She swaddled her firstborn tightly then laid him in a manger. A manger of all things, since there was no room for them in the lodging place.
It was a time of gathering. Of scurrying from here to there to register for the census, each in his own town. While the well-known manger scene is portrayed as lonely and quiet, the town of Bethlehem was most certainly not. Jesus came as Immanuel—to dwell among people, and entered the world in a season of hustle and bustle.
For many, the birth of Christ went unnoticed. God, who had been silent for 400 years, seemed as absent on the day of Jesus’ birth as he had for the preceding centuries.
The Lord’s coming was foretold. His people believed. Some waited with eager expectation. Yet in the fulfillment of time, Jesus was just a blip on the days’ events.
And so it seems today.
When God Seems Absent
We know and believe that this sacred holiday season points us to the Lord. We learned as children that His name, Immanuel, means God with us. He came to dwell among us and gave his life so that He could live in our hearts. And yet, we fix our minds on earthly things.
Like our shopping list.
Or our circumstances.
We focus on our financial woes.
Or our mean boss who seemingly wants to harm us.
We quietly obsess over broken relationships.
Or our marital issues.
The biggest struggles seem to come when we recognize Who God is, yet endeavor to see His presence in our lives.
We quietly wonder, “Why does God seem so absent?”
We question, “Is He still for me?”
“Does He see what’s going on?”
“Why did He let ___ happen?”
“Has He released me from His grasp?”
Rarely would we verbalize such thoughts, yet they linger in our minds, stirring doubt and insecurity. We thought we knew the truth about God and that we trust Him fully, but in the chaos of life, we question whether He remains active in our lives.
In this season, especially, we ask, “If Jesus is Immanuel, where is He?”
Searching for Immanuel
I received encouragement through a recent article in The Joyful Life Magazine. Author Ashley Mesa’s words touched my heart. When I experience dry and dusty seasons in my faith, I must dig a little deeper, through the stony, clay-like soil of my heart to discover God’s nearness. Such seasons require intense worship, focused prayer, intentional time in His Word, and deliberate communion with Him.
When things like grief and doubt and insecurity and anger and loneliness set in, I know I have a choice to make. I can continue to flounder, allowing what I can see to influence my level of faith. Or, I can press into God, abide in Him through my trials, and re-discover His immoveable and constant presence.
Time is a precious commodity in the holiday rush so for me, digging deeper means meeting with Him before sunrise when necessary. Over a cup of hot coffee, I let worship music blast through my earbuds and concentrate on praising Him for His character as each song reveals.
A focused period of prayer follows, where I pour out my heart to Him. I lay it all out—my hurt, frustrations, and confusion—and ask that He turn my heart toward His goodness so that I’m less focused on my circumstance. I specifically ask that He remind me of His nearness throughout the day.
Next, I pour over a short section of Scripture, writing down each word that speaks to my heart. Meditating on His truth sets a foundation for communing with Him through prayer and random (mostly silent) conversations throughout the day.
I discover that my God hasn’t moved an inch. He is right where He said He’d be—with me through every trial and circumstance. At my side through every celebration and victory. Leading me through every change and unforeseen event. Indeed, He is Immanuel. He is here. And He always has been.