This year was one of the longest, hardest years that I can remember. Do you feel that too? Even as I type this, I feel the weight of 2016, and all that it’s brought with it, pressing in on me. I feel like I’ve had one saying on repeat all year. I’ve shared over and over again, “You’re not alone. I’m with you.” I said it to my husband as he went in for his billionth night shift in a row. I said it to my best friend who was hit with major news halfway through her first pregnancy. I said it to my dear friend who lost her mother to breast cancer, and to the one who lost her mother in law to brain cancer. We said it to friends and brothers who were walking through crumbling marriages and families. I said it to my husband when he was arrested due to a case of stolen identity that wasn’t resolved until almost a year later. I texted it over and over again to the mom who fought for her right to parent. I whispered it to broken students, confused students, hurting kids, adults who were moving on in ministry, moving into town, starting families, having babies, burying parents, brothers and sisters, friends, the list goes on and on. You can add to it, I’m sure.
You’re not alone. I’m with you. There is redemption in those simple phrases, and I think it’s because we see Jesus in them. The ultimate “I’m with you.” Immanuel. God with us. The Creator of life and heaven and earth, with us. The Redeemer who was promised to us long ago, with us. The Ransom for our souls, with us. Stepping into time and space, shredding our isolation and loneliness with a single breath, to be with us. To be with you.
I’ve read through Isaiah 40-41 many times over throughout my life. I read through it this week and was wowed by it all again. The vastness of God, measuring the heavens in His hands, weighing mountains, power, command, all of those things are there. But Isaiah 41:10, that’s what grabbed my heart when I read through this time. In light of all God can do, the nations he can vanquish and subdue with a single word, He says to us “do not fear, for I AM WITH YOU; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.” His choice was you, to be with you. Not to control or manipulate from the safety and distance of heaven, but to be with you.
I’ll be honest. When I saw my name on the blog schedule for the week of Christmas, I was a little mad. After the year we’ve had, I was hoping to let this holiday season pass with as little fuss as possible, not be obligated to share some big churchy revelation that I wasn’t sure I meant. I didn’t want to have to look at my year and pain and try to reconcile it to the prettiness of Christmas. But the beauty I’m finding in Christmas this year, because of that pesky blog schedule, is that Jesus IS our Emmanuel. That He is truly GOD WITH US because He came as a baby. He didn’t come as the conquering war hero who saved the world through a show of force and strength. He certainly could have waved His glorious hand and righted all of our wrongs and pain with a word. But He didn’t do that. He could have flooded the whole earth and started over. But He didn’t do that either.
What if Jesus our Messiah, our Immanuel, gave up the splendor and majesty of heaven and came in innocence, as a fresh new human, to show us that He was truly with us? He showed up as a baby to a particularly common family. His arrival was announced to the least likely group of people, the nobodies. He started from scratch to learn and grow and experience all the pain and joy life has to offer. He walked through humanity, stepped into our mess and sin to truly be with us. Start to finish. And then some! He didn’t just live birth to death. He defeated the grave and sin and came back to show us who He is. And where He is. With us.
We’re hoping 2017 is brighter, maybe even easier than 2016 was. But in case it’s not, find some people, some Jesus followers, who you can lock arms with. If you’re a non-toucher like I am, find some people you can stand close-ish with, who can echo the shouts of heaven and say, “I am with you. You aren’t alone.”
Maggie O'Brien | Student Ministries Small Group Coordinator