Jesus, Come. Now.

December 21, 2014    Matthew 1:18-25

This past Thursday morning, I led worship at Harmony River, snagging a lighter from a lady headed out for a smoke break so I could light the Advent candles. They showed the wear of the season, the time passing as it does, unevenly and a little sad. The gathering of about 15-20 of us sang O Come O Come Emmanuel with no accompaniment. Truthfully, it didn’t sound pretty. Raspy voices in all keys, each obeying our own rhythms. O come O come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel. Get us out of exile, God, we sing. It was awful. And it was one of the most beautiful sounds I’d ever heard. Mixed in with our gasping uneven chorus was hope. The kind of hope born of living in the haunting minor key of that song. Hope grounded in long lives that know a thing or 2 about tragedy, about captivity, the memory care folks looking right at me, singing from a place stronger than memory, their mouths forming words their minds swore they had forgotten.

God, come we sing. Today, we see how God came to the earth. We see God work through an angel. We see God change Joseph’s mind – turning his no to yes. Poor Joseph, the unwitting oaf saddled with the pregnant teen’s burden. We see him shift from ditching her to taking it on, thanks to the angel in the dream. He takes on her shame. He takes on the public humiliation, enduring the lashing from the wagging tongues. He must have wondered, God, are you with us? This is how you come into the world?

O come O come Emmanuel? Because when God is at work in your life that means you will be asked to do incredibly hard things. And for those things to be born, something old has to die. Just think of all that Joseph had to let go in order to say yes to stick it out with Mary instead of righteously, quietly dismissing her.

And, I dare say, their lives with Jesus as their son were not easy. While we don’t have much information on Jesus as a teenager, we do know Mary and Joseph have to flee soon after he is born because a hit had been put out on his head. And then, later on, as a child he wanders off and they find him in the temple, oblivious to their worry. Much later, when he’s busy healing people and drawing crowds, his family shows up and he asks, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Can you imagine having Jesus as a brother? Talk about sibling rivalry.

Yet we know what it means for Jesus to come. Down deep in our bones where it’s hard to name, we know what it means for Jesus to come. We yearn for it and we believe that Jesus comes into the world not as a sterilizer or a numbing agent – but as the one who transforms pain into wholeness; who wipes away every tear, who meets us right in our pain. God with us.

I texted with Larry Strenge as his grief was still so new at the loss of his son and he said, “It is a time of broken hearts trying to find comfort in God’s promise of the resurrection and presence. But it’s hard.” I told him we’d believe it for him when he couldn’t.

It’s why we gather for worship – because together, we know God is present among us. And so then we can sing the words and pray them and recite them from memory for all those who cannot. We show up in flesh and blood because matter matters to God. It matters enough that God sent Jesus to be God With Us, in the flesh. And so we show up in the flesh and we believe for the Strenges in their dark night. And we believe for the Olsons. And we hold their hands and we give them hotdish and we light candles. All activity of the flesh. All as protest against any claim that God is not with us.

IMG_2611This door we’ve been praying on throughout Advent – well, it’s a testament to the fact that Jesus comes into this mess. He sees it and enters into it and is with us in it. It’s a miracle isn’t it? This stark stuff – and the miracle is that it’s not a deal breaker for God. God knows about the darkness and the chaos and God sent Jesus straight into it. Right into our messed up lives. God with us comes without strings. It’s not “God With Us” only if you accept Jesus into your heart. It’s not “God With Us” because I am so holy and deserve God. It’s not “God With Us” because anything. It’s just God With Us. Period. Because God is just that foolish. Because God is just that faithful to us. Because God is just that in love with us.

[O Come O Come]

Later on that Thursday that began with the strained, communal “O Come O Come Emmanuel” at Harmony River came an echo. Again, it was another small group of about 12 voices ringing out of hopeful and vibrant 5 and 6 year old bodies, “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” This time there was backing music, the interpretation more up beat. A different kind of hope. My eyes filled with tears as these 2 moments connected in me. These kids filled with anticipation, just getting going in their lives, singing “O come o come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lowly exile here until the son of God appears.” The refrain of “rejoice” came from their toes, some of them singing with their entire being.

We are waiting. God with us, we know you are here. Please come.