A funny thing happened on the way to the Christmas brunch….by way of last night.
OK–Still Christmas posts? Well, I still have MY Christmas tree up… and, as I said in my last post, the effect of Christmas lasts all year. So….
…Here is the promised 2nd Christmas “post”:
A message I was able to share this past December at a couple of Christmas Brunches (Racine’s Grace Church MOPS & Crossway Community Church—Bristol). PLEASE–don’t be overwhelmed by the length. Like last year’s Brunch message, this post is longer than a “post” should be, but several of you asked for a written copy…
If you’d prefer listening to reading or listening AND reading, feel free to click PLAY below.
[For those with discriminating techno-ears, you will notice a difference in background for certain sections of the audio. If you know me at all, it will come as no surprise that the audio recording at one brunch had a glitch, missing the 1st 5 minutes: one more instance of my love/hate relationship with technology. But where the Lord closes a door, He opens a window, and I was able to piece together the presentation that I gave at one brunch with the one from the other—all with the wonders of technology (hence, again, why I don’t give up on technology all together…)
Of course, if you’d prefer just to listen to the original recording without the merge (and without the first 5 minutes), click on http://www.crosswayonline.org/resources/teaching-by-all-categories/women-s-events/sermon/1094-you-re-not-alone-celebrating-immanuel-god-with-us.
Or you can always go directly to Crosswayonline.org, click on Resources, then Women’s events, and finally, You’re Not Alone: Celebrating Immanuel, God with Us]
You can also download from there and listen to it later.
However you read or hear the message, I pray that the Lord will touch your heart with His Hope and Presence.
And as always, I’d love to hear your story…
So, that funny thing that happened? I’ve noticed the Lord has a way of making sure the speaker hears the message even more than the listeners…
See, the school where I sub puts on this wonderful rendition of the Nutcracker, with more than 250 students involved in it. There’s even a staff dance, where we get the chance to wear our old high school, very colorful, prom dresses. So yesterday afternoon, while I frantically tried to figure out what to wear this morning, I didn’t have to spend any time thinking about what to wear last night: same thing I wore the last time—my long, 80’s, BRIGHT RED dress. I threw it on and floated off to school.
Only to walk into the auditorium and discover that EVERY other staff member was wearing BLACK. Elegant Evening Gowns in Black!
Somehow I ALONE had missed the message about the change in attire.
And they said, don’t worry—you look beautiful. You can just be the center of the dance.
Uh, no—Them all in black, and me—the only one—alone—on stage—in red?
N-o-o-o-o-o. You don’t know me very well if you think I could do that. And besides, I’m not really even a very good dancer!
No—I frantically ran home to find something in black, because there was no way in the world I was going to be the only one on that stage in red.
Our theme for today is You are NOT Alone…Celebrating Immanuel, God with us.
So, what do you still have to accomplish in the next 21 days before Christmas? –Does that number freak anyone else out?
Maybe you’re like my son who’s been playing Christmas music since July 6th (He would have played it sooner if we’d let him!) You’ve got everything done, and now you’re just looking around for someone to enjoy the moments with.
Of course, if you’re like me, some moments you’re frazzled, thinking you’ll never get it all done. Running around, trying to remember
- where the PEACE of the season went—
- and what kind of JOY everyone has as they fight over the latest—and last—“must-have” electronic gadget
- and how LOVE somehow ended up defined with such a debt-making price tag….
And all the time wondering if you’re the only one feeling this way, thinking there’s got to be something more in this holiday picture–something that gets us through the day to day.
Maybe you feel like you’re frequently the ONLY one wearing red in a sea of black.
In fact, maybe this sketch sounds way too familiar at this time of year:
Alone. Just you and the walls. Quiet apartment. Maybe a furry friend. Maybe not.
Alone. A marriage that has long since lost its warmth. Not even sure who it is that you married anymore. Not sure where he is at all.
Alone. In the noise. And the busyness. And the thousands of people you see and talk to and work with everyday.
Alone, picking up toys and cleaning pizza handprints off the walls for the hundredth time in an hour, aching for a more intelligent conversation than Cat in the Hat or Thing 1 and Thing 2
Alone. In a crazy busy room of people. In the school halls. In meetings. Longing for someone who would see you as you really are. And love you just that way.
