God With Us (Not With Them?)
Article by Elisabeth Bojangle
Advent: God coming to us
As I write this mid-December morning, my fingers are clumsy and cool from the chilly steering wheel during my drive home from dropping the kids off at school. The season of advent is a warming reminder of the God who is not distant and cold.
Rejoice! Emmanuel Has Come
I referred to God as Emmanuel during Christmas time. My mind’s eye held the image of a baby in a manger, somehow fully God and fully human, who eventually died on the cross and rose again. Celebrating the birth of baby Jesus seemed like the beginning of good news, the gospel, for everyone who believed. I loved the carol “O Come O Come Emmanuel” for the hope I felt when I sang it.
I would also feel something deep and sorrowful when I sang this particular carol, the melody is sad and even haunting at times. As a child I didn’t understand but now I sense the longing. When I thought of Emmanuel I meant God with me and people who believed like me. When I said God with us I thought it also meant God not with them. I was ok with excluding millions of people because I viewed the gospel as a dividing line to show who was and wasn’t with God.
God With Some of Us
As I’ve sifted through all the beliefs I’ve held onto so dearly I think the one I repented of the most is the belief that God is weak, containable, and whose holiness was fragile and could be ruined by humanity. “God With Only Some of Us” or worse: “God Not With Them.”
When I implied God is with me but not with them I completely missed the point. I didn’t even think to ask “Who is my neighbor?” because I was so sure who was NOT my neighbor.
Where is or isn’t God?
I can’t declare where God isn’t anymore. Not for the reasons I had before. You see, Jesus embodied literal human weakness, contained in the vulnerable body of an infant. This holiness isn’t fragile. God became our weakness to show us a different kind of strength: God with us.
Where God Shouldn’t Be
Do you know the story about a woman with “an issue of blood” in Matthew 9, Mark 5, and Luke 8? This woman snuck up behind Jesus to touch the hem of the robe he was wearing in hopes she would be healed.
This touch was taboo. According to the culture and religious/spiritual laws her touch defiled Jesus physically and spiritually. She shouldn’t have touched him, Jesus shouldn’t have been touched by her.
Could She Defile Jesus? Could Jesus be defiled?
He evidently didn’t think so. Jesus, a rabbi, would have known to stop what he was doing to perform ritual cleansing and then stay away from everyone till the next morning. This would cleanse him of defilement and prevent him from defiling anyone else.
Jesus didn’t do any of that.
Instead, Jesus completely disregarded the idea that the woman or himself were defiled, inherently capable of defiling others, or needed separation from others. The woman wasn’t an obstacle to overcome on his way to arguably more important tasks, nor was she an object of defilement he had to protect himself from. Jesus instead acknowledged and blessed her publicly then went on his way unflustered, undeterred.
Jesus reveals a God that can’t be defiled.
Isn’t that a beautiful story? I can get behind a God like that, a God who cares less about what people think is appropriate and more about people. A God whose holiness isn’t fragile but powerful. This God doesn’t believe the lie that some people are inherently less holy or valuable than others (and we don’t have to either). The holiness of God actually un-defiles, un-wounds, unites (We get to be a part of this integration). This restoration is the gospel, the good news of Jesus.
If I could convey one thing to you it would be this:
God is with us.
All of us. Me and You. And Them. There is only us: Whoever you are, wherever you are. Whatever the situation. To those who were told you don’t belong: you do.
You might have left the church, your beliefs, even your faith but God hasn’t left you. In fact, you could be closer to God than where you were before.
Advent is this: Emmanuel is both who and where God is.
All of us.
May you find yourself surprised by Grace and Peace this season.