Immanuel, God with us.

By Fr. Steve Schreiber

My sister was in the midst of a life mini-crisis over the past couple of weeks. With the situation coming to a head last Thursday, my mom and brother and I were in full prayer mode. Of course, as a priest, I get paid the big bucks to be a man of prayer. But admittedly, prayer intentions such as world peace and an end to global hunger got short shrift last week as I focused on a happy outcome for my sister’s crisis. And praise God, that is exactly what she got. Her situation was resolved in a positive manner and the family rejoiced. No doubt, we all believe, God was with her. He really came through in the crunch.

But what if her crisis had not been resolved in a positive way, would we have claimed that God was not with her? It is an interesting question. Most of us tend to be very good about thanking and praising God when prayers are answered in the way we wish them to be. Things turn out all butterflies and strawberries and we are whooping it up for the Big Guy. But when, despite our most fervent prayers, things turn out all stale and broken, then we are pretty reticent in thanking and praising. It begs the question, is God only with us when what we hope for happens?

This season of Advent points us toward an answer. “The Lord himself will give you this sign:” says the prophet, “the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel (Is 7:14).” The virgin is Mary, the son is Jesus, and Immanuel means that God is with us. That’s right, God is with us. He is with us when things go well, he is with us when things are a disaster. God is there when we achieve success, he is there in the midst of our failures. But God is always there.

As we move quickly toward Christmas day, let us remember how Christ entered this world. Our Lord came not in glory and power, with riches and splendor, but he came poor and forsaken, hidden beneath the hay of an animal’s manger. The world barely took notice. When it comes to me or you, might he not enter our lives in a similar fashion? We want God to be with us, but translated, that desire usually means that we wish him to come in visible power and glory. Solve my problems, Lord! Heal my weakness, Lord! Save me now and in a way I understand, Lord!

But what if he comes to my soul and yours, into my life and yours, exactly as he came to the shepherds of Israel: humbly, quietly, with no visible show of power? What if he is working miracles – now – and we don’t even realize it? What if we are so busy demanding that Christ solve our issues in the manner we deem appropriate that we miss his hidden work well advanced in the silence of our hearts?

Advent – with its scriptures, symbols and songs – reminds us again and again: God is with us. But let us look for him not in the orchard but in the desert, not on the mountaintop but in the valley, not where the powerful gather but where the poor can be found. Come, Lord Jesus, come . . . not on our terms . . . but on yours.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve Schreiber
Director of Youth Ministry and Vocations
Catholic Diocese of Erie
Reprinted with permission from, courtesy of the Diocese of Erie.

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