Alone. Missing your best friend. Wondering why you’re still here. Wondering if the quiet encasing you will ever stop screaming one word.
We’ve all been there. Somewhere in that list. Maybe not today, maybe not this week, but at some point.
And then again, Maybe today. Maybe right now.
Face it! We can be sitting by someone we know very, very well and still feel very much alone. This time of year, with all the lights and decorations and calls for presents and parties, those feelings can really blow up.
While we long for the uplifting celebration of Christmas, it can be one of the most lonely, desperate times for people.
- The Ebenezers looking in the picture windows at all the others who seem to have it all together.
- Or the ones inside who just want to get out. Escape. I remember one year around the holidays, I had so many people around my home, I finally stopped in the bathroom and fell asleep with my head on my knees…
ALONE Sometimes you desperately want to be …. Sometimes not so much…
You might be surprised at how many women have felt just like you.
I’d like to introduce you to six of them:
Stories of 6 WOMEN:
- She’d just lost her home—kicked out—because of her own bad decisions. No more gorgeous garden. No more sweet walks together at night. She still had her husband, but now there was this separation between them. This embarrassment. This wanting to hide from each other. Even their intimacy was affected. Now it felt like all they did was struggle in the thorns. She watched her husband sweat and strain. She watched her boys argue and fight. And while we aren’t told, we can guess…she wished. Oh, how she wished! Just to be able to go back and have a redo. Instead, they were alone. Just holding on to a promise.
- She was alone in the kitchen. Doing all the work while her sister lazied around. Sitting out there with Him. Didn’t her sister get it? She’d love to be with them, too. But someone had to get this bread baked. The rice cooked. The vegetables prepped. Heavens, she had a whole TEAM of men out there to feed. What kind of hostess would she be if she let them go hungry—if she just sat with them listening to the stories. Those wonderful stories… No—She’d stay in here. She’d get the work done. She’d serve them all. Alone. But if only… if only her sister would get off her duff and come in here and help her, maybe they could finish quickly. And then, if there was time later, after feeding them and cleaning up and throwing out the dirty water, they could sit with Him and listen. If only…
- She stared at the corner in shock. Just sitting. Unable to do much else. Her brother was gone. In only a few days. But he didn’t have to be! He could have been healed like all the others! They’d sent word. And waited. And then it was too late. And they’d been left alone. Oh, there were tons of people in the house to “comfort” them. But none that mattered. Her brother’s body was wrapped and buried in that grave. And the one who could have saved him? She had no idea. Maybe he didn’t get the message. Maybe he didn’t really care. Either way, it was too late. Her brother was gone, and they were left—alone.
- It’d been 12 long years. 12 years of sickness. 12 years of pain. 12 years of no one wanting to touch her—no one letting her in their homes. She’d spent all her money on physicians. Spent all her time trying to find cures. Now she had nothing. And no one. It was just her. Alone. She had no idea what else to do. Her options were gone. She was lost. When she was gone, would anyone even know she’d lived?
- If only she could get away from them. Leave them behind. Be alone. For even a few minutes. But instead, they hung on. Dragged her down. Made her do what she didn’t want to do. Sometimes she struggled against them. Tried to say no; but they always won. She tried to remember how she got here. Got to this point. Where she was completely consumed with this whole pack of demons. There must have been a moment when she said okay to one, not realizing that he would bring another—and then another—and then another. And now, there was no going back. She was too far gone. With no help. Alone in the fight –with all these voices in her head. At what point would she herself cease to exist at all?
- She looked around the room. It wasn’t much, but it was what she’d always known. Soon she’d be leaving it; she’d no longer just be her alone, a virgin, but one with him. She’d be married. Her fiancé wasn’t rich, but he was a good man; together, they’d serve God. It was all exciting—and yet, a bit scary, too. Could she do it? Be his helper? Be the wife he needed? Bear his children? She’d heard enough from the scriptures about grumbling wives. How would her marriage be different? How could she make it different on her own, alone.Suddenly, she turned –realizing she wasn’t alone. There was a man—in her doorway!
