As we start to take the Christmas cards down and the last bits of tinsel get vacuumed up from the carpet, we begin putting the season away. The presents, the endless mince pies, the attempts at wrapping without losing the end of the tape, all start to become a distant memory as New Year (or Hogmanay if you’re so inclined) comes over the horizon and another Christmas comes to an end.
What lies at the centre of the Christmas celebrations is the idea of God with us – Emmanuel. Both the prophet Isaiah and the gospel of Matthew tell us that Emmanuel will be born to a young woman. This isn’t a woman who had been prepared for the childbearing duties she was to hold, or the significance of the babe, but rather she was part of God’s message of immediacy about the coming of God to be part of the world, not in the future but in the now. This wasn’t God making endless future preparations, but it was God acting to bring to earth the presence of God’s self, as a present reality. ‘She shall bear a son, and they shall call him Emmanuel: God is with us.’
The preparations for Christmas are a period of waiting for the future event. But there wasn’t a plush furnished room for Mary and Joseph on their arrival in Bethlehem. There wasn’t a family entourage to greet, support and encourage them. They couldn’t phone ahead. They had to journey to an unknown city, without a hotel booking, and just make the most of what they found. They needed to be ready for Emmanuel’s arrival – for the living out of what it means to be in the now.
But now that Christmas has come and gone and we have celebrated, through song and worship that ‘God is with us’ it might be worth pondering whether we reflect that in our lives.
We seem to enjoy making preparations. There is always some kind of buzz about preparing for something. There is the time to work through what we want or how we are to do it; to disagree with each other about how best to do it; have plenty of discussions about whether to do something new or stick with how we’ve done it before. When we talk about preparation, we can continue to think about what might be, and not be concerned with what will happen when the time actually comes.
But perhaps by doing that, we – both as a society and as a Christian community – fear what it means to embrace the statement that ‘God is with us.’ Perhaps we are uncertain what that means for our faith, what the incarnation says to us about groups we keep running; ministry we keep offering; the place of God in our world today. Perhaps we want to shy away from what it means to be people living out ‘God with us’ because that points us in a direction that we aren’t entirely comfortable with. Perhaps we want to stay in the preparation time rather than the present reality of ‘God with us’ so that we do not have to worry too much about how to make it happen.
Preparation is important; we can’t go forward in our personal lives or our life as a Church without making preparations. But we also need to be awake; ready to grab the reality that ‘God is with us.’ We need our lives to live out the reality of a God who is with us in the shape of a babe in a manger, in the shape of outstretched arms on the cross, in the empty tomb and the blessing among hungry disciples. God doesn’t wait for plans and schemes to be realised. God makes a surprise appearance and becomes incarnate among us: Emmanuel.
As we start a New Year, it is for us to live in the now of God’s presence among us, and to grasp the opportunities that God provides. We will need to think about the things we do as a Church, try new things, explore difficult topics, and deepen our relationships with one another and our local community. We do all these things in the knowledge that God is with us, journeying with us as we make decisions about our life and our priorities.
May you be blessed with God’s presence in the year to come.