I stood in line to check in at the urgent care Saturday morning. A few hundred yards away, Christmas floats lined up for the annual parade through the center of town, but the people in my line were miles away from Christmas cheer by the misery I saw on faces.
I took a seat in a room packed full of folks barely hanging on. Across the aisle, a woman, maybe in her seventies slipped down and put her head in her husband’s lap. A college-aged young man stifled coughs. A baby wailed as his weary mother tried to comfort him.
After a month of dealing with a respiratory illness, and trying to manage its symptoms, the pain I had when coughing reached a new plateau the evening before, and I knew I had to do something. So here I was. All of us strangers together on this float of suffering.
“It’s going to be awhile,” the receptionist said when I turned in my paperwork.
When I sat back down, I looked at the time on my phone. The parade would start in few moments.
I clicked over to a daily devotional site and tried to focus, tried not to cough. Then I moved to a blog where I often find strength. As I read, I sensed God moving near. There in the middle of fevers, moans, and sniffles, God took a seat.
In the sanctuary of suffering, he came. He stayed.
For the next couple of waiting hours, I sensed His presence so strongly right in the middle of human frailty, of all going wrong. Though I would miss the Christmas parade passing so close, I would perhaps, leave the clinic that day with a greater measure of what Christmas means than if I had attended.
Emmanuel means God with us. And God is with us not just in our Christmas parades and parties and plays and musicals and worship services, God is with us in ugly, hard places—like back alleys, mental hospitals, bankruptcy courts, prisons, and sick clinics. He is on the backside of nowhere and he proved it by being born in no more than a barn.
I left with a diagnosis of acute bronchitis, infection, and some seriously strained ligaments in my chest, but I also left with a peace that surpassed anything I’d had in awhile. Often God uses our brokenness to help us draw near to him, and He draws near to us in our brokenness.
Yesterday, I had lunch with someone who related the story of a thirteen-year-old girl whose mother had recently sold her into human trafficking in a nearby city. The mother did it to get three hundred dollars for an electric bill. The girl went through untold atrocities in just two weeks before a Christian group rescued her from the clutches of the man that had bought her. With such a fractured soul, how would this girl ever find healing?
But then I thought of Emmanuel—God with us. And if in this world there is a way for a thirteen-year-old to find the pieces of her life, it would be through the God who is with us in all of the sorry, low-down places a child can be—the One who lived on the raw edges of this world himself. And I had hope that He would help this girl, this baby, find a whole life. A real, whole, life.
“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
He is present with his peace, his comfort, and his restoring power in any raveling margin of life you may find yourself. No matter how desolate, no matter how seemingly hopeless.
God with us. Emmanuel. In all of our raw edges.
If you're puzzling over what to give for Christmas, might you consider Home to Currahee or Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees?
Both available for purchase HERE.