I’m struck by the name Immanuel for Jesus. It means: “God with us.”
I believe each of us has a deep desire to be loved and accepted. We want to belong and matter to someone. Often, we try to fulfill that desire through the wrong means and in the wrong places.
“With” – but God chose to be with us. He didn’t just love us from a distance; He came close. He did this, so we won’t be alone. He did this because He’s the only one that can truly satisfy our desire to belong and be loved.
Unfortunately, this is where many followers of Jesus stop.
We like to be loved and accepted by God. We join a church where other people like us create experiences that help us feel better about God’s love. We separate from unholiness and ungodliness (which is good) but we tend to forget who we were when we experienced God’s love (not so good).
I told our students on Wednesday night that we need more students in our youth group that swear. We need more students who have problems in their life, who steal, who are involved in unhealthy relationships and who do all sorts of horrible, sinful things.
Why? Because we are to accept and love others just as Jesus loved and accepted us. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Not at our best. Not when we had everything under control. Not when we were holy. Not when we stopped doing drugs or quit swearing. But when we were at our worst.
I had three concluding thoughts for our students:
- We all have a deep desire to belong and to be loved.
- God wants to be with us. He leans over and reaches out (reference to Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam which I showed in the message-cropped, of course) to be with us in spite of the fact that we don’t deserve it.
- When we’ve experienced God’s love, we are motivated to share that with others.
I told our students that we’re great at recognizing and experiencing #1 and #2, but we’ve got a lot of work to do on #3. (Actually, if we do the first two and stop at the third, I’d have to question whether or not the previous points ever occurred.) Sure, we’ve made some progress with our Campus Missionary Training and with inviting friends to some of our events, but for the most part, we’ve missed out on an important part of who we are called to be as followers of Jesus.
I’m just not content with a nice “country club” youth group. I don’t want to create a nice, safe environment for students. I want to challenge them to live dangerously for Christ and to sacrifice everything in their pursuit of Him. I don’t want a place for Christians. I want a place where the broken are mended, the insignificant find meaning and where those who are alone experience love and belonging.
This Christmas I want “with” to signify more than “God with us.” I want us to live it out in such a way that it means “God with others, through us“.