Recently in a church related round table discussion we were asked to share our favorite Christmas tradition. Most around the table were much more thoughtful than I. I had my mind on the purpose of the informational meeting and those people sitting at my table. And…not much further.

I don’t always think well on my feet.

I gave some yammering, lame response about watching It’s A Wonderful Life and the time on Christmas day to just unhurriedly mess around with some home project since it’s our family of six around on Christmas day.

With some thought afterwards, it could have been…
>  the bright white and gold porcelain nativity figures that I bought for Barbara a few years ago that decorate our living room. There’s another, different nativity outside.

>  a ‘live’ Christmas tree that’s cut and dying with ornaments stretching from my childhood to last year’s addition. One year we bought a live, balled and burlapped tree…and it died too.  So we now go straight for the tree we know is dead instead of waiting for the slower, same outcome.

> watching the kids go right to playing with or using some gift they’ve been given.

With additional reflection, I’m reminded it’s not a tradition that’s my favorite Christmas tradition. At this time of year, for me…it’s Immanuel.

That simple word, that name, carries so much weight. God became man.The Creator became the created. It’s profound. Immanuel…God with us.

With vs. For / Against

God WITH us is different than God FOR us. I get caught up in FOR and AGAINST.

While I sincerely believe that God is not AGAINST me…he is also not FOR my preferences, my pet projects. In our society driven by rabid competition we lean toward FOR / AGAINST. He is not FOR my political preference, my race, my nationality, my favorite sports team, the city I live in, my favorite nonprofit, the local church I attend and AGAINST someone else’s.

God can be WITH people who have diametrically opposite views. Him being WITH me supersedes simple tolerance; a high value in our culture…maybe even worshipped. It’s not for / against as in win / lose.

He is FOR HIS own glory, FOR HIS character, FOR HIS purposes. He desires for us to be aligned with that.

And He knows we’re all a bit off.

He made creation so that we could know HIM. He wants us to know HIM. God did tell us some stuff…some important stuff…all pointing toward HIS coming, HIS presence, HIS being near, GOD WITH US.

When I hit a hard spot in life, it’s comforting and appreciated when someone is FOR me.  FOR me is far better than ignoring me. But when I check in on my emotional need it’s better when just the right person is WITH me. WITH me is personal.

Presence is more substantial than assent or appreciation.

He is not FOR the fear, hurt, depression, discouragement as in he wants me to be those. That is not God’s desire FOR me. But when I am fearful, hurt, depressed or discouraged, he is WITH me.  He wants me to live life WITH Him.

And He is, through His Spirit still with us. I didn’t run him off like a former friend.  I haven’t offended him. He hasn’t fired me. He didn’t vote me off the island. He wants His best for me. And even though I can walk away from Him, He is still WITH me…with us. God has sent his Son to model how we should respond. Being WITH is more personal, it means being near.

God WITH us moves me to live WITH people; to imperfectly embody the perfect sent Son, to desire more deeply the presence of God and to live out that presence. God WITH us, that idea, that reality, informs my life of ministry.

I can tell people stuff and it may be helpful. But if I am WITH them it may be better. When God is WITH us, it is better.

God WITH us is incredible. And truth be told, it’s the reality of God WITH us that I want to affect all of my days.

Yes, God is slowly but surely being written out of the script of life; culturally, politically, socially and even religiously; yet, He still is WITH us. He is near. He is here.

At this point, I’ll focus my attention on the profound reality of Immanuel, God WITH us.

by James H. Evans, BENCHMARK’s Founder
Originally Posted December 2014