“...an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, pause from your busyness for the moment and reflect on this – God is with us. Don’t dismiss this simple idea too quickly. Emmanuel – God is with us. In this moment, in this age, in the place, in space, and in actuality, God. Is. With. Us. Amazing. Miraculous. Overwhelming. God is with us.
I wonder if our daily living reflects this fact? Too often we reduce faith to a simplistic belief and acclamation with no deep substance. We believe, Lord, help our unbelief. What we say and how we act are sometimes very different things. What we want to believe and what we truly believe can be different, too.
What does it look like when God is with us? I offer a few thoughts, gifts perhaps that take some of the pressure off us as we strive to become committed disciples, living our faith in a world-transforming manner.
First, if God is with us, we can let go of our need to control everything. We can be more fully in the moment, living in the present, allowing the past to rest, and the future to be, and become whatever it will be. Anxiety, worry, guilt, and shame can all be released. What we have been and done is not as important as who we are in the presence of God. What we will be is taken care of, because God is with us – guiding and tending and teaching and supporting. In the words of our ten-step sisters and brothers, we simply can “let go and let God.” This is not an abdication of responsibility, but a resting in the providence and assurance that we are dwelling together with a loving God.
Second, we can let go of judgment. It is not our responsibility to determine who God may engage with; God can take care of God’s self. Any and all, sinner and saint, rich and poor, any race and creed, may experience Emmanuel – God with us – at God’s whim and will. And we don’t have to worry about who is acceptable and who is not, who is blessed and who is cursed, who belongs and who doesn’t. It simply is not our call. God is with us ALL. How wonderful to be freed from the awesome burden of judging others!
Third, we can serve and be served. If God is truly with us, would we ever truly want for anything? Those who have will share with those who lack. Those who enjoy and celebrate will extend the celebration to include others. Those who mourn and grieve will find comfort from God through the grace and kindness of others, because God is with us, supplying all we need to serve others and to be served by others. When God is with us, we are lifted above our divisions to become one people of God. We move beyond equality to equity; beyond tolerance to joyful community; beyond fear and suspicion to blessed assurance and amazing grace. We need never worry again about survival, because when God is with us, uniting us and binding us in love, there is more than enough for all to thrive.
Beautiful people, let your God-given beauty to shine. Make a commitment and goal to be an example of Emmanuel – God is with us. At this Christmas time accept an amazing gift: God wants us to be gifts to one another! And as we live as Emmanuel people, our witness to the world will be one of joy, peace, hope, justice, mercy and love. I pray for you this Christmas time. Pray for one another, and in all ways give thanks to God – for God is with us!
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).