Six women—all different walks of life. And yet all as real as you and I are today. All with real feelings and real problems. So what’s the answer? For them? For us?
Maybe you’re sitting there right now, and you couldn’t wait to come—to take a breath, to find friends—Maybe you’re wondering why you’re here at all. You hadn’t planned to come, hadn’t wanted to come, but someone convinced you, and here you are. Alone.
Or you sat in the doctors’ office and heard the news. And it bounced around in your head, and you couldn’t even grasp the meaning of it. But in the midst of all the colors and lights and joy of the season, you can’t shake the feeling. You’re going through this alone.
Or you’re alone because you “chose” to be. You drove them all away. Or at least that’s the way they would see it. Your choices. Your decisions. No one would want to be near you now. Associated with you.
Does anyone care?
I do. And God does!
How do I know He does?
Because of those 6 women. All real women. All from the Bible.
- The first woman? Yes, actually she was literally THE FIRST Woman—Eve: Perfectly created and perfectly united with her husband, who clung to her with no shame. She and Adam could literally walk with God in their garden each evening. But deceived into believing that wasn’t enough—that instead she alone should be able to make her own choices—she threw it all away in one bite. And immediately there was this great chasm between them: between her and her husband who were suddenly embarrassed to even be naked in front of each other; and between them and God. Because they now knew what it was like to be evil. Knew the pain of it. Knew ways to be it.
And God had no evil in Him.
So they had to leave His presence and His garden. Alone. And He set an angel with a flaming sword to protect the way to the garden, blocking it—so that evil could not live forever.
And God promised it WOULDN’T be forever. He promised Eve she would have a baby who would crush the one who deceived her and restore them back with God. And she clung to that promise.
- Her first child she named Cain, meaning, “gotten one,” saying, “I’ve gotten a manchild with the Lord.” (Genesis 4:1)
- When Cain proved deceitful, Eve still clung to God and His promise. She gave birth to Seth, saying, “God has appointed me another offspring.” (Genesis 4:25)
She, “the mother of all the living” (Gen. 3:20), trusted in the promise.
We would not forever be alone.
And throughout the Old Testament, we see God interact here and there with man, reminding us of His promise—sometimes through dreams, sometimes through angels—one time, even through a donkey. He drew a people to Himself and, in the form of fire and cloud, sat in their midst in a place called the Holy of Holies, a special room in the temple, protected and blocked by a curtain. But always, He reminded them—everything He did pointed —to the son He would send who would end this separation—this loneliness.
- Fast forward some 5000 years to our second woman, the sister in the kitchen. Working so hard—alone. The man Jesus and His disciples had come for a meal. Now she was serving with all her might, banging around in the kitchen because her sister Mary was sitting in the living room, sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him. Finally, Martha had enough and stomped out. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” (Luke 10:40)
Christ’s gentle response: “Martha, you are troubled and upset about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, and Mary has chosen what is better…” In other words, You don’t have to be alone, Martha. Stop worrying about everything and come sit with Me.
- Months later, it was her sister, Mary, alone, sitting in the corner, devastated by her brother’s death. It was hard enough knowing he was dead. It was harder still knowing that if Jesus had come when they first sent word, He could have come in time to heal Lazarus, just like He had healed so many others. But now, not only was Lazarus gone, but his body had been in the tomb for four days. And Jesus hadn’t come. Until now. She just sat. In the house. Perhaps in the spot where she had sat months earlier at Jesus’ feet, listening to His teachings, believing everything He said, now, though, perhaps wondering if it was all a sham…
But when Martha came running in, and whispered in her ear, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you,” Mary couldn’t help herself. She quickly jumped up and ran to be with Him, falling back down to His feet again. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” In other words, Lord, you left us alone!
But had He?
Earlier He had told His disciples, “I’m glad for your sakes I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” To Mary’s sister, Martha, He said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies. Do you believe this?”
To Mary, He just said, “Where have you laid him?” and He wept.
