In Psalm 46, the psalmist boldly proclaims:
God is for us a refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. . . .
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
— Ps 46:1-3, 11
“The Lord of hosts is with us,” says the psalmist, and how right he is! Those words take flesh with the coming of God into this world in Jesus. God crept up on humanity and went beyond the wildest imaginings of the psalmist — or the prophet Isaiah, who told of a sign, promised by the Lord:
Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
— Is 7:14
Matthew’s Gospel has the angel recall this prophecy to Joseph in a dream as he writes:
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and his name shall be called “Emmanuel” (which means, God with us).
— Mt 1:22-23
The single most important reason for our hope that underlines all others is the Advent, the coming of Christ into this world, as “Emmanuel,” as “God with us.” Christ arrives on the scene to help us through every trial and tribulation, every source of suffering and distress. He, Christ, is our hope and our salvation.
His identity with us was to baffle the people of his time and all time.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have behld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son of the Father.
— Jn 1:14
For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
— Jn 3:16
How powerful is that message and it will take more than a day — more like a lifetime — to digest. Emmanuel: “God with us.” God becoming one with us . . . divinity united with humanity in Jesus. This is the Advent that we celebrate in a powerful way on Christmas Day!
And we, in turn, are called to translate that reality of God’s love by activating it in our own lives through love of God and our neighbor. During his visit to England, Pope Benedict had these words for some 4,000 young Catholic students in London (Sept. 17, 2010):
We need to have the courage to place our deepest hopes in God alone, not in money, in a career, in worldly success, or in our relationships with others, but in God. Only he can satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts.
We entrust the deepest needs of our hearts to the Emmanuel of the first Christmas Day. And, in turn, we bring his light, his love, his very presence as “Emmanuel,” “God with us,” into the world in which we live.
Christ is our hope, and through his love for us we bring Christ, our hope, into a world that is trying to find meaning and hope. Let us celebrate tomorrow and long into the future this Christ who is “God with us,” born in Bethlehem. He is our hope and our salvation!
Question for reflection/action/commitment
Reflect on these words from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans 12:11-12:
Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
And reflect on these words from a meditation by St. Patrick:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man
Who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone
Who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Let us pray
Lord, “God with us” in Jesus, “Emmanuel,” watch over your people, who come to you in confidence. Strengthen the hearts of those who hope in you. Give courage to those who falter because of their failures. Lead them along in this holy season closer to you in hope by the power of your Holy Spirit. May they one day proclaim your saving acts of kindness in your eternal kingdom. Amen.
Remember your word to your servant,
in which you have made me hope.
This is my comfort in my affliction
that your promise gives me life.
— Ps 119:49-50
Bishop Robert J. Baker is a noted speaker and author and currently serves as the bishop of the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama.
This is an excerpt from "Reasons for Hope: Meditations for the Advent Season." You can read more reflections here.