Does Your Manger Have a Silent Emmanuel?
When your holiday season is filled with silence & Emmanuel feels very far away.
A friend and I were chatting on Facebook. We were swapping stories of bewilderment & encouragement as we shared our personal summaries of 2018, shocked by some of the turn of events & wrestling with the silence of God in these long-suffering seasons of trial.
I have read many a beautiful essay this month lauding the Christmas King, Emmanuel, God With Us, championing us to grab hold of the Truth that He is with us in all the days, in all the trials, in all the tears, in all the joys, that His Presence is all that we need and we no longer have to wait, He is Here. And indeed, this is Truth & we rejoice.
Yet, how does the person navigate this festive season while cognitively believing this, yet does not see, feel or experience His Spirit in her circumstances - the broken relationships, dreams & finances. When instead of holiday comfort & cheer, she is freshly betrayed by her church, attacked & accused by family members, denied time to even celebrate Christmas with her children without being supervised by a manipulated, uninterested third party after spending years of being a stay at home, homeschooling mom? These are accounts of friends I know personally who have experienced this in the past couple of weeks. What do we tell the single mom who has unexpectedly lost all her income days before the Christmas shopping season & has not worked in decades due to physical disabilities, who desperately wants to love on her kids as lavishly as you do through thoughtful gifts & memory making excursions, but who now finds herself focused more on keeping the heat on, getting enough food for each day & trying to determine how she will pay rent in two weeks? God is with her? This may be a technically accurate response, but it may not feel like the most compassionate.
I agree that God is always Provider, always Sustainer, Security, Protector, Redeemer, Giver, Healer & much more. He is the same yesterday, today & tomorrow (Hebrews 13:8). However, it is equally true that He doesn’t always express every aspect of Himself at all times to all people. This doesn’t necessarily make Him any less good or divine. But it is indeed bewildering to our human brains & hearts when you need provision, but the Provider doesn’t show up in your finances. When you need healing but the Healer isn’t with you in a season of sickness. When you long for reconciliation in your marriage, but the Peace Maker & Miracle Maker isn’t with you at the end of your union. When you long for family & community & yet another loved one passes away, or bitterly stays away, and the Giver of Life isn’t with you.
The bewilderment & pain comes when our knowledge of Him doesn’t match up with our experience of Him. You are not alone in your feelings.
The Israelites KNEW God as Communicator, so they faithfully expected a Prophet for the next stage of life. But 400 years passed since the time of the prophets, the Jewish people did not receive any divine word for centuries & they lived in deafening silence instead. (the period between Malachi & Matthew).
The Pharisees KNEW God as Law Giver, so they faithfully expected a Judge for the adulterous woman. But the Judge stayed away, and the sinner walked away blameless instead. (John 8).
The sisters KNEW God as Healer, so they faithfully expected a Healer for their sick brother. But the Healer intentionally stayed away, and Mary & Martha’s brother died instead. (John 11).
The Jewish nation KNEW God as King, so they faithfully expected a Powerful Ruler to fight & vindicate them against enemies & governments who oppressed them. But the King stayed away and sent a baby instead. (Luke 2).
Like the men & women mentioned above, you may wonder this season, where is your Emmanuel in your present circumstance? Why did He withhold Himself from those He promised to care for? Has God has abandoned you? Punished you? Stopped loving you? No, I still believe the Truth that God’s Presence is With Us, always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20), and that His Grace & Love never fails (Romans 8). However, how He chooses to relate to us can change & evolve. And it can absolutely bewilder us. Bewilder, to be wild or chaotic. Our understanding of God, our relationship with Him, can feel chaotic sometimes. When your peace, confidence or security in your knowledge of God gets shaken, there is no firm footing for a while.
