God is with us


By Cathy Jenkins

GirlAndSky 350One day, when I was a little girl, I climbed onto the roof of the shed because I wanted to see what things looked like from the sky. And things certainly looked different – but not quite as exciting as I had imagined. Sure, I could look down on the clothesline and I could peer into the neighbour’s back yard and, if I stood on my tippy toes, I could even see completely over the top of our house out into the street.

After a while I’d had enough, of course, and then I was faced with a problem. I couldn’t get down. Those big wide oak-tree branches that had seemed so sturdy and easy to climb up didn’t look quite so robust for the descent.

After a little while I realised I was stuck. I couldn’t go forward and I couldn’t go back. So, I sat down on the tin roof and I waited for what seemed like a very long time. Surely someone will miss me eventually! And they did – my dad called out, he got his ladder and then his head appeared at the roof. I expected that he would come up onto the roof and save me – but he didn’t. He said if I was brave enough to get up there, then I was brave enough to get down. I was doubtful. But then, footstep by footstep, branch by branch, with Dad’s encouragement, I started the downward journey. Let’s just say that was the end of my brief climbing career.

As we come to the end of this Advent time, this memory of being stuck on the roof has stayed with me. Some of us in this pandemic year may have felt a little stuck. We were in a waiting time – and sometimes not quite sure for what we waited! To get back to normal perhaps? But this is the thing, we can’t ever really go back. We have to move out of our waiting time with open hearts and minds into the next stage of whatever the world may hold for us.

And I am reminded of the ancient Jewish people. They also waited. They waited for crops to grow, for seasons to change and they waited and longed for a saviour. Maybe sometimes they also felt a little stuck – in an oppressive world where they longed for someone to lead and to accompany them into a new way of being. These Advent days have been full of readings from the prophet, Isaiah, rich with the images and the hopes they held for their future. They were waiting for a sign from God – ‘it is this: the maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she shall call Emmanuel, a name which means “God-is-with-us”’ (Is. 7:14).

Perhaps this is the grace that Advent offers this year – it is preparing us to move out of our waiting time. We are being invited to celebrate anew the birth of life in the form of Jesus. Jesus is once again our Emmanuel! A sign of a God so gracious that He is with us in all our human frailty. This is the God who understands our hopes, our hurts, our dreams. The God who has accompanied us in our waitings and longings.

On Christmas night, Christians around the world will once again take into their hearts the message of Luke’s gospel angel: ‘Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy, for all the people: to you is born this in the city of David a saviour who is the Messiah, the Lord.’ (Lk 2: 10-11)

So, let us join with the generations of faithful people before us and listen to the angels who reveal Jesus to us this Christmas. And, in the words of the narrator from Call the Midwife (Christmas 2018):

There are always angels everywhere. Perhaps we only think to look for them at Christmas when their wings can be seen, when their halos glow with light. But they are always there. There in the quiet corners, there in the shadows, there in their ordinary clothes and they are beautiful. Make room for the angels for they will catch you unawares and fill your heart in ways you never could imagine.

And no matter what lies ahead as we move out of our pandemic waiting time, we do not need to be afraid, because we once again proclaim and celebrate that Jesus is the Emmanuel. God is with us.