You know how you can be trying to think of something specific and you just can’t seem to recall the very thing your brain is searching for? Maybe where you left your keys, what your great grandma’s middle name was, the name of your best friend in 5th grade, etc. . . I recently heard someone say that you can ask anyone what their absolute favorite book is and they will struggle to simply recall their top five or that you can ask someone what their favorite movie is and, for just a second, they forget every movie they’ve ever seen until their brain catches up.
Suddenly the thing you have been trying to think of hits you like the colloquial freight train and you wonder how you could have forgotten it to begin with.
I feel like – more often than not – this is how God finds us.
Not that God has lost us, but that, for a moment, we have forgotten him. In dark times, our brain struggles to remember Him and who He is and what He has done in our lives. We sink deeply into the drowning waters of our own fears, panic, and stress until life threatens to swallow us completely. And then suddenly, it hits us. He comes to us when we least expect it and we remember that we were once centered. We once felt calm and whole and protected.
2013 sucked because I forgot.
Sometime before Christmas when I should have been enjoying the most wonderful time of the year, I was instead feeling like the shattered and barely pieced together version of myself that I had slowly become (as explained in my last post). I wasn’t looking for ways to feel better because feeling better required energy I just didn’t have. I felt exhausted and spent. I felt lost. . . . . . . then came the freight train.
On December 15th, we went to a Sunday evening service at church and I sat near the back with my warm cup of coffee.
I don’t honestly remember much of the message that night.
I don’t remember all the songs we sang.
I just remember one thing Pastor Fred said.
I just remember one song in particular that we sang that night.
Pastor Fred was talking about God being our Immanuel.
Immanuel means “God is with us.”
Pastor Fred said that when the prophet Isaiah spoke of Jesus’ coming (Isaiah 7:14) the people of Judah were under the rule of King Ahaz. Brief history: almost immediately upon becoming king, Ahaz joined forces with the Assyrians in order to protect himself and his new kingdom. The Assyrians had a reputation for being barbaric, violent, and ruthless. It was a very dark time for the Israelites and this alliance with the Assyrians left them incredibly vulnerable, afraid, and oppressed.
And then Pastor Fred said, “When Isaiah says, ‘Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.’ he is saying to Israel in one of their darkest times that God is their hope. He is reminding them that God sees them. He hears them. He is their hope and He is sending the Prince of Peace.”
That is when it hit me.
In Israel’s despair when they felt like shattered versions of themselves, God was going to work a miracle. He was going to do the impossible to bring them hope and to remind them that He was and is with them. When Pastor Fred said that, I couldn’t stop the tears that spilled from my eyes without warning.
God. With. Us.
Shortly after this, the sermon wrapped up and we stood to sing the closing song.
Because it was December 15th and nearly Christmas, we sang what has always been one of my favorite songs: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
The smooth melody of the music began and I felt my heart finding resolution as Pastor Fred’s words of God’s promise echoed in my heart with the powerful words of this song.
Have you ever really listened to the words of this well known Christmas carol?
Have you ever understood them in the context of what Israel was feeling?
They had no hope. They were lost. They were broken. They felt abandoned and didn’t understand why God was allowing something like to happen to them. Much of what I have been feeling the past year.
If you take the lyrics out of their poetic stanzas, you can more clearly see how desperate they must have felt:
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel
God gave a promise to ransom them – to pay the price to free them from their captivity and bring them out of exile. The Son of God would be their salvation and He would wipe away every tear. He would be coming. They didn’t know when. They didn’t have an exact date or all the answers, but they knew eventually He would come and that alone was reason to rejoice.
He was their hope.