Life and Faith

God Is with Us

Christmastide is here. Here. Now. This is Christmas. Though the world is weary and rejoicing to have limped through ‘the holidays’, many traditions have just begun celebrating Christmastide after forty days of darkness and fasting. The season of light has dawned, culminating in a day whose very name means manifest or revelation. Light does that very thing, it shows us what we would have walked right past in the darkness; it reveals the shapes we feared in the night as friendly, familiar things; it makes manifest God’s gift of himself to us.

God gives himself to us…The Incarnation still staggers my mind and heart, sometimes to the point where I give up thinking it through. To be honest, near the end of the year work and friend-gatherings reach a raucous tilt and I hold out hard for the airport. I slide into my window seat with a sigh, watch the night glide past, and take a break. The problem is, I take a break from my habits and routines because I am away from home. I often go to bed late and rise late, skip quiet time and journalling, get easily nettled, and skimp on self-control in just about every area. The last week of Advent and most of Christmastide are often spent in self-inflicted semi-darkness. Sure, there are starlight points in the dark skies of my soul, but it often seems like the sun of revelation is suffering a prolonged eclipse.

Unlocking the front door of my cabin the first week of January seems to coincide with the shadow passing from between me and the Light of the world. I slip back into my own skin, my own home, my own habits. The new year stretches before me like a glorious sunrise—I don’t know what the day will hold, but it opens bright and full of hope.

Amidst my dim Christmastide and my looking forward to a fresh year, someone I love dearly mentioned how bleak the coming year looks from this vantage point. She said it seemed like she was stuck in an unyielding cycle that someone else chose for her. There isn’t an end in sight. Now, I can see only hope that the coming year will be better than the last for this belovèd friend, as this year reeked for her. Perhaps I am young and naive, but in my mind, there is an irresistible hope in new years and seasons.

Mid-conversation, I suddenly wondered about the Children of Israel, those between the Old Covenant and the New, those deafened by nearly four hundred years of silence—did they ever lose hope? Did the Messiah seem impossible to them? Obviously they passed down their long-held prophecies and expectations. Mary readily received her role from God, knowing there was to be a Messiah. All of Israel seemed to be peering about for their Saviour throughout the gospels, uncertain if the Man from Galilee could really be the One foretold. They all knew the history, but did they ever get furious that the prophecy sat there, unfulfilled? Did they consistently beg God to defend his name and bring forth the Saviour for these promised people? How many generations were snuffed out in darkness, never seeing the coming Light?

What if my friend never sees the dawn of change, of salvation from this rotten situation in her lifetime? Does God not care? Is God not powerful and kind enough to bring redemption and resolution into a very fractured situation? We talk theology often on this site, but do we believe God intervenes for the unjustly accused, the abandoned, the orphans and the widows? Do we live like God is with us? For the in-the-quiet-darkness Israelites, the Incarnation was hoped for, was yet-to-come, but was never fulfilled. However, we know—we know that God is with us, he has come. He is here and he is not silent. He does not stand aloof nor remain indifferent to our plight. But what is he doing when nothing changes? Theology fails to comfort the abandoned and hurting. Heady discussions aren’t the equivalent of the Holy Spirit changing hearts and healing brokenness. All our comments and platitudes don’t end that bleak feeling of the sucking, downward spiral of depression when nothing changes, even though a person has remained faithful to Jesus. If God is with us, why is hope often invisible for the steadfast, God-honouring believer?

I want answers for my friend; for myself. Yet all I have is questions. I still see the Light rising in hope, but how do I give my vision to my friend? How can I be her eyes and impart God’s hope to her? How can I bear her burdens and share my joys? Reality sometimes presses us hard with its weight—how do we hold on to real, robust hope that makes our souls buoyant? When we trust God to stand up for himself, to stand up for what is right, how do we not lose hope in the waiting?

I don’t have solid answers. I don’t have something tangible that keeps depression at bay. I know God is with us. My friend knows he is with us. She wants to see him with us. To see him move. To see his power. To see the Light dawn in the pitch black she’s been living in…But what if she is in the middle of a kind of “four hundred years of silence” history with God? What if the coming hope is so bright that it must be preceded by inky silence to contrast just how mighty God is? That’s not a query my friend can cling to; not the light at the tunnel’s end that she needs to see by. But it may be the truth; it may be reality. I believe she will trust God, even if redemption doesn’t come in her lifetime. It will be a continual, exhausting choice—but God with her and in her will help her walk in the starlight. And I believe that her prayers and obedience will advance the dawn in all its glorious brilliance, even if she never sees the Dayspring.

Johanna Byrkett

Johanna Byrkett

Johanna (Jody) Byrkett enjoys hiking various types of terrain, foggy mornings and steaming mugs of tea, reading classic literature and theological essays, studying words and their origins, and practising the art of hospitality. (She also has the singularly annoying habit of spelling things 'Britishly'.)

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