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  • Patti

Immanuel - God With Us

When I was very young, my mom would reserve at least one week following Thanksgiving just for our nativity scenes alone. During this time there would be no other decorations, just a variety of creches around our home. She said she wanted us to remember and focus on what Christmas was all about… the birth of Christ.

I remember helping her delicately unpack each figurine and thoughtfully place it in its ideal position. Even the broken ones were handled with care – probably special care, as I remember - not so unlike how God handles us when we are broken.

One of my mom’s most cherished nativity scenes was hand-carved from olive wood – it was a special gift from my uncle, brought back from the Holy Land. It was simple, and earthy, and smooth, with wood grain perfectly marbling each figure; and it still clung to the lingering fragrance of olives. Each year the manger scenes would carry me back in time, into this little humble place called Bethlehem, with starry night skies, singing angels, shepherds, and a baby in a manger. I felt like an invisible and silent observer of all the wonder that was unfolding. This miracle of the Creator becoming the Created to redeem His creation. God pressing Himself and all His omnipotence, into the new baby skin of humanity in all its frailty and utter dependence.

During those early years, my little blue eyes only saw the perfect story of God’s grace and humility and incarnation. I was too young to see the bigger picture of that first Christmas and how it must have felt for Joseph and Mary. By the time they reached Bethlehem, they understood God had chosen them to help fulfill His plans and the prophecies of long ago. And yet the unfolding events must have left them wondering if the God of the universe couldn’t have orchestrated a more comfortable and seamless method and means.

A simple snapshot includes cultural scandal, disappointment, inconvenience, and discomfort. Mary, betrothed to Joseph, is now pregnant… except it is the miracle of the incarnation. Joseph, “to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly” (Matthew 1:19), but then the angel confirms Mary’s account. And, “Joseph swapped his Torah studies for a pregnant fiancé and an illegitimate son and made the big decision of discipleship. He placed God’s plan ahead of his own” (Max Lucado, In the Manger, 2012, p. 27). As if all of this wasn’t enough to traverse, a king orders a census and they must leave their home and journey to Bethlehem. Mary, now at full-term, on the back of a donkey trodding the dry dusty path. At the end of the road, at the end of a long day, at the end of the long journey, as darkness has fallen, finally – Bethlehem! And, an inn – but it’s already full! They are relegated to the make-shift stable where Mary gives birth to Jesus, the Son of God, the King of the World, the Messiah. And a rough and humble manger, where animals feed, becomes His first cradle.

There is absolutely nothing ideal, easy, or comfortable for Mary and Joseph in all of this story… in this Nativity. The days leading up to the first Christmas brought discomfort, hassle, and likely disappointment after disappointment for them. And yet, God’s plan was not thwarted one bit. In fact, His perfect fulfillment of the age-old prophecies is intricately woven into the desperate details.

God’s plan was not thwarted one bit. In fact, His perfect fulfillment of the age-old prophecies is intricately woven into the desperate details.

God is always bigger than what life may throw at us and He makes it all “work together for the good, for those who love God” (Romans 8:28, NLT). Max Lucado’s Because of Bethlehem says it perfectly, “No day is accidental or incidental. No acts are random or wasted” (2016, p. 9).

So often we think comfort equates with God’s blessing and serves as confirmation that we are in the center of His will. But we don’t see that in scripture. We see life and lots of it – and God with us. We see struggles and stressors – and God with us. We see hassles and hardships – and God with us. We see the scandalous and inconvenient back-story of the Nativity – and God with us. We see Immanuel - God with us. God with us - the hope for all humanity! God with us – where joy is found! God with us – where He weaves His path and plan intricately into our lives! God with us – where we experience peace in the midst of the interruptions of our perfect plans and well-crafted scripts. God with us – Immanuel - this is Christmas!


“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:23, NKJV).

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