Christmas is the celebration of the “Withness” of God!! Jesus stepped out of heaven and off His throne to come to earth to be with us. (Philippians 2:5-8)
My friend Kris Lyle, who studies biblical languages, posted something recently about the word, with. He was researching with and discovered some interesting stuff about the way it was used in the Ancient Near East (ANE). Here’s what he wrote:
I’m quoting from the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, volume I, page 451; the author has just said that with doesn’t really occur in conjunction with people and God in the ANE. In other words, besides Israel, we don’t have much evidence that the surrounding nations thought of, spoke of or experienced their gods and goddesses in a way that they could say “God is with me,” as Israel does throughout their history. So here’s the quote:
“Even if additional examples are discovered, it is still remarkable that the formula of the presence of a deity with man is very rare in the ancient Near East, while it appears frequently in the OT, where it expresses a basic element in the Yahweh faith. Is it possible that the content of this formula expresses something typical (if not also equally “genuine”!) for the faith of Israel?”
I love it!!! The same God who we know as “Emmanuel” meaning “God with us,” had already revealed Himself to the ancient Israelites in a similar way. It was normal for them (Israel) to talk about God as with them, but all the other nations spoke of their gods differently – distant, impersonal. This scholar has accidentally hit upon the very thing that sets our faith apart. Our God is with us. He was withthe ancient Israelites, but He also sent His son, Jesus to be with us in human form and then sent the Holy Spirit to remain with us until His return. He has always been with us and will remain with us until the end of time. Christmas is a celebration of this withness. Emmanuel = “God with us”
“I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:20
I posted this last year, but thought it was worth reposting:
Inspired by my friend Heather Zempel who posted a similar list, I decided to create my own list of things everyone should experience sometime in their lives during the Christmas season. I have already experienced some of these, but some are things I hope to experience.
50 Things to do during Christmas:
1. Watch “A Christmas Story” 5 times in a row on TBS.
2. Sit in Santa’s lap for a picture. It still counts if you cry your way through it.
3. Adopt a child (or 2 or 3) from the “Angel Tree” at church, buy gifts for him/her, and deliver them.
4. Cut down your own Christmas tree.
5. Decorate a Christmas tree with ornaments that have memories attached to them. Never waste your time making the tree look pretty or having matching ornaments.
6. Let your kids eat the strands of popcorn/fruit loops that you decorated the tree with.
7. Cut and decorate Christmas cookies with colored icing, sprinkles, red hots, etc. (Or just eat the ones your Aunt makes.)
8. Build a fire in the fireplace (yes, even if it’s 80 degrees outside) and read the Christmas story as a family.
9. Let the kids unwrap one gift on Christmas Eve, but make sure they get that same gift every year so there’s still no surprise.
10. Be intentional about spending some time reflecting on Emmanuel (God with Us) – Jesus.
11. Participate in a live nativity.
12. Spend at least 100 hours placing exactly 6 colored stars on tree cookies made of green tasteless dough which you will sell to the nearest Christmas Tree Farm to make $$ for Christmas gifts. (This was for you, Laurie.)
13. Go Christmas caroling.
14. Be surprised when someone kisses you under the mistletoe.
15. Attend a candlelight service with your family.
16. Incur some kind of injury Christmas afternoon as you play with your new toy. (“You’ll shoot your eye out kid.”)
17. Give a memory to someone. Experience something together.
18. Unwrap “the ball” with your family. (It’s a tape ball with small gifts wrapped inside. The ball gets passed around a circle and you get to keep what you unwrap. You keep unwrapping until the next person rolls a 6 with a pair of dice.)
19. Leave cookies out for Santa.
20. Eat cookies left for Santa.
21. Dress up as Santa Claus so that a child believes at least one more year.
22. Instead of buying gifts, give $$ to your favorite charity.
23. Go to the trouble (in spite of the traffic) to take the kids to see some spectacular Christmas lights.
24. Go on a hayride.
25. Sustain an injury and get frustrated as you ignore the instructions and attempt to assemble the things Santa left your kids.
