4th week of Advent: Where are you, God?
By Faith Downing
Gospel: Matthew 1:18-24
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means "God is with us."
When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.
Reflection: “Where are you, God?”
It’s a question I imagine Joseph might have prayed in the interior of His heart as He learnt the news of Mary’s pregnancy before yet understanding its origin. Perhaps these were the words grumbled and cried and whispered by the Jewish people throughout the hundreds of years of prophetic silence leading up to Jesus’ birth, as they sought out and yearned for their awaited Messiah. The shepherds may have echoed the wondering as they ran from the hillside and into Bethlehem in search of a newborn baby boy.
When we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s likely a question that has loomed over various parts of our lives in our own search for intimacy with God, our Father, or in an attempt to understand suffering in the face of an all-loving Creator.
“Where are you, God?” we may have mused as little children just beginning to learn about the abstract concept of Heaven.
“Where are you, God?” we have pleaded in the cold of hospital rooms, as grown women awaiting treatments, procedures, diagnoses or devastating news.
“Where are you, God?” we have cried in the wake of loss, in the face of a negative pregnancy test, in the stab of comments and questions from well-meaning loved ones.
“Where are you, God?” we have whispered through our tears in the middle of an argument with our spouse, the trigger of a pregnancy announcement or the ache of a child wondering aloud to us when a sibling will come.
“Where are you, God?” we have asked, perhaps bitterly, as we’ve waded through the chaos of holiday traditions – all the decking of halls, hosting and attending of events, gift exchanging and merriment.
I invite you - urge you - to ask the question again: to pause, to quiet your heart for just a moment, and to turn to today’s Gospel, where you will find the Lord answering you, now, and in every moment that you’ve ever thrust this question into existence.
“And they shall call Him Emmanuel. God is with us.”
He hears your cry, sweet sister, and He answers. I am with you. In the cold, in the wait, in the loss, in the ache, in the heat of the argument, in the wondering, in the bitterness and burnout – I am with you. I am with you in the midst of it.
He is there, not as a warrior rallying to dispel it all and not as a judge exacting a lesson. He doesn’t batter down the ramparts of your heart, or smooth talk His way past your defenses. He comes in such a way that you might be able to truly receive Him – in the utmost vulnerability of a newborn baby. Unimposing, small, humble and meek. He comes this way, too, so that He might receive you. And He receives all of you with the same gentleness, humility and meekness with which He gives Himself. It is the purest reception you will ever experience, without expectation for you to be anything other than yourself or to bring anything more than your heart. And as you sing on Christmas day about receiving the greatest gift of all in Jesus, know that He sings over your heart the same – that you are the most precious gift He could ever receive.
Whatever circumstance you’re in as you walk through this last week of Advent, hear the words of the Angel as meant very much for you: “Do not be afraid, for, Emmanuel. God is with us. Love has come.”
Pray and reflect
This week, pray and reflect on the following points:
When have you cried out or whispered in the silence of your heart “Where are you, God?” Take a moment to hold space for those difficult times and acknowledge them as part of your journey.
When have you seen God in your life this Advent, perhaps in unexpected ways? If you feel you have not, tell God this. Share your heart with Him and tell him your longing for His presence.
If you are anticipating finding this Christmas hard, whether it is because you will be around pregnant family members or you are grieving with a heavy heart, think about how you can remind yourself often “God is with us”. Write it somewhere you will see it when you need it most; text it to your spouse; scribble it on a piece of paper and put it in the Christmas stocking of a loved one.