"The God-with-us God"
Updated: Dec 24, 2022
Perhaps you may have heard the tale about a little village that was going through a very tough time. The rainy season was late, crops had died, wells dried up, and most people barely eked a living.
The only water available was a little trickle of water jumping slowly from one shallow pool to another.
As it happened, one day a pilgrim arrived in town. And the villagers were not happy. Some of them grumbled, “There is not enough food for our children, and for sure, now this stranger will ask for food!”
Eventually, as the pilgrim was walking by, they asked him, “Where are you going? What do you want here? Don’t you know there is a great famine and there is nothing for us to share?”
The pilgrim, unfazed, told them that he was on the road to the big Holy City. Hearing this, they asked, “Is that the big city with huge churches and magnificent cathedrals?” “Is it not the place where the holiest of all men lived?”
And, considering the appearance of the pilgrim, they laughed at him, “And look at you! You have no food, and you are not even dressed up for the Holy City!”
The pilgrim shrugged and asked them if they would share a little morsel so he could go on his way?” The villagers would have none of it, and they told him in no uncertain terms that he should be moving on. And then they left.
So, the pilgrim said, “Alright, I’ll be on my way.” And he started to walk towards the town’s old bridge. The bridge, once imposing over white water, now had only the tinniest and the narrowest streaks of water.
Looking around and finding a derelict pot, he began to fill it with the little water that still run among the rocks. He set up some stones, built up a fire, and put the water to boil.
The locals were curious about what the pilgrim was doing, but they were afraid to say anything. Some children came close to him, and the pilgrim asked one of them – “Would you bring me four, nice round rocks from the creek?”
A little boy did as he was asked, and the pilgrim, scrubbing the rocks against his tunic, placed them into the pot. Then, a young girls asked him? “Sir, what are you doing?” And the pilgrim said, “I have a long way to go, so I am making some soup.”
From a distance, the town folk laughed at him. The pilgrim, nevertheless, continued gathering more branches for his fire, and then he said. “You’ll see, it will have a great taste. Just give me some time, and you will see.” After a while, he tasted his “soup” and he said, “Ah... it’s coming along great!”
Now the villagers were curious. So, they began closing in around the pilgrim. Eventually, one of matrons of the village asked him if he would allow her to taste his soup? And the pilgrim said, “By all means. Help yourself!”
So, she tasted the soup. And then, she said, “Not too bad... but it needs some more salt. Let me bring some. So, she went back to her house and brought a spoonful of salt and she poured it into the pot.
Seeing what was going on, another one approached the pilgrim wanting to taste the soup. After having a spoonful, he said, “Not too bad. But actually, it could use some potatoes.”
So, the man brought some small potatoes from home and said, “You will have to forgive me, sir. My potatoes are not as best as they could be, for the drought has been very bad.” “Never mind”, answered the pilgrim. “Put them in.”
And so, little by little, all the people began bringing whatever they had in their homes for adding to the pilgrim’s soup. Some were afraid their carrots, leeks or cabbage didn’t look nice. “Never mind,” the pilgrim said, “Throw them in.” So, after a while the big pot was filled to overflow.
Then the pilgrim said, “This is too much for me... Why don’t you sit with me and share a bit of my soup?” And so, they did, and they had their filling, and all were so happy! And even as they had seconds, and thirds. And yet, the pot seemed to remain full up to the brim.
As they were eating, and without realizing it, big clouds began to cover the land, and soon enough, there was a downpour – the rains had arrived! And they all laughed and danced in joy.
Eventually, the pilgrim said, “Well, I must be on my way.” One of the villagers said, “Will you be going now to the Holy City?” And the pilgrim, with a smile, said, “My friends, this is the Holy City.”
My friends, brothers and sisters, let me encourage you with these words.
In the Old Testament lesson, we heard the story of King Ahaz and the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah had told the King that God wanted the people of Israel to mend their ways and return to the Lord, their God.
As a way out of his predicament, Ahaz wanted a proof that Isaiah was “The Real McCoy.” And the answer was stunning. Rather than getting a dramatic sign “deep as Sheol or high as heaven,” what God offered as a sign was just “a girl with child.”
What God offered as a signal was just an ordinary, run of the mill event in the life of a community – “A young woman would bear her first child.” So what God was trying to say?
Let me suggest that God wanted them to know that He may reveal himself not only in exceptional and major events, but in the ordinariness of human life. In fact, Isaiah tells the King, God is Immanuel, a “God-with-us God.”
In Bethlehem, almost eight hundred years later, another ordinary girl would bring into the world Jesus, Savior, and Friend of Sinners. Just a girl, and yet God was present transforming her life and the life of the world from eternity to eternity.
Some tend to associate God with the extraordinary and the magnificent, with power, money, and strength. For some God only shows up at big cathedrals or huge auditoriums, and only deals with prestigious ministers with bulging banking accounts. Or in churches with beautiful architecture, powerful organs, large congregations and programs for all and every other human need.
And it may be so. But here is the thing. St Paul put it this way, “God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.”
And Mary sang, “God has scattered those whose pride wells up from the sheer arrogance of their hearts. He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up those of lowly position.”
My brothers and sisters, according to the Gospel, Jesus is our Emmanuel, our “God-with-us God.” And yes. Jesus came to the world to redeem and reconcile, to heal and to empower, to lead his people into the Kingdom, to bring peace, joy, everlasting life, and so much more.
But at this time, our God Emmanuel is among us even as we are a small church in the middle of nowhere, presided by a re-thread preacher. A little country church with no claim to fame, other than our love, faithfulness, hope, and joy. But, nevertheless, as the pilgrim taught the villagers, God is in the ordinary things of life. He is with us.
God is in the making of a soup out of stones and in a girl bringing a new life into the world. God is in the breaking of the bread and in the Word that we proclaim. In helping those in need even if we don’t know their names. In praying for those who are sick and in keeping the needs of the world present in our prayers. In taking care of those who need some extra food, a new blanket, or a new shower stall.
God is in the fellowship and in the simple and yet beautifully arranged altar. God, our “God-with-us God” is present with us, making this – this humble manger which is St. David’s – a place where His presence is acknowledged and celebrated.
My friends, let me repeat the wise words of the unknown pilgrim, “This is the Holy City.”
Let us pray: Eternal Father, we thank you for sending your Son to pitch His tent among us, even here in Aylett, of all places. We thank you for His love, his compassion, and his commitment to the Way of Love. Help us, we pray, to open our eyes to his presence with us and in us so that we may be faithful witnesses to your caring love, grace, and mercy. Amen.