God With Us, Emmanuel

Date posted: Wednesday 21 December 2016

The last time I sang in a church choir was in junior high. I was not a gifted singer but I loved being a part of a choral group. It was what kids my age did in that congregation. And, truth be told, there was Marian Tarris, director of the choir. She had a way with teenagers and we loved her. Like many talented folks in small town America, she found an outlet for her creativity through her church. What she could do with the voices of 7th and 8th grade girls and boys was downright amazing.


She could make us sing – together. On Christmas Eve we stood in front of the congregation, rehearsed and robed. The verses of ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ flowed with a loveliness that surprised us as well as our parents. “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is giv’n!” we sang with tender confidence. And even as a teenager, I knew in that moment God was in our music, inside of us.


The silence of that anthem decades ago was not simply the pianissimo of her careful command of our voices. It was testimony to the way that God has come among us in that Babe of Bethlehem.


Day by day, our world is shaken by bombings, shootings and violence so random and inexplicable it is hard to find a rationale to explain the logic of such cruelty. From Aleppo to Karak, Columbus to Cairo, Zurich to Berlin our hearts ache at news of such senseless deaths. The simplicity of the Christmas message may seem too small a word in a world of tragedies on such a global scale.


Yet, on the first Christmas, Jesus was born to young parents, weary from travel with no good place to welcome their infant into this world. Their son’s birth was not recorded in headlines or surrounded by fanfare. Soon they would be refugees. Like so many in our world today they would raise their boy in a country dominated by a foreign power. Our God chose to come among us in hiddenness and poverty; easily overlooked and disdained.


Whether you recognize the presence of God in song or sermon, in the bread and wine, or in the dazzling quiet of these cold Minnesota nights, I pray that you will hear afresh the message that this year, too, there is a God-for-us, a God-with-us: Emmanuel. Amid our anxieties and aspirations, the unsettling of the nations and the close of the year, the Christ comes still to dwell with us.


May God’s deep joy and God’s fierce strength be yours in these holy days.


Bishop Patricia Lull