Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Christmas Names of Jesus: Emmanuel

by Danetta Kellar

It was December 24, and the haunting tune of O Come, O Come Emmanuel filled my car as I drove through the arched, crumbling gate into the walled city. 

Women in hijab, only their eyes peeking out, tugged their children along cobbled streets as donkeys carried loads of fruits and vegetables on sagging backs. Weary men sat in shaded doorways drinking sweet coffee, watching the passersby. The centuries-old walls of the medieval city sat golden in the evening sunlight as they had for generations.

No sparkling lights wrapped the shabby trees lining the streets, no stars hung high on the lampposts. The shop windows flickered not with Christmas lights, but with the reflection of colored glass lanterns and gold crafted hands of Fatima, turning in the breeze like applause. 

There was no sign of Emmanuel’s coming in this place, at least not to the naked eye. 

I continued to drive on, taking in the scene around me as I listened to the words of my favorite Christmas song. Had these people no idea? Had no one yet told them God came near at Christmastime? They continued as if it was a normal day without Him.

The lostness of the crowds caused a sob to catch in my throat as I tried to process the contrast between what I was seeing outside my car window and the promise words I was hearing. 

Emmanuel. God with us. 

Right here, beside us, with us, alongside us, in our midst. Promised. Expectation and longing rose up in my soul to see Him in this place, to worship Him here. 

I wonder if that is how old Simeon felt walking among the throngs in the temple, a longing for the Messiah rising up in his being like a song only he could hear. Watching the crowds mull around like it was an average day. A baby came into the barrenness and filled it with promise and hope, and Simeon held Emmanuel in his arms and worshipped. For the promise came in flesh and blood.

“Now, Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to leave [this world] in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your Salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a Light for revelation to the Gentiles [to disclose what was previously unknown], and [to bring] the praise and honor and glory of Your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32, AMP (The words of Simeon in the temple as he held baby Jesus in his arms.)

The presence of Jesus in our lives was so sweet, so tangible in those North African Christmases, where no manmade lights radiated to celebrate His coming. 

I think it was because He was all we had. In the absence of the cultural traditions, the decorations, the Pandora Holiday playlist, the stores bedecked with shiny bows luring in frenzied shoppers, He shone. We lifted him high and invited our friends and neighbors to come and see Emmanuel, God with us. And over the years, His light spread beyond our own humble home.

Emmanuel, God with us. Like our Christmases in North Africa, the presence of Jesus can be felt most strongly in the desert places of our lives, the places where we may feel furthest away from him. He comes like new life at our midnight, and changes our history. May He come to you in your barren places this Chrismastime.


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