Emmanuel means ‘God with us!’ Sometimes at the end of the day I will go for a gentle walk around the suburb before retiring for the night. At present many homes are ablaze with Christmas lights.
It fascinates me that most of those homes have lighting displays that feature a Santa, mistletoe, reindeer, sleighs, snowmen and the occasional star. Occasionally, but not often, there will be a crib and magi; Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus. All of this invites me to pause and reflect; what are we celebrating at Christmas? What is it all about? If it is JUST an end of year holiday are we missing something special?
On several occasions through this blog I have reflected on the ‘God’ question. Some in my life struggle with the word and the concept of ‘a God’! In some ways, if you look at the history of religion who could blame them. Far too often humans have killed, raped and pillaged their fellow human beings in the ‘name of God’! Far too often humans have used religion as an excuse to keep the ‘other’ (those whose God name is different to ours) out: poor, disenfranchised, oppressed and excluded.
St Augustine of Hippo once said, “He (Jesus) departed from our sight that we might return to our hearts and find him there!” So as often as I can I go within. I go to my heart space, my spirit space, my deepest me space. That is the dwelling place of awe, mystery, joy, peace, love, life – God! The sunrise or sunset that captures our attention and leaves us speechless, the new born baby that takes us to another sphere, the act of kindness or forgiveness that liberates us in the most mysterious of ways – all of these and more are the energy of love and I choose to call this energy God. The God I believe in does not need a name or even to be named; it is the dancing with the love energy that matters – it is inviting that love energy to be real and core to my being that matters.
So I love Christmas. I love this Advent time as we prepare our hearts for Christmas. What are we preparing for? We are preparing our eyes to see LOVE where too many cannot see anything. We are preparing our ears to hear the whisper and the cry of both love and pain; twins on life’s journey. We are preparing our hands to open and not clench, to reach out and not fold away from giving. We are preparing our feet to walk to brother and sister, named or un-named, known or unknown – for they share this beautiful planet home with us and with us are stewards of it for our children and our children’s children. We are preparing our arms to wrap around and hold close. We are preparing our hearts to give birth to hope over and over again.
The Christmas story, regardless of whether you are religious or not is one of our sacred stories. On one hand it is the story of poverty and oppression. An un-wed mother, a confused father, love recognised by uneducated shepherds, no room – homeless and unwanted and in one version of the story – refugees to a foreign land escaping in fear of their lives. So much of that story sounds all too familiar in our present day world!
But it is also the ultimate story of hope. Love, God, mystery – whatever name you choose – born, brought to life in the most unexpected of places and through the ‘little unimportant ones’ of life. The Temple priests were looking for a Messiah of power and privilege, of military might and conqueror of their Roman oppressors. So many had longed for and looked for a God who would come as powerful and strong.
But love never comes powerful and strong. Love never masquerades with power and privilege. Love is never at home with might and violent conquering.
So Emmanuel – ‘God with us’ – comes in the little, the small, the unimportant, the fragile and the insignificant. ‘God with us’ chooses a young girl, a village girl of no great importance and invites her to trust in the love energy within and around her. ‘God with us’ comes when unexpected, sneaks in through the back door, whispers in a voice that often only the childlike can hear and works magic in hearts that are open to wonder, awe, humility and life.
“He departed from our sight, that we might return to our hearts and find him there!”
St Augustine of Hippo
So over the coming days of holiday I will walk the beach, sit in silence, chat with friends, enjoy sunrise and sunset and just be. These days will slowly, hopefully, open my eyes to love around and within me, open my ears to love’s whisper and call, tingle my hands and arms and heart and urge my feet to once more walk the journey of love. These days will help me find love, peace, joy and hope in the little things and the little people, in the unexpected places and people (often not of my choosing) and in the heart movements that urge me, whisper to me – to trust love again!
If I do this, one small trusting moment at a time – then Emmanuel – God with us – will be born again through my and through your fragile and yet beautiful humanity! What a gift! Perhaps that GIFT is what Christmas is really about!