Once a month I help out at a group for young moms.
I’m what they call a mentor mom. Basically its a nice term for “older mom who developed survival skills”.
Every mom does her fair share of pondering, treasuring, obeying, fearing — just like Mary did. From my study on December 8, I learned that the pondering and treasuring Mary did was more like mental gymnastics, a reasoning through the difficult circumstances that surrounded giving birth before having sex, in a stable, and in an unfamiliar place, with her fiancé and invaded by a troupe of shepherds.
Motherhood, like all of life, is messy business.
Sometimes the mess gets big.
This month at our young mom’s group, a brave woman agreed to tell her story.
It was a story of finding freedom, of reaching out to others, of finding her identity in the grace-filled embrace of Heavenly Father. But it began with a mess.
A drug and alcohol addict by her early twenties, and mother of two, Janice* came to the final fray of her mess on a Thanksgiving morning when her little girl said, “Mommy, I think it would be best if I lived with my dad”.
Alone, barely grasping the frazzled ends of her life, contemplating suicide and feeling despondent, Janice made a phone call. Because even in the midst of all that pain and failure, did she really want to die? But the despair weighed heavy. She’d already been in detox, on drug rehab programs, in and out of relationships that she thought would help, but didn’t.
She called her best friend, another addict who had found Hope. Together, these two prayed and Janice listened to bible verses about a Heavenly Father she longed to know.
Her story is just beginning. Janice applied to join the program at our city’s Anna Ogden Hall, fought her demons and despair and found compassion and family at the crisis shelter where she waited for her place to open at the Hall. And through this, found her Heavenly Father.
It was from this mess that she found her savior and as I listened to her, I was struck by her courage. This was a big room, full of women. And we women know how to judge on the sly. Her voice was shaky at first, but when your voice is tuned by the grace of God, the song gets clearer and stronger.
Janice is becoming free. But the crucial freedom comes in her telling her story, to a room of strangers whose messes are probably a whole lot less messier than hers. And I thought of Psalm 40:2-3, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth a hymn of praise to our God.”
And I thought of Immanuel. God with us.
Janice said this, near the end of her interview: It was my mess, but God’s message.
That is Immanuel. God with us, in our human mess, imbuing it with so much of his mercy that our mess becomes his message.
*Janice is not her real name.
Scripture: Matthew 1:22-25
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will five birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” which means God with us.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will five birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Inspiration: God’s Truth For Us
The word Immanuel is a promise of El. In Madeleine L’Engle’s book, And It Was Good, she uses the word el as a pronoun for God, removing any association the reader might have with the he/she pronouns. It takes some getting used to, but in the context of the book, it’s fitting. God cannot fit into any of our man-made boxes. El is el.
Jesus did enter the paradigm of earth, entered the laws of science and society that govern us. He also broke them, beginning by being born to a virgin! And Jesus, being the Light (John 1) shone into the mess of humanity and revealed our need for a savior.
“Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.” (Galatians 3:21-22)
This need had been identified and a temporary remedy was prescribed by God’s revelation of himself to the Israelite people and the law he gave them.
The purpose of the law was to reveal its own ineffectiveness. What mankind needs is a savior. A savior who is Christ the Lord.
He needs to be mighty, meek, righteous, kind, just, holy — he needs to be everything that the law and every sacrificed animal could not be — a sacrifice to a holy God to cover the messy sins of humanity with perfect love. Only Immanuel could do that.
“Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” (Galatians 3:23-34)
What mankind wants, sadly, is our own way. Our own comfort. Our own ideas. We want it to be our story. When really, whether we like it or not, it’s his story.
When we choose to believe in a God who created everything, we have to come to the conclusion that he is, ultimately, sovereign over all this magnificent mess, down to the tiniest detail. So, he is involved in every moment. All my moments, all your moments, all the moments of a tribal girl who lived centuries ago, all the moments of the child to be born this afternoon. God is in them. We are not all god. God is all over this world and the business of our living and dying. He is I AM. And he is the greatest irony, always dealing with the minutia, and the marginalized and the magnificent in his timeless, changeless, way.
Indeed El cannot be held by a mere pronoun. His “otherness” cannot be contained in language.
Immanuel, the word, is itself a sign:
em or im
as long as
in spite of
strength, god, mighty, hero; comes from the idea of mountain-top.
And it comes down to this: God is here, in our midst, in our world because it belongs to El.
We just have to choose whether or not we want to accept it or not. The bible calls this faith, calls this believing in Jesus Christ. It’s simple and difficult; the irony of Immanuel.
It is not religion or dogma or doctrine. It is breathing the air that is YHWH and accepting that we are part of his story of the creation and redemption of all he’s made. It’s accepting that his love is the only love we need, his purpose our purpose.
“You are all [children] of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor fee, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are… heirs according the the promise.” (Galatians 3:29-29)
Mission: Take Away
God made the promise of Immanuel centuries ago through a prophet to a small and floundering nation of people, called Israel. Even today, in concert houses and on radio stations, the name Immanuel is sung and caroled repeated through the holiday season.
Handel’s Messiah, the familiar song, is actually a three part oratorio, comprised entirely of Scripture! The lyrics, however were not comprised by Handel, but another man named Charles Jennens. Jennens compiled the verses, the majority from the Old Testament, to tell the story of the promised Messiah of Israel, redeemer and savior of all creation.
These two men, Handel and Jennens, applied their gifts to create a composition that was first performed in Dublin, Ireland. Since then, it has been performed all over the world. But it is not Handel’s story, or Jennens, it is El’s.
That is what we must accept, if we are to be honest with ourselves about God. Whether my life seems pulled-together, focused, purposeful and good, even God-honoring, or whether my life is a flop-house, heroine-hazed mess — it is all telling God’s story.
Those who turn to Jesus Christ, and accept his promise, begin to open our mouths with a new song, a song that tells of the pit, of the muck and mire of our making, and then sings the tune El gives. The song, the life, the story then belongs to him and we are the happy beneficiaries of his promise, heirs to the kingdom of heaven, children of God.
Play: Have Fun
We have to make our own fun. Really. Have you ever seen a kid at a great birthday party who is pouting in the corner? We can be in the middle of Disneyland and not have fun, if our attitude is self-focused and poopy. One of the best ways to have fun at Christmas is by serving others in small ways. Often we (mommies especially) want to create the perfect christmas traditions only to find ourselves weighted down but the work of making it all happen!
Here is a list of simple, easy fun ways to make Christmas brighter, for everyone! Don’t be the pouty kid in the corner at the birthday celebration! Be the one cheering for cake, excited for presents, playing the games, singing loudly.
Love: In Action
Does your community have a program that reaches the addict with the grace and redemption of Jesus Christ? If so, support them, somehow. All the little bits of support can join forces to make huge differences in the lives of the men and women (and their children) that they serve and care for.
Ours in Spokane, where Janice received help is Anna Ogden Hall. The need is great. God is greater.
Yes, and Amen
El, Heavenly Father, Holy Spirit, Son.
You are incomprehensible, God. Yet you clothed yourself in humanity so that we might clothe ourselves with Christ. Truly, nothing makes sense apart from you. Your being El brings the world we see, the suffering and joy and life and death and confusion, into clarity. It is all redeemed in your story, by your grace, in your tiny huge name, El.
Immanuel. God almighty, rock and mountain, only solid place, you are with/for/in spite of/ beside us. You join us in the pit, in the messes of our making and give us the words to the new song. The message of our messes is miraculously contained and revealed and shouted and whispered in your name, El. Immanuel. God with us.