God With Us

A new year has dawned. Advent and
Christmas services are over, presents
have been opened, the tree is at least
mostly put away, and we stand at the edge of
another unknown. Will this year be as blessed
as last year? Dear God, will it be better? Only
God knows. But God more than knows, God
is here with us, and somehow that’s enough.

On a recent trip to visit family over the
holidays I had the opportunity to worship in
two different services. At the first, a Thanksgiving
service, members of the
congregation told their stories
of blessing: a job lost and a new
one found, cancer that ended up
not being cancer. People were
applauding and others were
overwhelmed with tears as their
brothers and sisters shared
their miraculous stories. These
moments are always bittersweet.
On the one hand we rejoice with
those who rejoice. We celebrate
“God at work” in our lives. And
yet the questions remain…what about those
for whom the job has only been lost, what
about the cancer that ends up being terminal
cancer? Where is God for them?

The next Sunday, I received my answer.
Our family visited the church where I used
to serve as pastor. The service opened with
an Advent litany. A young college-aged man
read. I knew him, kind of. The man I knew
was strong, energetic, and unable to sit still.
On this morning, his mother pushed him to
the front in his wheelchair and held the microphone
as he mumbled through the opening
lines. He had been in a car accident, and
although he has made vast improvements, he
will never be the same. He began “The Lord
has done great things for me.” Where was
God for him? He was right there.

In 900 B.C. Israel gathered to worship.
This was a special service as God’s new
house, the temple, was being dedicated. After
the ark was brought into the Most Holy Place,
1 Kings 5:10-11 states that “the cloud filled
the temple of the Lord… for the glory of the
Lord filled his temple.” At one of the nation’s
most sacred and joyous days, God was with
them. God had taken them from the bondage
of Egypt, freed them, formed them in the desert,
and led them into the promised land. God
now dwelt among his people.

Four hundred years later
God’s house lay in ruins. The
nation of Judah had been taken
captive and carted off to Babylon.
Because of their sin, God’s people
had been punished. Where
was God then? In Isaiah 40, God
tells his people, “I am right here.”
Isaiah 40:5 states that “the glory
of the Lord will be revealed.”
The same glory that filled the
temple would be with Judah in
the midst of its darkest hour. God was still
with them. This prophecy, of course, was
ultimately fulfilled in the person of Jesus
and in the sending of his Spirit. God is still
with us.

Often this is a time to make goals for
the upcoming year: to be a better person, to
grow spiritually, and maybe even to shrink
a little physically. This year let’s plan ahead
by looking back. This year may we remember
the lessons of Advent. We stand at the
doorstep of the unknown. Some of us will
ascend mountaintops. Let us not take pride
in our accomplishments or feel guilty about
our blessings. Others will descend to the
valleys. Let us not wallow in despair or covet
those whose situations are better than our
own. Rather in good times and in bad, in
the land flowing with milk and honey and in
the wilderness, let us remember God is with
us, and God is enough.

Chad Pierce teaches in the religion department at Central
College in Pella, Iowa.