Christmas is coming early this year! Well I don’t mean that it’s actually being moved or anything like that, but I’m going to do a Christmas letter in November. I don’t usually do ‘holiday’ letters. To me they are just too common, too predictable, and I usually shy away from being that routine. However, this time I’m making an exception. Why, you say? Well, I just heard a program on FOTF this week and someone hinted on the program that it’s been attributed that Oprah rejected the Gospel message of her childhood because she could not respect, could not understand the characteristic that God is a jealous God. She understood the word jealous to be a term that is considered by all to be a negative characteristic. I can’t blame her for that, we sure teach ourselves that message. Kind of one of those, ‘I’m jealous and you had better not even look the other way or I’ll blow my top kind of God’. Anyway, that caught my attention, and now somehow I’ve got to turn that into a Christmas letter in November for you. Here goes. But before we start I need you to slow down, relax, turn off television or the world, take a deep breath and then consider…..
Scripture is always a good way to do a Christmas letter: ‘a virgin will conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel’, Isaiah 7:14. Christ’s birth the center of our story. Hey, I’m already into Christmas. The literal Hebrew text there is stating ‘with us God’! That’s not to be interpreted as a greeting but a very firm, meaningful declaration. The Hebrew word for with is IM and the word for God is EL. Im-manu-el! Now what if that scripture’s true! And what if Romans 8:35-39, ‘who can separate us? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or peril or sword…I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, not things present or things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the Love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ were true? Have you ever really thought long about the fact that the Holy Spirit of God has come to comfort us, is present with us wherever we are, no matter what we are doing? ‘With us God’, (Immanuel) has a much ‘weightier’ meaning than we have given it credit for. God being with us was the Gospel plan all along, and it is something that carried the greatest importance for Him and for us. In the Old Testament, God was on the prophets, priests and kings. No one else experienced Him; they could only be told of Him by the three anointed positions of the Old System. That has changed and it has been changed because it was the will of God to change it. IM within this context is a heavy word. It’s not like someone is just in the same room with you, not someone only occupying the adjoining space with you. It’s not someone simply watching from across the room. In this word is a deep mingling of God and us. Jesus said that it was better that he went away and the Holy Spirit comes for us. Why? Simply, he could be in Jerusalem but not in Southern Illinois at the same time. That changed, it was better that Jesus, who was in contact with many, leave and ascend to the Father so that the Holy Spirit would come and could be in contact with all. All could be touched, not just those in Jerusalem! It was God’s desire to be with us anywhere and everywhere! Unlike the Old System, where God was ‘on them’, in the economy of Grace and the Spirit of God, He is ‘in them’.
Many years ago I had, for a very short time, too short a time actually, a double barreled shotgun. It was made of Damascus steel. That is very special steel. The way that original Damascus steel was forged has been lost, having been perfected in medieval times. Damascus steel was said to be the hardest steel created. It was used for ancient swords. It could hold an edge that was said to ‘cut through a rifle barrel’. It was tough. Somehow, Damascus steel, being ancient, took the impurities found in the forging and changed them molecularly and created a sword resistant to shattering. This process of forging mingled the minerals until you could not tell where one starts and the other ends. Damascus steel is one in that sense, yet you can clearly see in the steel itself the obvious mingling of the forger with its waves of steel. It was a nice antique and I still kind of kick myself for getting rid of it.
That mingling of Damascus steel is a lot like what the word with (‘im’) means. All such Bible words translated into the English (such as dwell and abide) are related to ‘im’. They are emotional, passionate words given with great feeling and hope. Remember Joseph, having been falsely accused and having been sold into slavery by his brothers, sitting in prison and telling his story at every turn, he remembered that ‘God was with Joseph’, mingled with his life, part of every moment. David also knew the joy of that. Read the 3rd, 23rd and 32nd Psalm for clues of how much David knew that God was with him. David wrote the 23rd Psalm while being chased by his own son whose purpose was to kill David– read that Psalm with that in mind! Obviously, it would take too long to express all the examples and all the passion of what ‘with us God’ means for us in this letter.
Now, what if He was with us at Walmart, the Civic Center, at work, at home, not just at church, but everywhere? Would that change your confidence? Would it make a difference knowing God was present with us all the time, in the good times and the hard times? Present in our celebrations and our mourning. Not just observing them but a part of actually going through them with us. Would that make a difference? Well, I believe He does just that.
That brings me back to Oprah. Apparently, she could not reconcile the thought of a jealous God, seeing that as a negative, angry, getting even kind of God. That’s not what the ancient word means at all. Jealous is not defined in the typical English fashion found in our traditions. The true meaning of that original word is to identify a ‘passionate, longing of love,’ Godly Love, for the object of that Love. Our Jealous God is a God consistent with the Gospel Good News, who because of His passion to be ‘with us’ eagerly seeks us out. That with us is not just a shopping trip to the store and hope we find a bargain on the trip. It’s a fire (fire like that forged steel sits in) that burns out of the coals of His Love for us, not a jealous God who is seeking His own way or His own purposes, but aggressively Loves us. He is jealous for us because He cares for us so much. In the original language, the world God so loved that he gave His only Son, that God is jealous, so much that His Love drove Him to Grace and Mercy for us. Made a way for us. Prepared a place for us. Sought us out. Became Sin for us. That’s something we need to permit to happen in us. This Gospel is Good News but it’s entirely up to us whether we accept and believe God Loved us that much that He did that much for us.
Now you have to be doing one of two things to come up with Oprah’s kind of objection about God. You either are too lazy to search out the truth and the real answer, or you are silly enough to use it as an excuse to justify what you wanted all along, hoping to find some reason not to believe. I have never, after searching and seeking out the heart of God, been disappointed in that chase. He is always much more grand, much more loving than I had imagined. His name will be called Immanuel…with us God! Can you let that happen? Can you let that be true? Can you not doubt that? This Gospel is not about how God was with us in the past, not about Him being with us in the future. While both of those are true, we must come to believe that God is with us now. His presence invites us to leave those things that are behind and not speculate about the future, but be in His presence now. It’s not a supernatural moment we need, it’s the reality of He is in every moment, super or not. The question is not whether He is present, the question is are you!
‘Glory to God in the highest, Peace, Good Will toward men.’ (Luke 2:14) Christmas in November.