Today begins the first of a series of advent posts that consider the coming of Emmanuel, God with us, and what that means to those of us who came over 2,000 years after the Son of God was born in Bethlehem.
In one of my favorite Hollywood prayers, Ricky Bobby begins his family meal, “Dear Lord Baby Jesus…”
His father-in-law interrupts him, saying, “He was a MAN! He had a BEARD!”
Ricky Bobby insists that he likes to think of Jesus as a baby. “Dear Tiny Infant Jesus… Dear tiny Jesus in your golden-fleece diapers, with your tiny little fat balled-up fists… Dear Eight Pound, Six Ounce, Newborn Baby Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant, so cuddly, but still so omnipotent… Thank you for all your power and your grace, Dear Baby God, Amen.”
I laugh every time. I also laugh when his friend, Cal, says he likes to think of Jesus wearing a tuxedo t-shirt.
At this time of year, I like to think of Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us. My favorite advent hymn begins, “O come, o come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
God With Us arrived. He arrived over 2,000 years ago and ransomed captive Israel. He rescued them, and everyone who came after, from mourning and exile. And then he died. And then he rose again.
After he ascended to meet God the Father, God With Us sent us someone who could be with us forever. She’s a lot harder to pin down (some people think of the Holy Spirit as a “She”—I’m a fan of that, but I’m also a fan of Jesus in a tuxedo t-shirt). God the Father sends the Holy Spirit in Jesus’s name to teach us all things and remind us of everything Jesus said while he was hanging out down here. The Holy Spirit is called the Advocate in John 14:26, or the Comforter, the Counselor, the Helper, the Intercessor, the Strengthener, the Standby according to an amplified translation.
Advent is the anticipation of the arrival of dear baby Jesus, the days leading up to that great and famous birth story we celebrate on December 25. For 24 days, we wait. We long. We mourn. And yet the hymn calls Israel to rejoice, because He’s coming! God With Us is coming.
Christmas is the time of year when we remember the arrival of Jesus on Earth. Here he is, the Christ child, lying in a manger. We love this story because it’s about a baby and farm animals, and who doesn’t love a little baby in a bed of straw in a feed trough, like one of those Anne Geddes portraits that have spawned all kinds of wacky newborn photos?
But God didn’t just come down to earth for a 33-year period, make his appearance and then disappear from the planet. God sent the Holy Spirit to be with us always. The Holy Spirit is the ever-present mystery on earth, the ever-present hope, the power that makes the Scriptures speak new truths to every generation, the reason our hearts swell and our spirits settle when we worship and pray.
God is with us, always, to the end of the age. The Holy Spirit moves in us when we pray, when we read the Bible, when we are prayed for, in our waking and our sleeping, if we summon her suddenly there is peace like a river, peace that passes all understanding. The Comforter is with us. God is with us.
Go ahead and think of Jesus as an Anne Geddes baby, baby in a manger, precious infant Jesus with his tiny, fat, balled-up fists. But he’s also Abba Father. Holy Spirit. Comforter. Redeemer. Friend. Ever-present God. Love. Word.
Yes, even Man with a Beard Jesus and Tuxedo T-shirt Jesus. The medieval painters likened him to a scary man child, so if they can get away with it, why not us?
May we sense the presence of God With Us, this season and always.