Note: This devotion first appeared in the Adult Leader Rest Area devotions at the 2019 LCMS Youth Gathering in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It has been edited to reflect the Campfires and Marshmallows audience in the time of COVID-19. I pray these words are an encouragement to all who read them.
Emmanuel. A beautiful name of God that often gets packed up in a little box on December 26th and set up on a basement shelf, waiting again to be opened on the first Sunday of Advent. We are so eager to welcome God With Us into our homes and churches as a cute little baby about whom we sing on candlelit evenings while soft snow falls in the background. Perhaps the promise of a fresh start in January gives us the freedom to welcome Christ into our lives. “I may not have it all together now, but you should see my New Year’s Resolutions this year…” And isn’t there just something so precious and innocent about gazing at a brand-spankin-new human that calms performance anxiety and the need to impress?
But where is He now in the middle of a worldwide shut-down? When the reality of our failings bring to mind God With Us in the cleansing of the temple. Filled with righteous anger and zest for purity to be restored, God With Us clears His Father’s House with a less-than-gentle approach. Is this the image that we fear? Our unholiness faced with His perfect presence?
David tackles this fear in Psalm 139, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (verse 7). He wrestles with the fact that no matter where he goes or how much darkness surrounds him, he cannot escape the presence of God. While terrifying, David exclaims, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me” (verse 6). David embraced the fear and knowledge of God With Us because he understood the attributes of God’s behavior.
David understood “The Lord of Hosts is With Us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:11). No matter what, God is With Us. Think back on this week. Is there anything that causes you to cringe? Moments you think, “this would have been perfect if she hadn’t…” or “everything has gone smoothly except that I forgot to…” or even, “I can’t wait to get away from my family and rest from all the craziness we’ve endured.” Guess what? God is With You through it. And if everything is smooth sailing right now? God is With You through that, too. As an adult, we often feel the pressure to have it all together “for the sake of the young.” We need to have the right words to say when approached with a big question, and we certainly can’t be seen snapping at anyone else out of exhaustion. The pressure is enormous. But what happens when we are late to the dinner that we emphasized needed to be timely? What happens when we are caught crying from exhaustion or emotion? What happens when we don’t have the words to say? God With Us. We run to Him, we run to our fortress.
David spoke to God because he knew God’s presence was near. And thousands of years later we can rejoice that we live in the time of God With Us – God Made Flesh – who “dwelt among us…full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) and who has sent his Holy Spirit to remain with us.
David pleads, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Psalm 139:23) David trusted that God’s knowledge of him was not a scary prospect, but rather one of peace. God knows us intimately, and yet he still chooses to be God With Us.
Sometimes this is difficult to accept, which is why we are given a community of believers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks to this, “Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth.” We need community because God’s presence is in community. God With Us presents through the kind, encouraging word, or needed correction from a trusted voice. While the world may look different, and human interaction has changed, I pray that you experience this deepest sense of community despite social distance. I pray you can be this community to others. Above all, I hope you know as David did that you are deeply known and deeply loved by God With Us, who is present with you at all times, through his Word, through his Sacraments, and through his people, no matter what.