Advent_165

He Is With Us

Zach Farrar - Community Groups Coordinator

Did you ever have an older brother or sister at school with you? Someone you knew would have your back if you got caught in a fight or maybe someone mouthed off and started lying about you. Whatever the scenario, if you had an older sibling at school there was a little comfort that came with the realization “when things get out of hand, I’ve got someone here with me.” It’s great to know you have someone to watch your back, look out for you, even in some ways teach you the ropes along the way in a new place.

The truth is, none of us want to be alone permanently. Despite the need to be alone at times to rest, we all seem to know intuitively that we are wired for community. We aren’t made to survive all on our own. Society, culture, economics, government, and even family all rely on this single premise – we are not designed to be alone. This constant search for a sense of belonging, for a sense of not being alone, is not just an evolutionary fluke or inexplicable wonder of the world – it’s how God designed us to be.

Created For Community

In Genesis 1-2 we read the blueprint that God established for the world. Perhaps the pinnacle of His whole plan is that mankind is not supposed to live alone. The story is familiar, God saw that is was not good for Adam to be alone so He created Eve. Then He gave them the command to fill the earth with offspring. Man was made to be in community – the most basic form was present in the Garden: the family. But even greater than the joy and satisfaction that comes with a healthy family, was God’s presence with Adam and Eve in the Garden. God Himself walked with Adam and Eve in perfect, joyous relationship (Gen. 3:8).

The tragedy and horror of sin is that it removes us from God’s presence. In Genesis 3 we see this in stark terms. After rebelling against God, Adam and Eve were cast out from the Garden and God’s presence. The Garden, where God used to walk with them, was full of life, vegetation, precious stones, flowing rivers, and more. Adam and Eve, now in rebellion against their Creator and King, were left on the outside, in the barren desert fields – beyond Eden.

Broken By Sin

In many ways, the Old Testament tells the story of how God slowly began to dwell among a people again. At first it was at special locations, known as altars, where men like Abraham and Jacob encountered and worshipped God (Gen. 15, 32:22-32). Eventually God began to dwell among His special people, Israel. First in the Tabernacle and eventually in the Temple (Exodus 40:34-38, 1 Kings 6-9). As we read the story of Israel, we can begin to see God slowly undoing all the damage wrought by our sin and rebellion. We sense some hope that we too may one day dwell in the presence of God and experience community with Him.

But even as God labored to restore a right relationship with His people, their sin and rebellion grew more deeply rooted and perverse. In their warped hearts, the Hebrews began to shirk the presence of God for lesser things – wealth, sex, power, prestige, safety, comfort. And just as the presence of evil forced God to banish Adam and Eve from His presence in Genesis 3, the story of Israel ended tragically, with God departing from their midst (Ezekiel 10) and ultimately banishing them from their home (2 Kings 24-25). The story seems to be a broken record – relationship with God is destroyed by sin while exile and loneliness fill the void.

And that’s where the Old Testament ends. God’s people have finally journeyed home but they still struggled with lesser things (ungodly marriage, idol worship, sex, greed, and more). God’s presence to them was a distant memory – almost an old wives’ tale about how God once, long ago, dwelt among His people before the darkness of exile and judgment swept in.

God's Deafening Silence

This is where we find the nation of Israel at the beginning of the New Testament. Yearning for meaningful, satisfying relationship with God and in a lot of ways trying to earn its way back into His presence through religious ceremony and ritual. Yet despite all their efforts, God was still distant, far-off, unreachable.

Sound familiar to anything you and I have ever experienced? We all know that sin creates distance between God and ourselves and in its place shame, guilt, and despair creep in. We know we can try outwardly to make it right, but our hearts are tricky and fickle -even when we obey outwardly. Inwardly jealousy, pride, and self-righteousness fill in where once gossip, greed, and debauchery once dwelt. And so we find ourselves in a place of despair on our own. Without hope – cast out from the presence of the King who we were created to enjoy, worship, and serve.

He Came Near

But then something nearly unbelievable happened. In the midst of their bitter, seemingly endless search for relationship with the Lord, God returned. Not in power or might at the temple or a synagogue, but in a quiet town, as a baby. The long awaited return of God Himself was heralded not by a magnificent display of power like at Mt. Sinai or the Temple dedication (Exodus 19, 40, 1 Kings 6-9), but by a small child born of a virgin in Bethlehem. But with this child came a great promise from God Himself – “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name, Immanuel, which means, God with us,” (Matt. 1:23).

God, after years of seeming far off, distant, and uncaring, came to His people in the most intimate way possible – as a fellow human. Gone were the days of relating to God from afar at the temple where a thick curtain separated sinners from God’s holy, righteous character. In their wake came something phenomenal, God in the flesh. And with His advent He brought a special and new promise with Him – God was no longer far off. He can be known. Not in the abstract, not by theologians, not by biblical scholars who speak Hebrew and Greek and Aramaic, but anyone who draws near to, listens to, follows, and serves Jesus.

That is the great news of Christmas. That after a lifetime of wandering in the wasteland of our sin, we can once more enter into the most satisfying, joyous, meaningful relationship with God through His Son Jesus.

Drawing Near To Him

As you reflect and celebrate this Christmas season, remember the earth-shattering truth of Jesus’ birth. If you feel guilt and shame that seems to have created a canyon between you and God, take heart and hope, for at Christmas we find Jesus, who came to bring sinners back to God. If you already trust Him, remember how the joy of knowing and walking with God finally became possible again, so long ago in a little, obscure town, as small boy was born who was and is Immanuel, God with us.

If you’d like to start a conversation with us about what it means to follow Jesus and be in relationship with Him, send us an email here.

Post Series: Advent 2015

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