All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
As we anticipate the arrival of Jesus, we begin by reminding ourselves of how desperately we needed a Savior in the first place. As we celebrate the season of light, we remember that he found us in the darkness. As we rejoice in our redemption and hope in Jesus, we remember how hopeless we are without him.
When tragedy strikes, we are reminded of this desperation in ways that are too deep for words. What words we can grab hold of take shape as questions. Why me? Why her? Who is safe? What is sacred? Where can we hide that is off-limits to evil?
We light the Peace candle in our Advent wreath and wonder if there was even any sense in doing so. Is there any flicker of peace left in this world?
And perhaps the most important question of all: Where is God in this?
Perhaps many of you find this question all too familiar this year as you wrestle with grief and sorrow in a season so connected with joy. The longing of Advent and the hope of Christmas offer an unexpected answer: God is with us. He is not distant from the pain and heartache of this broken world. Instead, in the mystery of the incarnation, he enters into it. God becomes a victim of violence, a target of tragedy. He comes into this violent and broken world as a vulnerable and breakable child.
We need this good news now. And Joseph needed this good news then. As Joseph’s entire world is caving in on him, reeling from this revelation that Mary is expecting a child that does not belong to him, sorting through the broken fragments of betrayal and public shame and private confusion, he receives this word: do not be afraid. God is with you.
The prophecy referenced here is originally spoken centuries before, in Isaiah 7. And it comes through Isaiah to King Ahaz in a moment of fear and despair. The people are surrounded and threatened from every side. The enemy is closing in. They need a miracle. And into this, Isaiah says that God’s strategy for your deliverance, your security, your joy, your deepest satisfaction, your peace, your hope, your future, your here and your now is this: the Lord himself will give you a sign. God with us.
Where is God when our world comes undone? The manger tells us he is with us. The manger tells us he enters into our broken world to be broken by it—and so, to redeem it. The manger tells us that into this deep and despairing darkness a Light is dawning. The manger tells us to look again, in full anticipation of his second Advent, when Jesus our hope will return to heal every hurt, to bind up the brokenhearted, and wipe every tear from our eyes. He will swallow up tragedy in a tide of swelling redemption and enduring hope. Behold, the strategy of God.
God with us, enter into our tragedy and pain with your healing presence.
AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH, AND MADE HIS DWELLING AMONG US.
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