“All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means 'God is with us').” -- Isaiah 7:14 NLT
On this Christmas eve of 2018, I have a confession to make.
I don’t like the word Immanuel, or Emmanuel, and would much prefer it being cut out of the Bible. Eliminated from all Christian faith, or at least my own faith. And I say this not because I lack faith in God. Rather, I lack faith in myself.
Let me try and explain.
See, the world Emmanuel, which means God with us, suggests in my mind that God is reaching down to take my hand and walk with me when I would much rather He pick me up and carry me. I’ve stumbled and fallen down on my own and, in my humble opinion, it’s time for God to come and pick me up and just take over control of my life for me. I want God to be “for” me, not “with” me.
I lack faith in myself to do this “with” business that the word Emmanuel challenges me to expect. I don’t need God’s hand to walk with me. I don’t need God’s influence. I need God’s arms to carry me. I need God’s control.
Or, at least that’s what I want. I think I need it, but I really want it because I lack faith in myself.
What I want for Christmas is a God who will pick me up and carry me, and who will control this dark world in these troubled times and make it all better and brighter. A God who will do “for” and not “with” us. A God who will be "the" light, not tell me to also be the light or let "my" light so shine.
I confess that where Christmas is concerned, I don’t want a human baby who will come and live with me. I don’t want the Christ-child of Bethlehem. I want the Christ-adult of Calvary. I want a divine Savior who will go straight to the Cross and die for me so I don’t have to die. I don’t want to have this Christ who lives here to teach and preach and say I should take up my own cross and follow him. I want a Christ who will do things for me, not say things with me.
I want a sky-God who will take control, not an earth-God who will give influence.
I want God to come and condemn this crazy world, not save it. Or, put another way, I want a God who will save the world “for” me or save me “from” the world. Not a little baby of Bethlehem who will save the world “with” me letting my own light shine and taking up my own cross. I want a simple divine Christ who will say “believe me,” not a complicated human Christ who will say “follow me.” I want a Christmas God who will come down, pick me up, and carry me out of this place of stumbling and fallen humanity. That’s what I want for Christmas from God.
Instead, the Bible uses the term Emmanuel.
Perhaps God knows what I want but also cares even more about what I really need this Christmas. I need Emmanuel. I need to follow the child of Bethlehem. I need that human hand in mine to walk with. That human ear and that human voice to pray with. I need a God I can do things with. I need a God who empowers me, not overpowers me. I need a God who influences me, not controls me. I need a God who enables me to help save the world, not condemn it. Who helps the world survive, not end. Who helps transform the world into God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. I need a God who dies with me, not for me. A God who leads me to a cross where, in losing my own life I am saved.
I need Emmanuel.
Yet, I confess that’s not what I’ve asked for. No. I’ve been asking for that one set of footprints in the sand where God is carrying me. Where I don’t have to stand back up and walk “with” God’s human hand in mine, feet alongside mine, and making two sets of footprints after all.
O come, O come Emmanuel. God, give me all that I need this Christmas, even if it’s not what I’ve always wanted. Give me back those two sets of footprints after all.