“See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated ‘God is with us.’” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We love the idea of going on a quest. We may not necessarily want to go on one ourselves, but we love the idea. Every good story is based around some kind of a journey. We have to get somewhere in order to do something, overcoming some obstacles along the way. This concept pulses so deeply in our hearts that it lies at the root of our religion too. Every religion is about people going on a quest to obtain the blessing or the power or the presence of the divine. Every religion, that is, save one.
The Christian religion is different. While a quest does indeed lie at the heart of Christianity, it is not us who take it. It is God who went on this one. This is what makes our news such truly good news, but it is also what makes Christianity—following Jesus—so hard for so many to do. Let me explain that in reverse order.
A big part of the reason the idea of going on a quest is so foundationally important to us, is that we want to demonstrate ourselves worthy. Worthy of what varies, but we want to be worthy. Worthy of praise. Worthy of devotion. Worthy of respect or admiration. Worthy of the love of the one for whom our own heart beats. Worthy of the ideal images we have of ourselves. We want to be worthy.
And we so desire to be counted worthy because there is something inside us that recognizes we aren’t worthy. Call it self-doubt or insecurity or fear or whatever else you want, but at the core of these feelings is the awareness that we aren’t actually worthy of the acclaim we seek.
A quest is the solution to this. If we can complete a grand quest—get the right job, live in the right house, win the right relationship, marry the right person, and etc.—then we’ll prove that self-doubt (not to mention the doubt of others) false and not have to deal with it any longer.
But then we go on the quest and one of two things happens. Either we can’t manage to complete it which just serves to confirm all our fear and doubt in a way that leaves us even more doubt-ridden, depressed, and even despairing. Or, we manage to complete it successfully…and the doubt lingers all the same.
Because of this, the promise of nearly every single religion is this: You know those feelings of doubt that you can’t ever quite seem to shake? Those feelings are wrong and here’s how you can prove them false. Yet time after time, that promise itself turns up false. “Ah,” the religion responds, “you just didn’t quite do it right. Make this little adjustment, be more devoted, give more of yourself, and you’ll get there.”
That’s what’s normal. That’s what we are used to hearing. It’s what we expect to hear. But then the Christian religion comes along and says, “You know those feelings of doubt that you can’t ever quite seem to shake? Those feelings are totally right. You aren’t good enough and no amount of questing will ever make you good enough.” See the difference? See how this message may make encouraging people to sign up for this particular religion a little more difficult than others?
So, what’s the hook if the basic message runs so contrary to what we are inclined to think? Well, in a word, truth. This answer is true and if we’ll take the courage to really think it through, we’ll recognize from experience alone if from nothing else just how true it really is.
Once we reach this place, though, the news gets both harder and better. Here’s the harder part: You can’t make this journey on your own; you need someone else to do it for you. You see, we don’t like to have to rely on other people. And the heart of the Christian religion is a need to rely on someone else.
This, however, is where the better part comes into play. Someone has gone on this journey for us. What’s more, that someone is God Himself. The very one who we would normally be seeking out ourselves if Christianity were like any other religion sought us out instead. More than that, He stayed with us.
This is the heart of the Christmas story. The God who created the world and everything in it came to us in the person of a little baby boy so that He could be with us. This was so significant that the nickname of the child was to literally be “God with us.”
In Christ, God is with us. Not in some symbolic or metaphorical way, but literally. He lived and walked among us for over 30 years, and now continues to live in us by the Holy Spirit if we will let Him. And when He comes, He comes in love, whispering to our hearts that in Christ our sins are now gone and we are enough for Him.
Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. No questing or seeking necessary. We can simply abide and receive what He has already made available to us. This is not just the heart of Christmas, but the central truth that has the power to completely transform your life if you’ll adjust to living by it. May you receive the joy of the one who sought you out as you continue to celebrate this powerful season.