Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
– Isaiah 7:14, ESV
I have a friend at work whose son is singing the Amy Grant song “Emmanuel” for a school Christmas show. He comically describes his son rocking out to this eighties smoothrocking anthem. It is undoubtedly a peppy song and I remember singing it loudly, while having no idea what Emmanuel even meant. One day, I found out that it means “God with us.” That is what God promised Israel. Not a distant, removed god, but God who dwells with his people. The course of history changed with Christ’s birth – his seemingly, by outward appearances, insignificant birth.
This is what we celebrate at Christmas – that God sent Jesus to be our Emmanuel. Yet, the greatest gift for us is so often the most challenging one to really believe. As a Christian, I mentally assent that Emmanuel is a reality for me today. But my heart does not always act out of that reality. If anything, one of the deepest wars in my soul is battling out whether I truly believe that God is with me.
Because there are days when I try to take up my own causes and defend myself. When I trace back what fuels these actions, I see that there are parts of my very own heart that struggle to trust that God really is with me.
There are days when I avoid what I’m really feeling and will use any TV show or movie to ignore my churning, lonely heart. These are the parts of my heart that feel as though I’m invisible. Again, I struggle to believe that God can meet me in my obscurity.
There are days when I’m impatient, feeling as though the waiting (waiting for, fill in the blank) will never end. In those moments, my heart suspects that God has forgotten me.
I see the Christian life as the place where the Spirit confronts our half-truths and lies. It is a process that is anything but pristine. Rather, it’s a tangled place, where my fragmented heart comes to light. It’s the place where I realize I am just as much in need of God today, as I was on the day I first met him. And it’s in the place of neediness that I can receive the gift of Emmanuel.