Immanuel: The Miracle of Hope

There is a part of the Christmas story that is often pushed under the rug, ignored, overlooked. We celebrate the sweet baby in a manger, the humble shepherds visited by heavenly hosts, a young mother amazed by her calling, and regal visitors bearing gifts that foreshadow. These images have taken on an almost mystical and magical status for many of us. And they are such beautiful, hope-filled scenes, it is no wonder we sit in candlelit sanctuaries and quietly read and sing of them on Christmas Eve.

But there is that one haunting, often undiscussed bit of the story that gnaws at us.

Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A cry was heard in Ramah—
weeping and great mourning.
Rachel weeps for her children,
refusing to be comforted,
for they are dead.”

It is that part of the story that has been swirling through my mind lately, and it is that part of the story that came to mind when I first heard of the brutal murder of women and children in Connecticut a few days ago. Here we are, preparing to celebrate the hope of Christmas, and yet this season only makes the murders seem more tragic, if that were possible.

Hope pushed up against horror. Life placed next to untimely death. It causes us to question, does it not?

Lord, why? How do you allow this? Both then, in Bethelehem and now, in America? Are you good? Are you love? If so, then why?  

And any of us who are honest have to admit that we cannot give answers to the deepest parts of these questions. There is not a sufficient explanation that will immediately take away the pain that has now been etched into parents' hearts. Even in Bethlehem, they refused to be comforted. The pain is simply too great.  

But the sweet truth that the Lord whispers to us in these moments, if we will be quiet enough to hear, is Immanuel.  

God with us.  

This is the truth that assures us, in the midst of such tragedy and evil, that God is good and God is love. For, while we cannot explain the circumstances, we can gain peace because God has entered into the pain with us.  

When God became flesh in that dark Bethlehem stable, he entered the suffering, sorrow-filled, fallen world as a human. He left the comfort of heaven, by choice, to share in our pain. He traded his glory, for a time, to experience our grief as one of us. He was born into the smelly muck of an animal pen, as if to say, from the beginning,   I enter into your grief. Since you are not spared grief in this fallen world, I will not be spared it either.  

If Jesus had stayed on his throne, viewing all this suffering and grief from afar, we might have reason to think God is some puppet-master who takes pleasure in watching others suffer. When he said, "Don't worry. I love you. Everything will be okay," we might have reason to say, "Yeah, right. Easy for you to say from your throne room."  

The reality is, however, that it was not easy for him to say. When Jesus entered into this world, no part of it was easy. From his birth to his death, life was hard. He was spared murder as a babe in Bethlehem, only to be brutally murdered as a righteous man years later. His earthly life was filled with pain and suffering, just as it is for so many today. But the difference is, he chose the pain and suffering...for us.  

So at moments like the ones we've experienced this week, we can come to God Almighty, knowing we approach One who knows our pain well and who entered into it completely...for the purpose of providing us a way out. HOPE.  

Hope beyond the evil. Beyond the grief.  

For just beyond the manger and the cross, stand the empty tomb and the occupied throne.  

Just beyond the tears and the questions, stands One who understands. One who is called Immanuel.  

He is not God above us. God beyond us. God apart from us.

That first Christmas night, He became, now and forever...  

God with us.  

Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever...but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.
The people who walk in darkness
will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness,
a light will shine.

You will enlarge the nation of Israel,
and its people will rejoice.
They will rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest
and like warriors dividing the plunder.

For you will break the yoke of their slavery
and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders.
You will break the oppressor’s rod,
just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.

For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
will make this happen!
Isaiah 9

I think our real question should be not, "Why would you let this happen?", but "Why would you do so much to provide us, a selfish, disobedient, and evil people, such hope?"

Now that is something that defies explanation, and should leave us saying:

“I will praise you, O Lord!

You were angry with me, but not any more.
Now you comfort me.
See, God has come to save me.
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
The Lord God is my strength and my song;
he has given me victory.”

With joy you will drink deeply
from the fountain of salvation!
In that wonderful day you will sing:
“Thank the Lord! Praise his name!"

Isaiah 12


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