And friends, it’s normal & even good for our knowledge of God to get shaken. You do not have to rush to reassure everyone else “but God is good,” “He is Trustworthy” “He is my rock, I have no fear” in hopes that no one judges you for your internal raging questions & cries you have thrown God’s way. There are transitional seasons in our life where confusion about God should occur, if we want to participate in, steward & enjoy a more mature relationship with God Himself. But it is not done without pain or struggle.
Israel struggled with God (first prophesied in Gen. 32). It is how man moves from glory to glory, or Truth to More Truth. It is simply a humbling reminder that we are human & are limited in our apprehension of God & so we naturally struggle. There is no shame in struggling. If there are areas in your life that are aching for God, yet He doesn’t seem to be with you this Christmas, may I encourage you to ask yourself the following questions on your journey of moving from glory to glory:
· What parts of God’s Character are you expecting but not experiencing in your particular circumstances/trials/suffering? Take a minute to jot down your answers before moving ahead.
Consider the passages referenced above. Is it possible He is withholding expressions of Himself for the purpose of revealing More of Himself in other ways? Interestingly, in each story the main characters actually had an even greater need than they realized! But God was already ahead of them, they just had to look beyond who they already knew. The Old Testament Jews wanted a Prophet but He wanted to give them a Personal Intercessor. The Pharisees wanted Righteousness but He wanted to give them Grace & Freedom from the Law. Mary & Martha wanted a Healer but He wanted to give them a Resurrector. The Jews wanted a Ruler but He wanted to give them a Savior.
· Ask Him who He wants to Be in your life right now. *note, not what He wants to DO yet, but simply who He wants to BE for you.
· List some descriptions of the Identity.
· Ask Him how does He want to relate with you?
· Think about how you can relate with Him as this Identity – how does His Identity naturally position you or cultivate within you specific feelings, thoughts or actions?
It may be that He wants to give you More, like when He stopped giving His words through a Prophet, so He could give His Word through His Son.
It may be that He wants to move you beyond relating to Him as Law, so He can relate to you as Love.
It may be that He wants to strengthen you from merely surviving sickness to abundantly thriving health.
It may be that He wants you to choose Him not just for His Power, but for His Presence, even in the most unlikely of places, among the most lowly of creatures, in the most humble states of vulnerability.
Keep asking Him until you hear your answer.
And friend, if you feel like you have been asking Him & have continuously received silence, ask Him if that’s because He wants to be Silence or Stillness in your life.
The Jews had to wait 400 years before they got a Word from God.
Sometimes there are prolonged seasons of silence because what God wants to say to you next is SO important, He needs you to HEAR it. To be READY for His words. Mic drop when He’s done talking. He does not want you to miss it. And the silence prepares you for that.
Imagine a teacher or speaker in the front of a classroom has engaged you & a group of students. You’re all listening, interested, enjoying the teacher’s entertaining, encouraging & enlightening storytelling. And then there’s a pause… and it’s long... And it’s a little too long. It’s getting kinda awkward. You guys look at each other nervously & laugh a little. Why isn’t he speaking? Now it’s confusing and unsettling. Still standing up at the front, but not saying a word. Are you supposed to do something? Now it’s just frustrating & so uncomfortable in this tension. Why isn’t he speaking?! Is there something wrong with the speaker? Did someone anger or offend him? The desire for him to just SAY SOMETHING & make this uncomfortable & confusing silence stop has your whole attention.
And then suddenly, you think you heard something. You’re pretty confident He mumbled something under his breath. Maybe it was just a few words, not even a complete sentence. Maybe they’re three words that don’t even seem to make sense together… but you are hooked because he finally said something! He has your FULL ATTENTION. You press in more closely, stretch your ear a little physically closer to listen, you are fully engaged in order to hear what he says next. Whatever his next words are has captured your entire being.
Maybe that’s what God wanted from the Jewish nation after 400 long years of silence – He wanted them ready to hear His Word when it was born. Perhaps that’s why God has been silent for a season in your life as well. Because whatever He’s about to say next is HUGE, life changing and He wants you full engaged and ready to hear it.