And they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’
Christmas comes every year — in peacetime and in war; in times of sorrow and of joy; in sickness and in health. No matter our feelings about the state of our nation and our world, Christmas comes. And with it, the clarion call of audacious hope: God is with us.
However you celebrate Christmas this year, never lose sight of the spiritual power at the heart of this season: Jesus comes to us where we are, as we are. He is not afraid of the mess we all too often make of things. For all the beauty of our celebrations, remember that Jesus was born in harsh, dangerous circumstances. We celebrate his birth not because it all happened perfectly, but because everything wasn’t perfect. Imperfection is where God chose to come, and chooses still.
The Christmas story, writes Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, “reveals a who God has entered our world as it actually exists, and not as the world we often wish it would be. ….[We’ve lost the plot if we use religion as the place where we escape from difficult realities instead of as the the place where those difficult realities are given meaning.”
There is joy, peace and hope in the celebration of Christmas, but not sanitized living or wishful thinking. The joy goes deeper; the peace surpasses human understanding; the hope emboldens us to walk in the darkest places as witnesses to the light.
Nor would Christmas be real if we left any part of ourselves out. Dare to believe that God wants you to bring all of yourself: every joy, every sorrow, every disappointment, every hope. This is a particularly potent moment to invite Christ into your life, for the first or the hundredth time–not the life you wish you had, but the one that is yours–and to ask him how you might help him bring peace and healing to the world–not the world you wish we had, but the world as it is.
United Nations peacekeeper Hizkias Assefa works in some of the most violent nations of the world. It’s difficult, often heartbreaking work. When asked how he keeps going, Assefa simply replied, “I am Christian. For Christians, hopelessness is not an option.”
For Christians, hopelessness is not an option because we believe that God never gives up hope in us. The birth of Christ was not a one-time event that happened long ago. Christ is born anew each and every time one of us takes his message of love to heart and follows him in the way of love and reconciliation. You can be that Christ-bearer in the world, and so can I. What better way to live the brief and wondrous lives we’re given. For ours is an audacious hope: God is with us.