Saturday 21 December 2013

The sign of Emmanuel

The coming Sunday, 4th of Advent, has the very same readings as those for 20 December: the prophecy of Isaiah regarding the Virgin birth, and the fulfilment of that prophecy as narrated in the gospels.

Isaiah tells Ahaz to ask for a sign, and the king, because he does not really want to hear or obey the word of God, piously says he will not put God to the test. The sign is given anyway, and the sign is the Virgin and child.

The sign that is given to us, whether we want it or not, is Mary and the Child. The Child who is Emmanuel, God with us.

This is the sign that is given yet again to us, today, everyday, every Christmas: God is with us.

Let me let this Word wash over me. Over my concrete reality. What is my reality? What is the reality of my life? What are my joys, and what makes me suffer? What is it that I find hard, difficult, unbearable, impossible? In the midst of that reality, comes the Word: God is with us. I am with you.


Suffering is of many kinds. Perhaps for today we could say: there is suffering for which I am at least partly responsible; and there is suffering that has come my way, in which I have had no role to play. If I am suffering because I have eaten too much pansit, and too many sweets and chocolates, then I am responsible for this suffering. If I have fallen down and broken my arm because I drank too much on Christmas day, I am responsible for this suffering. But if I fell down and broke my arm because I slipped on the ice, I am not responsible for this suffering.

In both kinds of suffering, the Word comes to us: Christ is born. God is with us. I am with you.

My first response is to believe, with all my heart. Do I believe?

My next response is to see what God is telling me. If I am responsible for my suffering, is he telling me to change? Is he telling me to stop eating too much, stop drinking too much? And if I am not responsible for my suffering, he still says: I am with you. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find Jesus promising us a life without suffering. What he does promise is: I will be with you, till the end of the world. I am with you, and that is enough. Is it enough for me? That may be the challenge God is putting before me today: to believe in his all-sufficiency, to believe that he is enough for me, that he is happiness enough for me, that he is my happiness. [Psalm.] Whether things change or not, God is with me, and that is enough.


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