A long time ago I knew a couple who adopted two sisters out of the foster care system. These girls had a horrific background, resulting in emotional damage. Their adoptive parents provided them love, acceptance and counseling, and the girls made great strides, but not without struggle. Sometimes everything came crashing down.
On a particularly bad day the younger sister disappeared for hours. Her adoptive mom eventually found her in her room, curled up in the darkness of the closet. She was there, she told her mom, because when she felt overwhelmed, it helped to sit in the dark.
A lot of parents I think would have told her to stop being silly and to come out and be with the family. That’s not what this mother did. Instead she sat with her little girl in the dark until she was ready to come out. What love. What care in handling the brokenness of her daughter.
This tender example is the perfect illustration of what followers of Jesus have just celebrated – Jesus, the very Son of God, coming to be with us in the darkness, to experience our humanity and our world, and to finally sacrifice himself for us.
Timothy Keller, in Hidden Christmas, writes, “Christianity says God has been all the places you have been; he has been in the darkness you are in now, and more … In Jesus the ineffable, unapproachable God becomes a human being who can be known and loved. And, through faith, we can know this love. This does not stun us as much as it should” (italics mine).
Far from being stunned, a lot of us are extremely jaded about the fact that God Himself came to sit in the darkness with us. His goal is to bring us out of that darkness and into his light. But first he comes into our darkness, lives in our world, experiences our pain and hunger and helplessness.
This is something we should spend some time absorbing, considering how truly broken we are, how dark is our darkness, and then be absolutely overcome with amazement that the God of the universe would stoop so low. God Incarnate, God in the flesh, making his home with us. “And the Word became flesh, and lived with us.”
This amazement at Emmanuel, God With Us, ought to make us so thankful that we’re willing to sit in the darkness with others. We like to jump in with quick fixes as we quote a few Bible verses, handing them out like pills, without understanding whatever is causing the darkness, not really being “with”. I’d say most of us have been on both sides of this sad equation at one time or another – either as the glib giver of good cheer and advice, or the struggling soul left hanging desperately alone and unheard.
In this after-Christmas season, God calls us to be listeners, those who are with others in their darkness, because Jesus is with us in ours. We are called to bring the stunning realization of “God With Us” to a dark world.