Baby Jesus gets a lot of attention this time of year as we struggle to help keep Christ in Christmas and avoid consumerism. But what does Immanuel, (God with us) (Isaiah 7:14 AMP) really mean?
The Holiday Season comes fraught with expectations (usually unrealistic), social functions (usually too many), and extended family (often stressful). The gift you need to give yourself this holiday season is self-care. Come back each Sunday this month for examples of self-care activities that will bring you peace in the season of chaos.
A Christmas Pagent
Mary wore glasses and Adidas tennis shoes with one of the dirty laces untied. A fire in the woodstove popped and crackled from the corner of the sanctuary, giving off the faint aroma of wood smoke.
“And sometime in the middle of the night, Baby Jesus was born,” the narrator intoned, while Mary scrambled from her prone position on stage to grab a doll from behind a stable wall.
No mention of the mess or the trauma of first-time parents bringing a newborn into the world. The real stable, filled with animals that stomped, chewed, and rustled, a far cry from the sanitized delivery rooms we have today.
When the angels awoke the shepherds, they vigorously chewed their gum as they shouted their lines. One of the wise men wore a Burger King crown as he followed the star to Bethlehem. When the final note of the last song ended, the cast of eight filed off the stage to receive the congratulations of their friends and families.
Baby Jesus stayed in the manger, forgotten and forlorn, while the children hurried to the fellowship hall to check the progress of the covered-dish lunch. Hours later, Immanuel, God with us, remained in the manger.
Immanuel, God with Us
How like our real lives. We celebrate Jesus’ birth each year, and we sing songs praising him 52 times a year (if we attend church with regularity). But how often do we forget his name, ‘Immanuel,’ means ‘God with us?’
His first advent marks a change in the relationship between heaven and earth. We no longer need a priest as an intermediary between us and God. Once Jesus came to live among us—things changed.
He didn’t just come as a baby and live a forgotten life.
Immanuel came as a baby, grew as a child, worked as an adult and prepared for his ministry until his thirties. And then, only then, did he make his purpose known—when the time was right.
In order to live out the meaning of his name, he experienced everything we struggle with today. Helplessness, childishness, puberty, friendship, betrayal, abandonment. By doing so, he fulfilled the claim of God with us.
Immanuel doesn’t limit his presence to the past, though. He offers his presence in the present. Immanuel doesn’t just mean ‘God was with us,’ but ‘God WITH us’—past, present, and future.
Four Ways to Not Leave Jesus in the Manger
The greatest gift we can give ourselves this time of year involves a commitment (or recommitment) to deepening our relationship with the One who longs for us to let him in. To experience spiritual wholeness, we must give ourselves the gift of spiritual self-care throughout the year.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say we have to spend a proscribed amount of time on our knees or reading scripture. Don’t let someone’s idea of an hour each morning in personal devotions prevent you from giving yourself the gift of time with God.
1. Start Small—Five Minutes a Day
Jesus came as a baby. We can take baby steps, too. Start by downloading the YouVersion of the Bible and reading the verse of the day in your favorite translation first thing in the morning. Check the verse of the day before you check your social media. Pray that the Holy Spirit uses the verse to speak to you, change you, and draw you closer to Immanuel.
2. Listen to the Music
You can listen to praise music (and Christmas music) outside the four walls of the church. Play a little TobyMac or Casting Crowns while you exercise. Belt out the lyrics to a King and Country song while you scrub toilets or vacuum. Thump your steering wheel along with the beat of a Rend Collective (I dare you to not sing along) while you wait in traffic. Spiritual songs tell and retell the gospel in ways that resonate with us on many levels.
3. Praise when You Feel Like Cursing
Ever stubbed your toe? In my teens, I read somewhere that when we stub a toe, we should praise God instead of cursing our ill-fortune. The author promised that the pain would go away faster. Science probably can’t back this up, but I’ve cultivated a habit of praising God when I stub my toe (literally or figuratively). When I focus on praising God with me it helps keep my mind off the temporary pain.
4. Keep an Attitude of Gratitude
Keep a list of things you want to give thanks for. My list includes everything from the mundane (a good night’s sleep) to the divine (answered prayers). As you add things to your list, you’ll see evidence of Immanuel, God with us.
Simple steps, simple gifts we can give ourselves to keep the wonder of Immanuel with us all year long.
Which of these have you tried, and how have they helped you keep the miracle of God with us all year long?
Come back next week for a new series on goal-setting and achievement.