The word Immanuel or as translated in some Bibles as Emmanuel, literally means “God with us.” We would all like to think that God is with us, which too often is an expression of our desire that God be on our side. Wars have been fought with both sides claiming God to be on their side. Terrorist have murdered thousands claiming God is on their side. Churches have suffered splits and divisions with both sides certain that God was on their side. What does it mean for God to be “with us”?
Jesus has taught us that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26), and that “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Therefore, in the presence of God there is a strength and power for accomplishments that is not possible without His presence. But we need to remember that “God with us” only works when we are “with God.” God is not our cosmic bellhop, there to provide for our every desire whenever we summon Him. Nor is He there to back us up when “we” make a decision according to our will, and then proclaim it to be in His name.
Jesus came as a humble servant, and His desire was to set Himself as an example to us. After Jesus washed His disciples’ feet He told them: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15). Indeed, Jesus has taught us to serve others and be willing to make sacrifices for others just as He sacrificed Himself for us. It is in our willingness to serve and sacrifice that we glorify Him the most. Humility is key. Jesus said, “for he who is least among you, this is the one who is great” (Luke 9:48).
As we approach Christmas let us reflect on the vivid examples of how God’s power is manifest through humility. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, came from a common family, wasn’t married, and lacked a formal education. From a worldly perspective she had no merit to become the Mother of the Son of God. Yet, she provides the perfect example. In the face of the impossible, she simply accepted God’s plan for her, saying, “Let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
God asks us to do far less, yet we often respond like Zechariah did when the angle told him his barren wife would finally have a child who would be a blessing to all God’s people. Zechariah doubted, and because of his lack of faith, was stricken mute until his son, who would become John the Baptist, was born. When we doubt God’s word, we too find ourselves mute and unable to witness the incredible blessings God wants us to share.
We have heard it said that when we feel far from God we should reflect on who moved. God desires to be with us in a close relationship through which He can guide, protect, strengthen and equip us to fulfill the plan He has for us, both individually and as a congregation. One of my favorite passages of Scripture has always been Jeremiah 29:11, which reads: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
This month I have announced that I am going to retire next July, which means you will be receiving a new pastor at that time. Change always causes some anxiety and concern, but let me assure you God will be “with you” even when I am gone. God will also be with me and with your new pastor. God will be with all who chose to follow Him, abide, and trust in Him. The news of my retirement is “new” to you, but God told me and Mary Kay way back in March. My letter to the Bishop, formally requesting retirement was sent in May, and approved in June by the Board of Ordained Ministry. Construction on our retirement home began in August. God has a plan for me and Mary Kay, and we are following it even though we do not know where it will ultimately lead. God also has a plan for each of you and for this congregation. We are confident that His plan is to “prosper you and not to harm you,… to give you hope and a future.” You have not seen me slow down since March, and I will continue to serve God here with all of my strength. It is my hope that you also will continue to serve Him with all of your strength.
Your fellow servant in Christ,