Thursday, December 3, 2009

Believing in Immanuel

The people who need the most to hear the news of Immanuel or “God is with us,” are the people who have the least reason to believe that he is.
When you live in relative comfort, it’s easy to believe in Immanuel.  “God is with us?  Well, of course he is.  Look around!  We have life, liberty, and most of us are pursuing, not merely survival, but happiness.  We have a great educational system, the best health care in the world, and a car for each driver in the household.  In a really bad economy 85% of us have jobs, and in a good economy that figure will rise to between 90-95%.  We have freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to have hundreds of channels on our flat screen T.V’s.  We go on vacations, see wonderful sights, experience amazing things.
“Of course God is with us.”
I’m not saying that any of this stuff is wrong or immoral, I’m just saying that the message of Christmas, that God is with us, doesn’t seem like such big news to most of us.  We’ve always believed that God is with us, right from the very beginning of our nation.
A word of caution is in order, however; in Jesus’ day, the people who had little problem believing that God was with them were the Romans.  They would have said, “Of course God is with us!  Look at the Roman Empire!  We have conquered many lands—who can do that unless the gods are with them?  We have wealth like the world has never seen.  Our citizens enjoy rights and privileges like citizens of no other lands.  We have a republican form of government that is fairer than any other form of government, and we endeavor to spread that to the barbaric lands that we conquer, bringing with us the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome.  God is with us?  Yes, and his name is Caesar!”
For the normal peasant living in Galilee or Judea, they believed that God would some day come back to be with them, but at the present time there was little evidence that he was or that he was going to show up anytime soon.  Rather, there was plenty of evidence that God was still angry over their sins, their inability to keep their covenant responsibilities, and their war-like natures.  The pursuit of happiness?  Such a thing never entered their minds.  Who can be concerned with being happy when surviving another day, another week, another year is seen as a major victory.
God is with us?  Us?  Well, I wish, but it doesn’t appear to be so, does it?
It is to these people that the word went out, “God is with you.”  “Blessed are the poor,” Jesus said, “for theirs is the Kingdom of God.
It takes faith to be poor and believe that God is with you.  Like I said, the people who need the most to hear the news that God is with them are the people who have the least reason to believe that he is.  The young Indonesian girl who has been kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery, where she services a dozen men a day, every day—think she believes that God is with her?  If she believes anything at all she must believe that she somehow angered God and he has abandoned her.
The African mother who watches helplessly as her young child dies of a disease contracted because the only water available is full of impurities—she needs to hear that God is with her, but what kind of faith will it take for her to actually believe it?
And what about the child living in Frederick County amidst people who live comfortable middle-class lifestyles, yet he sleeps in his car with the rest of his family because dad lost his job and mom works a minimum wage job?  What is he to believe?
The Christian life is an incarnational life—we are the Body of Christ.  If people in situations like I’ve just described are going to actually believe that God is with them, it’s going to be because we are with them.  It’s going to be because we don’t look past them like they don’t exist or, even worse, like they are an embarrassment.  It’s going to be because we refuse to make snide comments about them needing to learn to speak English (as if they don’t want to or refuse to, even though they will earn more money if they do).  It’s going to be because we don’t blame them (or their government) for their poverty.
 The Kingdom of God is the place where it’s easy to believe that God is with us.  That’s God’s vision for the earth—that no person live in such a way that being told that God is with them is a cruel joke.  That instead it’s just accepted truth.

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