“But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say that I am?” Matthew 16:15
Advent. I didn’t really understand it until recently. As a child I considered it to be a time of counting down until Christmas. As an adult I have often viewed it not as much as a countdown, but a letdown, as I tried to dissuade the tugging guilt and the strain of what appeared to be a dichotomy. “Celebrate Jesus’ birthday. This is about Jesus. Everything else is fluff. Everything else takes away from Jesus.” But yet, I still gave and received presents. I still gave and received joy from time spent with family, from traditions, from generosity, from the magic that surrounds this season. Every Advent I felt so torn, so compartmentalized, so guilt ridden, so anxious about getting it right, so timid in my joy, just so letdown.
During his sermon this past Sunday our pastor talked about Charlie Brown from the Peanuts. In the Christmas Special from 1965, Charlie Brown was distraught at everyone missing the true meaning of Christmas, so distraught in fact that he, himself, missed the real reason for the celebration. Looking back on Advent Seasons of my life I can relate a lot to Charlie Brown. I never quite got it. I mean I knew what Christmas was all about. I just didn’t know how to celebrate it without guilt, without hypocrisy, without doubt. So I divided myself. I let myself enjoy the Christmas the rest of the world celebrates-to a degree. And I went through the motions of celebrating the CHRIST in CHRISTmas. But I don’t think I ever really celebrated. I don’t think I ever really got it more than our of obligation, recitation or fear. I don’t think I was able to ever really let go of the guilt and celebrate all of Christmas in its entirety, with joyful abandon, enraptured by the beauty and truth of the meaning of this holiday. I never let it spill into every compartment of my life.
Last year and this year I determined that Advent would not be a season merely of countdown and letdown. I determined that I would let my heart prepare Him room, that I would allow Jesus-you know, the “reason for the season”, the one who started it all in the first place, redeem this holiday season for me. Turns out Jesus is pretty good at redeeming things. Its kinda His specialty. So often I let my perceptions or feelings determine “reality” for me. If I sense God as being _____ than that is an attribute of His that I celebrate. That isn’t entirely wrong. But I wanted to let the Bible, not my own musings, determine the God I know.
As part of my Bible reading this month I have been considering many of the names of God and what they mean-not just in their original Hebrew, but what they really mean for me, in my life, right now. I figured if I really wanted the meaning of “Immanuel-God with us” to have a true depth of meaning for me than I had better get a more complete picture of the God who was with me. I had heard many of these names of God before since I grew up in church. But it was so life-giving to just read through these names of God aloud and let them wash over me. The more I know of God, the more I am head over heels in love with Him. I just wanted to share a few of the names of God that impacted me the most as I thought about that the God of the Bible, the one true God, the God of all these names chose to come to be Immanuel-God with us. God with me.
Word of God- when I was a child the passage from John that talked about “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” never made sense to me. But now I understand how poetically God wrapped his own words, his own likeness in flesh and bones. He gave His very words-his very essence, ligaments and muscles and a heart beat. A heart that beat just as mine does, that yearns to be loved and chosen just as mine does, that breaks just as mine does, that aches for more than this temporary life just as mine does. A heart that does everything my heart does, besides sin and lie and hate and serve itself. The God the whole Bible points to, and prophesizes about, and praises; those same words off the pages of scripture, that same God who created the universe with a spoken word, that same God who crafted me together with love and tenderness and purpose, that same God who parted the Red Sea, who guided David’s slingshot to defeat Goliath, who turned a dungeon of roaring lions into a den of purring kittens, that same God wrapped His likeness in flesh. Flesh that burns and blemishes and bruises and bleeds. That same God-heart that has beat for always, even before the beginning of time, beat as a human heart for the first time in a tiny, stinky stable in Bethlehem. And that same God-heart broke along with the human one, thirty-some-odd years later on the Hill of Calvary. So when I say Immanuel I don’t just mean a God who is with us in Spirit-though He is that too! I mean a God who literally left his throne to be with us, in our stench, in our filth, in our victories, in our defeat, in all that comes with our humanness. The very words of God morphed into our likeness, wrapped in skin and bones. That is how much God loves me.
Cornerstone-the One on who it all rests, the foundation of my faith. The one who can hold it all. All my doubts, all my pain, all the burdens I can’t carry on my own. I rest my sanity, my joy, my hope, my identity, my very eternity on this Cornerstone. And every bit of who I am, every bit of the life of those who follow Him, every bit of the story of the legacy of faith is upheld by Jesus.
Everlasting Father- As I look at this Christmas and can’t help but wonder what next Christmas will look like…and the one after that, I am so comforted to call God my Everlasting Father. How many more Christmases will I have with my dad? I watch pieces of him slip away. We were not built to last here on this earth. We were made for more. As much as I love my dad, and as much as I have trusted and relied on him over the years, his body will fail him. His mind will fail him. And my dad will leave us, in pieces at first and then, one day, he will be gone. But long after the last piece of my dad slip away and he is made whole again in the presence of our Father, God will be hemming me in behind and before me-my Everlasting Father.
There are so many more. I could write forever. Bread of Life. Friend of Sinners. Anointed One. The Gate. First born among brothers. Deliverer. Rescuer. Redeemer. Wonderful Counselor. Prince of Peace. Comforter. Blessed Hope. Star out of Jacob. Root of David. Horn of Salvation. High Priest. Mediator. Refuge. Rock. Shepherd. Lamb of God. Jehovah. Carpenter. Glory of God. Door. Perfect Sacrifice. Bridegroom. King of Kings. Lord of Lords. Son of the Most High. Servant. Shalom. Alpha and Omega. Dayspring. Light of the World. Messiah. Lion of Judah. Vine. Teacher. Physician. Refiner. Passover Lamb. Savior. Way. Truth. Life. Jesus.
What are some of your favorite names of God? What ones are especially meaningful to you at Christmas time, or more specifically at this particular Christmas in light of what your life looks like? I would love to know how God is revealing Himself to you this Advent Season!