[I was asked to speak at the final Advent service at my church a few weeks ago. The topic was, “How does Advent confront our loneliness?” The following is part two of a summary of my teaching given on Sunday, December 19, 2010. Sorry, there were technical problems and the audio didn’t record.]
The Journey of Immanuel is not just God with us but
God with us (Incarnation)
God for us (Earthly Life of Service)
God dying in place of us (Death)
God rising before us (Resurrection)
God ascending ahead of us (Ascension)
God who intercedes on behalf of us (Intercession)
And the end of Immanuel’s journey is a
God with us, forever! (Second Coming / Glorification)
That is the journey of Immanuel.
PART 2: KEEPING IMMANUEL AWAY FROM US
The question is, How do those two things interact? How does “Immanuel” and the loneliness and isolation we sometimes feel about God? How does “God with Us” confront the distance we perceive with God? How do we reconcile the two?
When we consider the Journey of Immanuel – his radical drawing near to all of us even unto death – why do we still experience loneliness? Perhaps the problem isn’t his presence or lack of presence. Perhaps the answer is that we still choose loneliness – maybe we choose a separation, a distance.
It is quite possible that we choose to keep Immanuel at arm’s length.
Could it be that we don’t want the real God – the real Jesus – that close to us? God wants to dwell with us. God has always been looking to dwell among his people! That’s not the problem.
The problem is that God’s people have tended to not want God dwelling with them. We want God somewhat close, but not too close. We keep God – Immanuel – at arm’s length; at a safe, comfortable distance. And the biblical storyline is filled with people who don’t want God too close:
1. Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve were with God in the garden until they broke God’s one rule and brought sin into the world. Then they heard the sound of the LORD God as he was drawing closer. And what did they do? They hid from God. When God called out, “Where are you?” the man answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (cf. Gen 3:8–10 NIV).
“We heard you getting closer and we don’t want you near to us.”
2. The Nation of Israel at Sinai
Or what about when God’s people – Israel – were miraculously delivered out of Egypt and brought to Mt. Sinai? God said to them, “out of all nations you will be my treasured possession… you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5–6). God brought the people to the mountain to give them his teaching – his law – the Ten commandments.
And “[w]hen the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, [when they saw the manifestation of God’s presence!] they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die’” (Exod 20:18–19 NIV).
“No, Moses! He’s getting too close to us and we don’t want him that near to us.”
3. King David
Or what about David – the “man after God’s heart”? He wrote a Psalm where he asked the question: God, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (Ps 139:7 NIV).
Who writes that if they haven’t tried? And I can certainly imagine some events in his life where he would have wanted to try.
Or what about Peter? After Jesus had performed a miraculous catch of a large number of fish, Peter falls at Jesus feet crying out,
“Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8 NIV).
You see, having God near has consequences; huge ramifications. There is something uncomfortable about having God a little too close. Truly experiencing Immanuel means that we can’t stay the same. Having “God with Us” may mean we would have to change…
Change our minds. Change our hearts. Change our life.
The Journey of Immanuel is a God drawing nearer and nearer to us. The trajectory of man has been to keep Immanuel at arm’s length – keeping God at a manageable distance.
Maybe you have noticed that you have had your arms up in all your relationships. Maybe you have had your arms up with family members. Maybe you have had your arms up with your friends. Maybe you have had your arms up with your spouse. This just might be a a symptom of your keeping God at a manageable distance.
Maybe the best way we can let Advent confront our loneliness is to put our arms down. Allowing Immanuel to confront our isolation and God ’s perceived absence – or the sin that separates us – requires that we invite “God with Us” to really be God with Us. Maybe the remedy for loneliness is to put our arms down and welcome God in.
“God, come reside in me.
Immanuel, come dwell within me.
Holy Spirit, inhabit me.
Jesus, live in me.”