During Advent, our family reads daily cards that are beautiful and designed to walk you through the season. There are discussion prompts on the back, some of which encourage you to read a short passage of scripture together, to spend time laughing with one another, or to do an act of kindness for a neighbor or friend.
Some of the activities are more poignant than others, and some days the girls are into it. Other days they’re not quite sure how to respond to such grown up questions about life and faith.
One of the recent cards prompted our family to talk about “promises” that God has given to us. And while I loved the sentiment that God is faithful and trustworthy, which I totally believe, I struggled to come up with specific promises. I mean, I had plenty of verses I could recite that seem like promises from God. God promises – “to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future” or that we can “do all things through Christ who strengthens us” or that we can move mountains with “faith like a mustard seed”. And while I think those parts of scripture are all beautiful and that they all matter, those aren’t really the ways that I think about faith right now.
As our girls looked at me from across the table waiting for me to come up with a few promises God has given us, I was honest.
“Well,” I said. “I’m not quite sure how many promises God has made to me. There are lots of times I’ve felt like God spoke to my heart and told me things I should focus on or reminded me that he loves me. But promises? I think maybe the most important promise is the one we think about at Christmas time. Do you remember what Immanuel means?”
Kaylynn replied, “God with us.”
“Exactly. God with us. I think that’s what he promises us. He doesn’t promise us that life will be easy, or that bad things won’t happen, but he promises to always, always be with us. No matter what.”
It’s a simple, yet profound promise. It’s the hope I’ve clung to when life has been difficult, and when I’ve watched friends walk through intense loss and grief. It’s the part of the Christmas story that gets me every single time. “So the word became human, and made his home among us” (John 1:14 NLT).
He made his home among us. Proximity matters for so many reasons.
Being near people is the way we learn and grow. It’s the way we expand our limited perspectives of the world. Relationships are the first step in beginning to understand those who have a different life experience than we do.
But perhaps proximity also matters because when we are near people, we’re living into the example that’s been set before us. We’re reflecting back our Creator’s image. We’re making our home with others in a world that can too often feel inundated with isolation and loneliness.
I don’t think this with-ness has a formula or blueprint. I mean, Jesus came to be with us in the most unexpected, most unassuming of ways. He made his home with us as a baby, born to a teenager, yet called, Immanuel – God with us.
My guess is that he didn’t have to do anything in particular for this moment to matter. His presence itself brought joy and hope. Even as a baby, his arrival signalled that God was truly with his people.
So maybe when we are truly present with others, we somehow, inherently, carry the good news that God is with us, into this weary world.
Perhaps your gentle hand on her shaking shoulder, your meaningful text in the middle of the crisis, or your willingness to listen without offering advice, is the perfect way to show up.
Perhaps the extra cuddles when he’s too scared to sleep in his own bed, the countless hours at his bedside in the hospital, or the five-hour road trip to see her even when she no longer recognizes you as son is exactly what the power of with-ness looks like.
Perhaps your presence – your intentional, willing, available, presence – continues to remind those around you that God is still with each of us, even as we enter into the longest night of the year.
For I wholeheartedly believe, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”