Sermon – December 23, 2001 – God is With Us

December 23, 2001

Fourth Sunday of Advent

God is with us

This has been a tough season of headlines. Somedays they are so thick
you can almost trip over them. . . war and chaos, anthrax, terrorism,
recession.

In this last leg of our journey toward the manger, we have had
troublesome turns of events that impact in ways we’ve never known before
and affect how we live our lives. Even as we journey toward Bethelehem,
we are staggered on the road. How important today for us to hear the
words of the prophet that Emmanual comes, God is with us.

Last week, I went to the post office to mail some packages. As I sat
in the parking space waiting for Ann, a frantic woman pulled into the
space in front of me, barely missing a pedestrian as her car dove into
the space. Then she put the car into reverse and just hammered me. As
my Jeep rocked, I laid on my horn to express my disapproval .. . . .
and to be sure she wouldn’t do it again. She got out of the car,
mumbled her apologies and rushed into the Post Office with a little
package to mail. She was a mess . . . in this season before
Christmas. O Come, Emmanuel.

I went to the mall this week in the midst of all this. It wasn’t an
original idea. I was there with about 50 thousand other folks with the
same plan. I did alright, so I spent some time wandering around the
mall watching people, and unfortunately, I didn’t see very many people
smiling. I was one woman standing at the intersection of the stores,
bags in her hands, a bewildered look on her face, almost on the verge of
tears . . . I don’t know from what. And the background music played,
“Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel.” And I thought, “oh, yes. Oh, please.”

We’re on that last leg of the journey towards that magical night when
the angels sang, and the shepherds gathered, and the stars shown, the
baby was born, and hope sprung forth . . . and the world changed. Come
again, Immanuel, and lift us again to the joy of that moment.

We’ve been waiting for that night to come and it will soon be upon us.
In many ways, our journeys this year may have been difficult, for some
in a personal way, I know, and for all of us in a national sense. Not
just fighting the crowds at the mall, but trying to live our lives with
integrity and hope, trying to bolster our relationships, trying to
express ourselves in love or creativity, trying to bring meaning into
our lives and the lives of those whom we love, trying to do the right
thing, trying to gain back the ground we lost when we failed to do the
right thing. It may have been a difficult journey to today as we
anticipate again the birth of Jesus.

Let’s not let that cloud that fact that this has also been a journey of
joy, of success, of milestones and transitions, new hope, new hope, new
challenges, new possibilities, new relationships as we journey to this
last leg before that magical night.

However it has gone for us, we are reminded today in this moment,
through these words of scripture, at this table, in this fellowship, as
we take these last steps to Christmas Eve, that all along the journey we
have been led, upheld, guided, forgiven, strengthened and blessed by the
one whose birth we celebrate. We remember when our short Advent season
started, the prophet Isaiah reminded us that a little child would lead
us. And even as those we have chosen to lead us stuggle and stumble,
we remember that this is more important. And now more than ever we need
to remember who it is we follow, what it is he promises, and where it is
he leads us. The headlines speak of choas and confusion and war, but
our banner procalims, Emmanuel, God is with us. In our moments of joy
and times of trouble, God is with us. We listen again for that voice,
that Emmanuel has come because these are words of love.

This story is told of one of the greatest theologians that ever lived,
Karl Barth, who was asked to be a guest lecturer at the University of
Chicago Divinity School. At the end of a captivating closing lecture,
the president of the seminary announced that Dr. Barth was not well and
was quite tired, and though he thought that Dr. Barth would like to be
open for questions, he shouldn’t be expected to handle the strain. Then
he said, “Therefore, I will ask just one question on behalf of all of
us.” He turned to the renowned theologian and asked, “Of all the
theological insights you have ever had, which do you consider to be the greatest of
them all? It was the perfect question for a man who had written
literally tens of thousands of pages of some of the most sophisticated
theology ever put into print. The students held pencils right up
against their writing pads, ready to take down verbatim the premier
insight of the greatest theologian of their
time.

Karl Barth closed his tired eyes, and he thought for a minute, and then
he half smiled, opened his eyes, and said to those young seminarians,
“The greatest theological insight that I have ever had is this: “Jesus
loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

That is the assurance, that is the love, that is the spirit of Emmanuel,
God with us, and because of that beautiful fact, all other things recede
to the background.

. . . .

I suspect we are all a little tired. I suspect we all wish that
Christmas would get here already so this pastor can stop talking about
waiting and preparing. And I’m willing to do that now.

But I pray that in this place today, in this moment among the people
gathered in Jesus name , as people who rely on his promises and share in
his blessings, and declare his coming, that we would take this last leg
of our journey to Christmas with a little lighter step . . . because
Emmanual is here . . . . with a little less anxiety, because God is with
us. . . . and a little more hope and joy, because God is extending to
us a great gift of love. . . . .Because God is with us and all other
things shall recede, give way to that fact.

We are going to extend, briefly, our moments of silence this morning,
after our sermon. I would invite you to take those moments, take some
deep breaths, resolve to yourselves that these last few steps toward
Christmas be a journey of joy, as we are reminded again through the
words of scriptures and fellowship, and the touch of the Spirit in our
hearts. . . that God is with us, that no circumstances can change that
and that Christ journeys with us to that night of joy when the world
changed.

Remember that the angels sang, peace on earth. In this last, hectic
leg of the journey let’s allow ourselves to experience that peace and to
share it, and be renewed by it, and to celebrate it again. Oh, Come
Emmanuel. Amen.

Copyright (c) 2001 by Pastor Robert J. Rasmus