Bulletin-Image-wk4As we search for wonder in this season, we turn our attention to a promise.

I was preparing for my senior year at Greenville College. The summer was moving by pretty quick and I had many plans to make, including finding housing for the upcoming year. Now, for those who experienced large scale school where you had to have housing all set up almost a year ahead, this was a bit different. I needed to tell my school whether I was going to live on campus or off, but if I chose off campus, it was up to me to find where I was going to live. But there weren’t scores of buildings with apartments to choose from. This was in a smaller town, one with a population of around 2000.

Well, being the procrastinator that I am, I waited until mid-summer to find a place to live. I found a little apartment in my price range, and without seeing in in person, mailed my deposit to the owner. I was excited to move into my new place. This was going to be the first time that I lived alone, no roommate for that year. I was going to have the place all to myself.

Move in day came and since I drove myself down to school, I had limited space to bring things with me. As I moved the few things I had into the apartment, I realized the condition was not as good as I thought it was going to be, more than that, I didn’t have some of the things that would help pass the time. No TV, no stereo, no video games, no telephone, nothing, not even much furniture to sit on. Those first few nights were horrible. I was incredibly alone. More alone than I had ever been before, and I didn’t like it. I wanted friends, family, anyone to help share the time with. But I had no one, especially because I was off campus.

I am not the only one with these feelings either. Many of you have felt the same way, in fact, you might be thinking of a time when you felt alone like this. Maybe it was at school, maybe it was in your job, maybe it was during special holidays, maybe it was during Christmas. There are a lot of times that we feel alone, discouraged, depressed, or even desperate at Christmastime. But there is hope.

During our time of Advent, we have talked about wonder. We’ve looked into the wonder of a star, the wonder of a name, and the wonder of a manger. Each of these themes point in a certain direction, and that is the wonder of a promise.

So, what was the promise? The promise comes from the prophecy from Isaiah, the 7th chapter; “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel.”

Isaiah was one of many prophets who spoke God’s word to the Israelites. Like many other prophets, Isaiah spoke about the things that God despised, about the sin of the people, but also of a promise, a coming King who would rule on the throne of David for all eternity. The people were waiting for a King, they were waiting for the Messiah who was promised in this prophecy from Isaiah. But then, 400 or so years goes by. Silence. I can only imagine how alone the people felt. Alone, waiting, hoping, trusting in a promise from so long ago. But there was something different about this promise from God. The child’s name would be Immanuel, God ‘with’ us. The people had known about the God who was above us, creating all things, watching over us. And they knew of God against us when we sinned, passing judgement on what we do and say. But they also knew of God for us, especially when we were doing things right. When we were living into God’s calling on our lives, following the commands, loving God and neighbor.

But this promise was a bit different. This was Immanuel, God ‘with’ us. What could that possibly mean? For the Israelites, there was always someone between them and God. Moses, a priest, a prophet, or even a king. There was someone who could intercede on their behalf. But this promise was new. God was proclaiming that the desire was to be God with us, so that we would never have to be alone again; not on Christmas or any other day. We would not be alone on our best days, just as we wouldn’t be alone on our worst days. That is the promise of Christmas, of this birth, of Immanuel, is that God is with us, always.

I remember a family that I was able to be with during the worst time in their lives. The mother and father had just lost their 1-day old child. The emptiness and aloneness they must have been feeling, the seemingly absence of God in that moment and the silence must have been deafening. However, as I sat down and was only present with them in that moment, was the moment they felt the very presence of God in the room. At once they knew they were not alone. God was not just above them. God was not against them. God was ‘with’ them. They were not alone, just as we are not alone.

This is what God does for us. This is the wonder in a promise. God promised to be with us, and God is. Christmas is not a one-time story, but a continual story. The wonder of Christmas is that God is with us, and we can claim that promise for ourselves now. We claim that promise by living our lives, proclaiming that original promise of God with us to all those around us. My prayer is that we would all live into that promise so that all who see us will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the promise God gave all of us is real, and it’s for them too.

Christmas is the assurance that no matter how far we have traveled from God’s will in our lives, no matter how far we’ve fallen, no matter how much we’ve sinned, or hove badly we’ve been hurt, abandoned, judged, or viewed by others, God has not come to judge us, but to be with us. To walk with us, to love us, to cry with us, to encourage us.

God is not just above us. God is not against us. God is not some far off deity, observing but never engaging. God, as we remember the promise of Christmas, is with us. We are not alone. We are never alone.