A popular Christmas passage, Matthew 1:23, says: “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. But, that’s hard to believe when darkness, brokenness, or hopelessness are prevailing. Is Jesus with us in desperate loneliness, loss-induced anguish or undiagnosed sickness? “Immanuel, God with us” is a happy Christmas phrase, but is it true?
On Oct. 27, 2011, I awoke with my fingers and toes feeling like they were asleep. Within days, the tingling was worsened and spread. By Nov. 10, I couldn’t pick up or hold things and I could only walk at a third of my usual pace. I asked God to heal me before a scheduled trip to Virginia, but he didn’t. In the airport, this former offensive lineman had to ask someone else to open his bottle of Snapple. After the trip, I went to the ER. Guillain-Barré Syndrome was suggested (in non-doc talk, one’s immune system attacks his nerves so his muscles won’t work), but I still had no definitive diagnosis. On Dec. 4, I couldn’t climb two steps onto a church stage to preach. Did I believe Jesus was with me, when he wasn’t healing or answering me? Is Jesus with us when he is silent in our fear, helplessness and pain?
Yes, he is. Jesus challenged me to trust and depend on him when things weren’t going how I wanted. That week, the Guillain-Barré Syndrome was diagnosed and I started treatment on Monday, Dec. 5. By Thursday, my symptoms were receding. By our Christmas service, I bounced up those two previously unclimbable steps. God used GBS to help me depend on him when life is hard and not just when it’s easy.
So, a few weeks ago, when income I’d been counting on didn’t materialize, a part-time chaplain job I love was given final notice, and God left certain prayers for my church family unanswered, I again faced the question “Is Jesus Immanuel, God with me?”
The answer is still “Yes, he is.” Christmas is a fantastic reminder that Jesus, Immanuel, comes to us, embracing us in our pain by accepting our sin, forgiving us and freeing us. Jesus Christ, Immanuel, is with us if we receive his forgiveness and follow him. His presence, power and grace are sufficient for everything we face. Jon Bloom (Desiring God Ministries) says “God doesn’t always make his will clear because he values our being transformed more than our being informed.” Whether or not God does what we ask or hope, he is Immanuel, God with us. Jesus is present with us in the good and hard stuff, transforming us to be more like him, as he walks us through our fear, helplessness and pain.
Kirk Knudsen is the lead pastor at Trio Community Church in Mora.