The Gift of God Among Us: The With-Us God

I once had a colleague in the North Texas Conference named Rev. Kathleen Baskin-Ball. Among Kathleen’s many vibrant stories is one I think of every Advent season. As she relays it, a young child was feeling the usual unsettledness of sleeping in her own bedroom by herself for the first time. She summoned her dad a time or two; then her mom. They offered the usual assurances—you have a night light, we’re just outside the door, there’s nothing to be afraid of. At one point Mom said to her daughter, “You’re not alone; God is with you,” to which the little girl responded, “I want God with skin on.”

So does the world. The waiting we do in Advent is not so much a waiting for the abstract concept of God to be explored or explained—heaven knows we do enough of that already—but for the presence of God to be made real. From the early days of Advent, when we sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” we will give voice all season long to that yearning. We want God with skin on.

Emmanuel, shall be the Holy One’s name (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23). God-with-us. Or, more literally, Emmanu-El, the with-us God. And the wisdom of the ages teaches us that it is precisely through our own yearnings and longings for Emmanu-El, our own acute sense of wanting God with skin on, that the with-us God becomes increasingly real—to us, and through us.

Emma Lea Mayton, a former parishioner, once shared these reflections:

One Christmas Eve night, soon after my divorce was final, I was feeling especially sad and separated from God, wondering where God was in my life. While singing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” I suddenly felt God’s loving presence surrounding me, addressing me: “I am right here, with you, within you. I have always been right here! I am in your name, Emma, and in your brother’s name, Newell, and I have been with you and your parents from before your births.” Since that Christmas Eve, I have never doubted God’s love for each of us and God’s love expressed through each of us.

Emmanu-El is here among us, present to—and present through—all who struggle, or doubt, or wonder, or wait; all who believe, or seek to believe; all whose lives gesture toward goodness, compassion, courage, and hope. Through this season of Advent, and at Christmas, may we behold God with skin on, God among us, the with-us God; both in a lowly manger, and in one another.

Grace and peace.