Expecting Jesus- An Advent and Christmas Journey
“You, my God, are most hidden from us, and yet most present among us.” St Augustine.
Emmanuel – “God is with us” – is one of the most beautiful words in the language of Christmas. Encapsulating one of God’s greatest promises to us, it comes to fulfil the deep need we have for companionship, a need built into all of us by God’s himself since Adam first breathed Eden’s air.
Down the centuries the promise of his presence has been repeatedly whispered from within scrolls of ancient parchment. Among the nomadic Israelites wandering in an inhospitable wilderness with no permanent home in sight, God chose to dwell in the tabernacle, saying these words: “I will put my dwelling among you and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people” (Leviticus 26:11-12).
To the next generation of Israelites, now facing the prospect of driving out powerful nations to lay claim to the Promised Land, God spoke once more, this time through Moses: “Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God” (Deuteronomy 7:21).
Many years later, God had not forgotten that promise. To the ears of the Israelites, returning from exile in Babylon after 70 years of seeming rejection by God, his words through the prophet Haggai must have been as sweet as they were simple: “I am with you” (Haggai 1:13, 2:4).
500 years after this the same message came again: “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). This time the words came from the angel Gabriel to an ordinary Jewish girl called Mary. Those words signalled the beginning of the very first Advent, nine months of expectancy for Mary and Joseph as they waited for the birth of the Messiah. This was God’s ultimate way of being Emmanuel: not laying aside his deity, yet still fully embracing our humanity. In the person of Jesus Christ, God allowed us the unique opportunity to see, hear and touch him. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (1 John 1:1) is how one biblical writer struggled to convey verbally the mystery of God incarnate.
Can we learn anything from the experiences of Mary and Joseph that first Advent? I believe so. Throughout the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy, they were learning valuable lessons about the God who had chosen, quite literally, to be right with them all the time. In the foetal Christ God was there in their midst, granting them a foretaste of what it means for him to be Emmanuel.
There have been times in my life when I have inwardly cried, “Lord, are you really there?”, times when I may have been facing fears or disappointments, illness or pain. Was God still there when times were hard? Weren’t my difficulties the very proof that he had abandoned me? Sometimes I have felt like the psalmist who wrote: “Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1).
Such questions have drawn me back to that first Advent. For the experiences of Mary and Joseph at that time are not so far removed from my own: hopes for the future, inadequacies in the present, fears and concerns. In the unborn Christ God was right there with them in all their circumstances. By studying their example, I am powerfully persuaded that God is with us, too.
So join this journey to relive that first Advent, from the day of Annunciation to the moment when, in His Bethlehem birthplace, God first looked on the world through human eyes. We will follow Mary and Joseph’s story, observing them at different moments during those nine months and contemplating some of what they would have experienced. Through this journey, combining historical truth and imagination springing from it, I hope that you, like me, will learn to appreciate more fully the God who is Emmanuel.
For each day of December there is a passage of Scripture chosen to focus our thoughts, three sections of reflection and a prayer. This series provides only a framework; always remember that the final Word on Christmas is the promised Saviour himself. Ask him to meet with you each day.
Expecting Jesus. That is what this series is about. Mary and Joseph are our guides. Not only did they expect Jesus in the physical sense, but they are also forerunners of all who at any time have looked, with expectant hearts, for the Saviour to be close. We cannot necessarily expect the daily demands upon our lives to be pushed further away, but we can expect to know the Saviour coming close.
My prayer is that this Christmas you will find that the God who sometimes seems so hidden comes a little closer, not because he’s ever been distant, but because instead you will discover just how close he really is.