26. Take family pictures.
27. Re-gift. Or use gift cards to buy gifts for others.
28. Watch the eyes of someone you love as they open a special gift.
29. Play football in the yard with the whole family on Christmas afternoon.
30. Put pumpkin pie on your shoe, pretend you came in from outside, and then when someone notices the “poop,” wipe it off with your finger and eat it. (My brother’s idea – and it was hilarious! My grandma is the one who noticed.)
31. Use an advent calendar where you get to do something (Ex: eat a chocolate, hang an ornament, etc.) each day leading up to Christmas.
32. Arrange for your children to play “Jesus” in some sort of local Christmas production. Bonus if you are Mary and Joseph.
33. See Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb” Christmas production (or at least listen to the recording each year.)
34. Display a nativity scene in your house and teach your children about the characters. (Last night, my 2-yr-old son Kasen, took “baby Jesus” to bed with him.)
35. Wake up way too early as your kids anticipation gets the best of them.
36. Secretly open a gift, seal it back up, and then act surprised on Christmas morning.
37. Watch the “Nativity Story” movie.
38. Use baby powder to leave footprints from the fireplace to the place where Santa left the gifts. (But make sure you make the footprints go back too – my parents missed that last part.)
39. Count the number of Jesus figurines you can find at grandma’s house.
40. Ask your grandma/grandpa about how they remember spending Christmas as kids.
41. Eat monkey bread.
42. Enjoy a “White Christmas” and do some sledding, have a snowball fight, or build a snowman.
43. Take the family skiing in Colorado over the Christmas break.
44. Take the family to an old barn and read the Christmas story there among the animals and smells.
45. Bluebell Peppermint Ice Cream – it’s only made during the holidays.
46. Search the sky for Santa’s sleigh.
47. Get stranded due to icy/closed roads in some random west Texas town on the way to a ski trip. End up having to sleep with the animals ’cause there is “no room at the inn.” (It was Quanah, TX and the people of First Baptist Church were very gracious with their gym. They even let traveling pets sleep there.) Here’s a post about this experience: No Room at the Inn
48. Drive all over the country trying to see all your relatives and in-laws on Christmas Day.
49. Snack on Homemade Chex Mix and Peppermint Bark.
50. Celebrate Emmanuel!!! (Jesus = Emmanuel = “God with Us”)
Things not to do:
1. Get so busy trying to do the things on this list that you forget #50.
“Emmanuel” – This name for God is always popular around Christmas because it means, “God with us.” It makes sense that people would remember Him with this name during this time of year since Christmas is a celebration of Jesus coming to earth – God being present with us.
I’ve been studying Joshua quite a bit lately, and there’s this obscure little passage in Joshua 5:13. Joshua is about to lead Israel into the battle of Jericho and he comes across what he thinks is a man in the desert with a drawn sword. Joshua asks if he is “for us or against us.” Can you hear it? Joshua wants to know if He is with them. (Remember: “Emmanuel”means “God with us”) Revealing Himself as the “commander of the Lord’s army,” He answers saying he is not with him or against him, but that Joshua is on holy ground. Joshua immediately begins to worship, and the commander of the Lord’s army begins to give Joshua the details of how to take Jericho. The whole story is tied to Moses’ experience with the burning bush (even some of the same language is used – “take off shoes” “holy ground”) – anyway, it’s about God calling a man to follow him.
Ultimately, it’s sort of like Joshua was asking the wrong question. The right question to ask God is not “Are you for us?” but “Are we with You?” I wonder if we’ve been missing something at Christmas. Yes, it’s important to recognize “Emmanuel” – that “God is with us.” But what about the other question? – “Are we with God?” It’s the difference between asking Him to bless the things I’m involved in as opposed to me getting involved in the things He is blessing – His work. Do I serve God or is He here to serve me? I can’t speak for you, but I know in my life, God has proven Himself to be “with me” over and over again. On the other hand, I’ve failed to be “with Him” over and over again too. Emmanuel is consistently Emmanuel – always “God with us.” I’m not very consistent.
