God With Us

Early morning at Manchester Beach overlooking the Point Arena Lighthouse, California

Early morning at Manchester Beach overlooking the Point Arena Lighthouse, California

We’re celebrating Christmas in less than another week.  It’s a very exciting time around here; so many piles of packages, the Christmas tree in the living room, not to mention Christmas baking, opening Christmas cards, singing Christmas carols, and reading Christmas verses.

Red berries along the Big Crack in Lava Beds National Monument, California

Red berries along the Big Crack in Lava Beds National Monument, California

In the middle of it all is the joy that Isaiah prophesied: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son.  She will give Him the name Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’)” (Isaiah 7:14).  Without God With Us, there would be no Christmas.  It’s the truth of Christmas and the truth that God is with us all through the year.

Berrries at Willowood Arboretum, New Jersey

Berrries at Willowood Arboretum, New Jersey

It’s interesting to think that God is with us all the time; nothing seems to hinder His nearness to us.  Sometimes we think of Him as further away, probably because we can’t feel Him or because we see our sins and shortcomings as so huge that we don’t want to be close to us, let alone God wanting to be close to us.

Wildflower in the desert sand near Coyote Gulch, Utah

Wildflower in the desert sand near Coyote Gulch, Utah

But that’s not the way that Jesus treated the “sinners” of His day.  He got in trouble with the “super-spiritual” leaders because he ate (hung out with and identified himself with) “tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 9:11).  I get the impression that Jesus would much rather be close to those who truly want to be right with Him, even if they stumble and have been or are in sin, than with people who think they have it all together so they don’t feel they need to be right with Him.  (Holiness will come; it’s an outcome of being with Jesus – He is the one that said to the prostitute “Go and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11)

 

Senaca Mills Falls along the Keuka Lake Outlet, New York

Senaca Mills Falls along the Keuka Lake Outlet, New York

He’s with us all the way, so close to us.  Even if we fail, He’s still Immanuel, God With Us.

Hiking the Flat Tops of Colorado on the Chinese Wall Trail

Hiking the Flat Tops of Colorado on the Chinese Wall Trail

I like to think of it this way: If life is a trail, and we get off the trail and find ourselves wandering out into the open desert, God isn’t back on the trail shouting at the top of His lungs, “Hey, over here!  You’re off the trail!”  Instead, He’s with us, off the trail, guiding us back.

River crossing on the path to Stough Creek Basin in the Wind Rivers of Wyoming

River crossing on the path to Stough Creek Basin in the Wind Rivers of Wyoming

Many years ago, we were hiking back from a wander through the Sonoran Desert.  We were tired, because it had been a long day, and so we were watching our feet on the gravel path.  I looked up, and way off in the distance was one of our young group members, wandering off the trail and into the desert wasteland, into the growing dusk.

Burned-over wasteland along the Big Balanced Rock Trail in Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona

Burned-over wasteland along the Big Balanced Rock Trail in Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona

I did call her, but we also went after her.  We didn’t just shout, “Hey, over here!”  We actually went out to her and helped her to get back on right path.

Wandering the desert around the Big Crack in Lava Beds National Monument, California

Wandering the desert around the Big Crack in Lava Beds National Monument, California

In the middle of it all, though, she looked at us, over on the trail, and said, with full 6-year-old confidence, “What are you doing off the trail?”  She literally thought she was on the path and wouldn’t believe us until we guided her back where she was supposed to be and she saw the real trail.

A little older and a little wiser: Walking along Floras Lake Beach, Oregon

A little older and a little wiser: Walking along Floras Lake Beach, Oregon

How like us sometimes!  We think we’re on the right path, and it takes God’s guiding hand to get us back on the path.  Sometimes we’re like, “God, why are You taking me off the path?” when really, He’s taking us back to the real path, not the one that will take us out into the dark desert.

Sunset in the Arizona Desert, not far from the Whitmore Trail in Grand Canyon-Parashant National Forest

Sunset in the Arizona Desert, not far from the Whitmore Trail in Grand Canyon-Parashant National Forest

Immanuel – it’s Jesus’ name, and it is still His Name and His Nature.  No matter our circumstances, our wrong choices, or the feelings of today, He is still God With Us through the Christmas season and throughout the year.

 

Merry Christmas!

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