Then He told them to remove the stone that covered the tomb and called to Lazarus, “Come out.” Can you just imagine Lazarus, completely wrapped from head to toe in those burial cloths, standing and hoping out? And Mary’s expression as she ran over to unbind him, looking in her brother’s living eyes again, realizing Jesus hadn’t left them alone? His words must have rung through their ears: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
- Then, a woman seemingly hardly worth noticing; a woman not named at all. Just a face in the crowd. A face that shouldn’t have even been IN the crowd. Her illness made her unclean. Any person she touched became unclean. Any cloth she touched became unclean. An outcast. Taken advantage of by doctors for 12 years. No money left. No hope left. Alone.
But then Jesus came. And, as many surrounded Him, and as an important official of the synagogue rushed Him to his house to heal his dying daughter, she just wanted to get near Him: “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.” And she was. Her body was immediately healed. The untouchable healed by His touch.
But, although she didn’t understand it yet, that wasn’t enough. Jesus stopped. He turned and looked at her. (Matt. 9:2) And she realized, He knew. He knew who she was. She was not a nobody. She had not escaped His notice. He called her “Daughter,” gently telling her, “Go in Peace. Your faith has made you well.” She no longer had to be alone!
- But in healing our fifth woman, Mary Magdalene, Jesus gave her the opposite gift: Blessed solitude. He drove seven demons out of her! We aren’t told how or when He did it, but we see her afterwards, with Him wherever He went. Even to the end. She knew: meeting Him, knowing Him, being with Him, had made all the difference, and now she was free—free from the demons that had controlled her—free to be who she was created to be—to God’s glory.
But how was any of this possible? Who was this man Jesus who promised and fulfilled so much? Who answered so many women’s needs concerning being alone?
- We come to our last Mary. Our 6th woman. A young lady who suddenly found she wasn’t alone… with a man filling her doorway. Only, it wasn’t a man. It was an angel.
“Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28) And when she was completely perplexed with his greeting, he kept talking. “Don’t be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive a Son, and you will name Him Jesus.”
And just in case anyone thought our young Mary imagined her visitor, her fiancé found his dreams filled with an angel, telling him,
“Mary’s Child has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. His name is Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins, fulfilling the prophecy, ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name, Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us.’” (Mt. 1:21, 23)
The prophecy: God with us—bringing us back—full circle—to that promise all the way back with Eve. Working to right the wrong of that deceit—that loneliness—that evil that separated us from God. God came—as a baby—Jesus, Immanuel—to live WITH us. So that we would never have to be alone again.
We celebrate the picture every year. The baby Jesus. Born on that late night in a manger in Bethlehem. Angels announcing His birth. Shepherds coming to see Him for themselves. Wise men searching Him out to bring Him gifts.
But do we stop there? Overtaxing our schedules, our shopping bags, our stress levels, and then packing it all up for another year? Forgetting the real purpose of His coming?
God WITH us. Always. Not just at Christmas time, but all year. So that we would not be alone. So that we could be reconciled with Him. So that we could be changed from WITHIN.
Yes, that baby was human, the child of that young Mary, but He was also fully God, conceived by the Holy Spirit.
For, again, that baby Jesus grew up.And when He was an adult,
- Jesus went alone to the wilderness for 40 days—where He was tested by the Devil.
- He went alone to a garden—and prayed til sweat, like drops of blood, fell from his brow—His friends couldn’t even stay awake long enough to pray with Him.
- He went alone to the cross—all His disciples ran off, scared.
- And He died on that cross alone, for us, instead of us, with even His Father turning away from Him. “Daddy, Father God, why have You forsaken Me.”
All alone…so you wouldn’t have to be…wherever you are, whoever you’re with… You can always have Him with you.
How? Mary Magdalene, our woman healed from seven demons, probably wondered the same thing. Jesus had been killed. Nailed and suffocated on the cruel cross. Buried in a sealed tomb. Gone.
She came early in the morning on the third day, planning a final goodbye—a letting go—with spices to purify the empty body. Instead, she found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. And her spirit sank.
Was she frantic? Did she wonder, now that He was dead, gone, no longer with her, if those demons would come back? And bring their friends? And their friends’ friends?