Like Joshua, I believe we are being called. God is calling us to join Him, to follow Him, to be “with Him.”Maybe the most important thing is for me to work for that.
Emmanuel is a great reminder of God’s faithfulness, but it also makes me recognize my own failures. My bride is a good example – the more she loves me, the more I realize I desire to do things for her. Her love inspires me to love her more. Emmanuel inspires me to love Him more because I recognize how amazing He truly is!
Prayer: Lord You are consistently, always, faithfully “Emmanuel.” Help me to be “with You” too.
Alright, I decided today that I was gonna write a series of stories and post them all on here. I’ve been collecting stories out of my life for a while and even have a file on my computer called “Stories I Need to Tell.” It’s just a list of the stories I’ve been collecting – ANYWAY – I’ll start with a story where God really spoke to me in a powerful way. (Of course anytime He speaks it’s powerful, but I actually noticed that it was Him in this story.) This may actually be the first story I remember thinking that I needed to tell somebody else about – this is the one that after it happened I decided to start “collecting” stories.
The Falling Star
When I was a Senior in High School, I met a girl. Her name was Gema. We started dating and I must admit that she was the most amazing girl I had ever known. She was beautiful. She was smart. She enjoyed alot of the same things I did. And probably the biggest thing she had going for her was this: She actually liked me too. Anyway, we dated for a few months toward the end of my senior year (She was a senior too) and somewhere in the middle of the summer (probably July) I had returned home from church camp. (Meridian – that’ll be in another “Story I Need to Tell”) After arriving home I called her up and she came over to my house. My family lived in the middle of this big 80 acre field in those days so she and I went out back and sat in the porch swing. It was one of those really clear nights where there wasn’t a cloud in the sky – the temperature was just cooling down from the summer day and there was a nice breeze. It was a pretty romantic sort of situation (I was pretty good with that stuff in those days.) Anyway, as we talked that night about leaving each other as we had planned to go off to college, Gema soon started crying. It wasn’t long that I had joined her. Somewhere deep inside I felt that things would be OK and since I had just come from church camp, I knew it was God speaking to me. Through my own tears I spoke to her and said, “It’ll be OK, God will be with us.” THEN OUT OF NOWHERE CAME A FLASH ACROSS THE SKY! This falling star shot from one end of the sky to the other – It was HUGE! It was like God spoke through me saying “I am with you!” and then He sent this Big EXCLAMATION point with the falling star. Our tears dries up that night and we both had received the hope that God had given us that night. Of course the next day. . . . .we were sad again and scared about our future.
After starting school at Texas A&M a month or so later, trying to keep our relationship alive, I would drive 3 hours home each weekend to meet up with Gema. One weekend I came home and things felt different between us. When I asked her about it – she would say that everything was good and that she “loved” me. By the time Sunday night rolled around she pretty well had me convinced that things were still good between us. After my 3 hour drive I called her to tell her I had arrived safely and asked her once again what had changed. Why had things felt so different? She finally gave me the truth and said she didn’t know what it was, but she wanted to “break up.” She said she loved me and that I had done nothing wrong, but still wanted to “break up.” What??!!??!! What does that mean?? She still loves me, but doesn’t want to be with me??? It just doesn’t make any sense. Anyway, when I finally got off the phone it was about 3am. I was crying, but didn’t want my roommate to know I was crying over a girl – I guess that’s the macho guy in me. As I walked around the apartment complex, I cried out to God, “Why?? I don’t understand God?? You brought me down here where I’m all alone. No friends. No family. No church. No job. I’m all alone and now, You’re taking away my girlfriend??!! I don’t get it??” And then He answered as only He could. I saw a “falling star” shoot from one end of the sky to the other and was reminded of what He had said before with that same phrase. “I am with you.”
I AM WITH YOU! Listen to Him say it to you.
I AM WITH YOU!
From that day forward I have realized that I wasn’t ever alone, and that I am stronger when it’s just He and I than at any other time in my life. Wherever you find yourself today know that God is with you and that He loves you.