During this Advent season, I am challenging my young adult Sunday school class to think through our seasonal declarations. God is with us. We are retelling the dream of Jesus’ stepdad, Joseph. We are repeating the pronouncement of an angel (Matthew 1.18-25).We are testifying that God made good on the promise declared by the prophet Isaiah (7.14).
More than season’s greetings, these are holy words.
God is with us. Like the neat nativity scenes we put on our tables and lawns, it is said oftentimes without a full appreciation for the reality. We say it because it’s what we say. Like asking for God’s blessing when a person sneezes, it is polite to say (in some circles, at least).
God is with us. But, what does this mean? What do we mean? Has there been a God sighting and if so, where? Where is God with us?
While we ask the question most often and much easier during seasons of suffering, I invite you to look for God now. And we must be sure that we are looking for God and not our creation. N.T. Wright shares in Following Jesus:
The longer you look at Jesus, the more you will want to serve him in his world. That is, of course, if it’s the real Jesus you’re looking at. Plenty of people in the church and outside it have made up a ‘Jesus’ for themselves, and have found that this invented character makes few real demands on them. He makes them feel happy from time to time but doesn’t challenge them, doesn’t suggest that they get up and do something about the plight of the world. Which is, of course, what the real Jesus had an uncomfortable habit of doing.[i]
Is God with us because we feel good and we are happy with our lives? Is God with us because everyone else is saying that God is? Have we made up this testimony? Or, are we carrying around our made up Jesus, our cardboard Jesus?
While you are considering the answer to these questions, consider whether we are following Jesus or if Jesus is following us around. Because if God is only with “me and mine,” then this is a made up Jesus that Wright talks about. If God can’t be with them, then who is this God who is with us?
[i] N.T. Wright, Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), xiv.