up in the air and running around like chickens in preparation for Sunday’s dinner. In any case, I have managed to stay on top of my articles for our church newsletter: The Courant.

This is November’s article.

God not With Us

As we approach the seasons of Christmas, Advent and Epiphany, we often sing and use the word “Emmanuel.” Emmanuel is the perfect Christmas word – it comes from the Hebrew and means “God with Us.” One of the most beautiful realities of the Christian faith is that we do believe God is with us at all times and in all situations. Yet, as we approach the celebration of Jesus’ birth, Advent leads us through a process of realizing that, though the Holy Spirit has been sent to guide us, we are also in a strange middle-time of “God not with us.”

In Advent we recall what it was like before the Messiah came; we remember how much Jesus changed things, and we look forward in eager anticipation for his return. One of the earliest Christian prayers elicits this most basic longing: Maranatha (usually translated “Come, Lord Jesus”).

Many of us have a visceral reaction to the suggestion that God is not with us – it sounds eerily reminiscent of Nietszche’s oft-misused suggestion that “God is dead.” Obviously, I don’t mean to suggest that at all. What I want to lift up is the reality that we live in an awkward in between time. We exist in between a time when Christ was among us – walking and talking, eating and sleeping – and a time when Christ will again be among us. Now however, the embodied Jesus is not. Each Sunday we confess that Jesus has “ascended to heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God.” The person of Jesus remains there and we remain here. While that separation is softened by the presence of the Holy Spirit, by the Word of God and by the sacraments, it is a very real separation nonetheless.

We all know the old saying: absence makes the heart grow fonder… or forgetful. Advent is a season where we ask just which of those two realities has taken hold in our lives. Are we increasingly “fond” of Jesus – eagerly anticipating the time when we will live in perfect communion with him (and one another)? Or have we become “forgetful” – living as if this is all there is?

As you journey through Advent, it is my prayer that it will be a time of fond anticipation – a time where the anticipation of living in a not yet era leads to a deeper experience of hope, love, joy, and peace. Then, the not yet of Advent can lead to an ever-more celebratory “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”

Grace and Peace,

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