For several years my dad operated a pulp wood yard. This ‘yard’ included an office building, heavy loading equipment, mountains of logs and, our favorite, a stretch of train track that ran right along the front. Dad was extremely careful over us, warning of the potential dangers that each apparatus represented and diligently policing our movements. I’d have climbed every stack of logs in the yard had he allowed it.
Our favorite part of the day was after lunch when the logging traffic slowed and dad would take us for a walk on the railroad track. We walked in the middle, navigating the broad slats and occasionally balancing atop the rails. There was one section that narrowed significantly, offering little or no shoulder to escape the track. More than once, along that stretch, dad would say, “Okay babies, let’s get along. There’s a train coming,” and we would rush down the track to the wide, flat parcels. We did not see a train; we did not hear a train. We asked daddy how he knew a train was coming and he explained that he felt the vibrations of the rails.
Kay and I did not know we were in danger. We did not see or hear it. We lumbered along those tracks with no thought of our safety; not because we were familiar with the characteristics of railroads, but because we were intimately familiar with the characteristics of our father. He loved us; he watched us; he would protect us. We felt safe as long as he was with us.
God laid out before Moses a great commission. Flabbergasted, Moses asked, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, quite simply, “I will be with you.” (Exodus 3:12)
When Joshua stepped into Moses’ role, the Lord assured him, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5)
His promise to unite Israel came after dry bones rattled and ligaments joined bone to bone, “I will put my sanctuary among them forever.” (Ezekiel 37:26)
To Gideon He promises, ‘I will be with you.’” (Judges 6:12-16) He encourages Jeremiah, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you …” (Jeremiah 1:6-8) His word through Isaiah, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” (Isaiah 43:2)
David learned, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” (Psalm 23:4) Jesus told His disciples, “You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.” (John 16:32)
The Lord spoke to Paul in a vision, “…. keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you .…” (Acts 18:9) Peter declared the works of God, “…. because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)
God’s proximity was foretold by the prophet Isaiah “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) The Hebrew translation is staggering: ‘God with us.’
Jesus added finality to the promise when He spoke to the eleven disciples at Galilee, words that have resonated in the hearts of everyone who ever believed He was who He said He was: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
It has often been a late summer breeze that awakened my senses and stirred my heart to let me know, in that moment, God was with us. I have gazed at a winter sky when Jupiter gleamed especially bright, knowing, somehow, that the Creator God was near. Just as surely as I have felt the hand of my father while maneuvering a railroad track, I have felt the divine, careful orchestration of the events and moments of my life and I remain amazed that the God of the ages still concerns Himself with the day to day.
So, this Christmas, we celebrate the miraculous: His arrival. But always, we celebrate the unfathomable: God with us.