Was she so beside herself that she couldn’t recognize the gardener? “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him and I will take Him away.” (John 20:15)
He only needed to say one word, “Mary!” and she suddenly knew Him: “Rabboni! Lord” He was back. Alive again! Risen from the grave! With her!
Need a clearer picture of what happened? In that temple?—The curtain?—which had separated God from His people for thousands of years—covering the room where His Spirit dwelled—where no one could enter except following very specific rules, and only then, one person and only once a year to offer sacrifices—That curtain, the thickness of a man’s hand, was torn in two from top to bottom at the death of Jesus—opening the door to God, breaking the separation between God and man forever—If only they would come through Jesus and His death for them.
And while Christ in His human form went to heaven so that we can not SEE Him with us, He is here. He promised through the prophet Ezekiel that “I will put My Spirit within you. I will save you from all your uncleanness.” (36:27, 29)
The “I” is God—Jesus—Immanuel—God with Us!
Would you like a modern story? How about my own?
I could tell you of Christmases
- Like the last one I had with my mom—when I was praying for her to be healed …or the next one when she was gone, and I realized she HAD been healed, but on the other side of heaven
- Or the one after I lost a baby,
- Or the ones that we had so little money that we went scrounging for whatever we could find to make gifts—including going to new construction sites where they’d thrown away wood, and we could take it to carve…
But one in particular a couple years back hit the hardest
All the other ones I knew God was there—I knew God had not left me alone.
But this night, we got a call. From my 17-year-old daughter. Head-on collision. Car totaled.—I was an hour and a half away. Let me tell you, ladies, that is NOT a call you want to get!
The next day, though, it all struck afresh. I opened the newspaper, and across the front lines, I read, “17-year-old killed in head-on collision.” Someone else’s child. And it hit me! I got a call from my daughter. Some other family got a call from the police. And I stood, barely able to breathe. What if that had been my family? How would I have survived? As just one in a long series of a lot of painful events that happened at that time, the very possibilities left me helpless and feeling very much alone. And I cried, “I CANNOT hold on anymore.”
But His LOVING promises resounded in my head. You’re not holding on to Me. I’m holding you. “No one will pluck you from My hand.” (John 10:28)
And His JOYFUL quiet words to my heart: I went alone to that cross so you would never have to be alone. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut 31:6). I am with you always til the end of the age!” (Matthew 28:20)
And His call: Rest in Me. Find PEACE in Me. When you’re hurting and sad and overwhelmed, I am with you.
And then I found this verse. Exodus 33:6 “It is in His going with us that we are distinct.”
That’s the message of Christmas: God came down to be with us—in the form of a baby—to grow up, to give His life for us—so we could be with Him.
But maybe you’re saying, Elizabeth, you don’t know—all those stories and possibilities you mentioned? You just don’t know what my loneliness feels like. What I’ve been through.
No, I don’t. But God does!
Overwhelmed? Overburdened with work? God is there.
Prolonged sickness? No one knows your name? God is there.
A loved one gone? Especially when you thought he’d be healed? God is there.
Pulled hither and yon by things that control you?
Plagued by sins and deceit and choices and loses?
Beaten, bruised? God is there—and He was beaten and bruised FOR you—paying your debt of your sin so you no longer have to be separated from Him!
Please, remember, this Christmas– When you think you’re alone…. When you desperately want to be…
He knows you, He loves you, and He is there…. You are not alone.
Accept His offer: He is calling; He redeems… because He IS God WITH us.
The Fine Print…
And once you have accepted His offer?
What then can separate you from the love of Christ?
Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
I say with the Apostle Paul,
I am convinced that neither death nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
not things present, not things to come, not powers,
Not height or depth
or any created thing
can ever separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus my Lord. (Romans 8:35, 38-39)
My Immanuel—God WITH Us!
Interested in other posts on Christmas?
Last year’s Christmas Brunch message: Chosen and Redeemed (12/26/2013)
and more “blog-sized”:
“1st” of the 2 Christmas posts this year: Rejoicing in the Miracle of Christmas (12/28/14)
Thoughts on The Perfect Gift (1/3/2013)
A response to a national catastrophe Just Before Christmas (12/21/2012)