Today marks the first day of Advent, a time when we remember the wait for a coming King. I find myself wondering what it must have been like waiting for the Messiah. Four hundred years of silence and waiting for the Promised One who would come and save. I think of the words of my favorite Christmas carol: O come, o come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel who mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appears. Oh, but Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee oh Israel! And it is true. Emmanuel, God with us, the with of God, the presence of God, the walk with you, live with you, pitch my tent among you God is here. He has come, and we rejoice! God is with us. Grace is everywhere because God is with us.
And yet we still wait. We wait for the second coming. We wait for tears to be no more. We wait for the full redemption of this broken world when Christ comes in a flash of power and glory. Because life is tragic at times, frail and unpredictable. It is that strange ugly-beautiful. What is grace? What is grace is a broken, waiting world? What is grace in the passing of a 10-year-old from cancer? In the mother of four who may live paralyzed? What is grace in the silence, in the waiting, in the darkness, depression, and anxiety? Where is grace in the promises yet to be fulfilled? I wonder. I Know of grace. I believe in grace, but what is it?
Is it in God on the other side? I think so. I think it is knowing that at the end of the road of pain and sorrow God is and has been with us. And I don't mean it in that cliche "footprints in the sand" kind of way. Because when you walk the long, hard path of captivity, mourning in lonely exile and brokenness, it doesn't feel like grace. Advent is not so clear, or worth celebrating. Who celebrates the waiting, really? But we live. Through all of it, we live and God comes. God is on the other side. We have the Body and the Blood and the Resurrection and the God who dove into the mess of it all just to be with us. Just to be with us! Emmanuel.
So rejoice! Rejoice! God has come to thee. I feel the question rising. How? Rejoice always. How? What is rejoicing wrapped in pain? Rejoicing wrapped in pain is hope that opens the heart to a peace beyond understanding. Rejoicing wrapped in pain looks no more like rejoicing than God wrapped in the skin of a newborn baby looks like God. When it's time to mourn, it is time to mourn but there is still the gentle glow of a heart that can rejoice because Emmanuel has come to them and He is coming again. God is on the other side. And I pray it's written on my heart today for that moment when the darkness falls: rejoice, oh my soul, though the world around you crumbles and your heart with it, rejoice, for God With Us has come to thee!
Jesus said to the Pharisees in Luke 17, "The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." Yes! Our pastor said it this morning and how true it is. Emmanuel, the with of God, did not just come for the broken, He comes through the deeply broken. He is not just with us; He is within us. And often, that makes the Kingdom hard to observe. As hard as finding a King sleeping within a baby in a manger in a small town in Israel.