An Advent Devotional
“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel” (which means “God with us”).
Codie, our affable golden retriever, loves people. If you so much as glance in her direction, she will bark joyously and tug at her leash in the hope of bestowing wet, sloppy kisses – which she is certain you want.
Wherever I am in the house, Codie is beside me. When reclining on the sofa, her head rests on my lap. In bed, her face shares my pillow. At the dining room table, she lies at my feet. And when I leave the house, she is aghast. How could you even think of such a thing? But at my return, there is no judgment. Codie thumps her tail vigorously and rushes to grab a toy, seemingly embarrassed that she did not have one at the ready.
Research indicates that keeping company with a dog can be therapeutic. However, to adequately relieve the loneliness, anxiety, and even despair permeating our world today, we need more than dog kisses or a thumping tail. Time Magazine reports that anxiety levels in the US are at an all-time high. 40 million American adults are plagued by anxiety and according to a recent poll, almost 40% of us admit to being more anxious now than we were a year ago. We are worried about finances, safety, health. And the charged political climate has increased our stress precipitously.
Yet today’s passage brings good news. Matthew’s Gospel opens with the birth of Jesus – God stooping down into human existence with the express purpose of laying down His life for our sin. Jesus’s very name means Emmanuel – God WITH us. The final words of Matthew bookend this good news. Jesus assures his followers, “Lo I am with you always even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
In his book, God is Closer than You Think, John Orberg observes, “The story of the Bible isn’t primarily about the desire of people to be with God; it’s the desire of God to be with people.” From the Garden of Eden when God walked with Adam in the cool of the day, to Jesus’s death on the cross, God has demonstrated his desire to be with his people. Ortberg adds, “Jesus has made God’s presence scandalously available to anyone who wants it.“
1 John 4:9-10 tells us, “This is how God showed his love among us. He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
So take heart. God IS with you. And He has gone from a lowly manger to the crucible of a cross to prove it. Cling to this truth which is indeed scandalous. God is with you during your morning commute, in the hospital waiting room, before a stressful meeting, in the line at Target, in the early morning hours when anxiety looms. Emmanuel is closer than you think. And He is looking at you with eyes of love.
You might say God’s unconditional love, manifested by His desire to be with His people, surpasses even that of a golden retriever.
Codie is thumping her tail in agreement.