My favourite thing about Christmas has always been the name Immanuel, and what it really means. To have an omnipotent creator God who saw that the most important thing for him to be and do is to be present: to be God-with-us. Even as a child, without understanding the theological beauty of this, I loved Immanuel.
In the tumult of ongoing personal and professional storms, with no spiritual community to uphold me, I find myself ruminating on the connection between Immanuel and hope. Both feel far away from me in my current circumstances. When someone talks about hope, I want to walk away. There’s no place for hope in this pit. Things will happen as they happen, and there is no point in hoping for them to fall a certain way.
People wishing for the best for me, saying they hope and pray things will work out even better than expected – this makes me feel alone, not hopeful or supported. More comforting are those who simply acknowledge that my situation is awful and then include me in life, maintaining presence without expecting me to perform either grief or joy for them.
Right now, hoping hurts. It hurts to remember how I previously built a business from nothing to a liveable income. I look at empty bank accounts, and the life I lived two years ago feels like another lifetime. It hurts to imagine living with my husband in our own home, because they are on the other side of the world, out of reach.
Which brings me to Immanuel: God with us.
The Almighty God of love looked at a dark and broken world, and he knew that what we needed wasn’t inspirational stories, cheery words, thoughts and prayers, or to be checked in on. What we needed was presence.
The hope of Christmas isn’t that things are wonderful now that Christ is here.
The hope of Christmas isn’t that Jesus will fix everything.
The hope of Christmas isn’t even that Easter is on the horizon and THAT will fix everything.
The hope of Christmas is Immanuel.
The hope of Christmas is that we are not alone.
The hope of Christmas is that we have a God who has lived in the darkness with us.
The hope of Christmas is that Immanuel is in it for the long haul.
Our God doesn’t swoop in and save us at the end. He’s here for the whole journey. The whole dark and broken experience of life among messy and messed up people. He’s the friend who sticks with us when we’re not nice to be around. He’s the one who will sit with us in silence, not just offer cliched words of “comfort.” He understands that hope isn’t about twirling in the sunshine; it is about believing in light while living in utter darkness.
Sometimes, remembering the good that was – hurts.
Sometimes, believing in the good that will be – hurts.
But it is here in the darkness, the brokenness, the mess and destruction, that we find Immanuel. God with us. This is the real hope of Christmas.
I don’t have to change, I don’t have to fix anything, I don’t have to paste on a smile or make myself peppy. These things aren’t hope. I don’t have to believe that immigration paperwork will happen quickly or smoothly. I don’t have to believe my business will recover. I don’t have to believe my health will ever be okay.
Hope is knowing that what I see now is not all there is.
Hope is knowing that no matter what befalls me – Immanuel.
Hope is knowing that journeying through darkness is part of the journey of faith, and not a diversion from it. It is an opportunity to experience Immanuel.
Jesus looks at my dark and broken life and knows that what I need isn’t inspirational stories, cheery words, thoughts and prayers, or to be checked in on. What I need is presence with me on the journey. What I need is Immanuel.