My sweet niece gave birth to a beautiful baby girl on Dec. 7. Lillian June, named after her two great-grandmothers, also shares my middle name, June. My mother was named June Harris Taylor; my birth name was Harris June Cheatham. I already feel a special connection to Lily, the name by which my great-niece will be called.
I had anticipated Lily’s birth for six months, looking forward to a new member of my extended family and thanking God daily that my niece, in her late 30s, had been able to enjoy a healthy pregnancy along with her precious husband. Perhaps she had begun to think this day would never come. It did. Her wait was over. Lily arrived healthy and strong. It was an extraordinary moment.
Today is the last day of Advent, the time of waiting for the birth of God’s son, to be named Emanuel, which means “God with us.” As a follower of “God with us,” I willingly confess that I often forget that God is with me. A definitive type-A personality with a robust need to control, I take the reins from “God with us” far too often. He loves me too much to let me keep them.
Throughout my life, a number of painful circumstances have taught me that I do not have as much control as I’d like to think. Would that I could tell you I have finally learned my lesson. When my husband visited The Cleveland Clinic for a second opinion regarding his heart disease, I walked around in a haze. Department to department, physician to physician, lab to lab, I knew not what news we would receive.
I wrote in my journal: “I do not feel as if I have been ‘in control.’ I could not reassure Thurston that everything would be okay, as I usually would. I could only be present, by his side. For the first time in my life, I realize just how true it is that I am not in control. God has carried me through this experience. God has been with me. I can see his footprints in the sands of my heart.
My own struggle may be more typical than I realize. Even after realizing that “God with us” carried me through those days, I forgot and have attempted to recapture the reins again and again. It’s the curse of being human, but it’s also the blessing of being a child of “God with us.” It’s the struggle between self and the divine. It’s the pull between deifying self or worshiping “God with us.”
Given my preference, I would rather worship “God with us” with my entire being. I am weak, however, and the challenge is great. I take comfort that the apostle Paul struggled with the same dilemma. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do … For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing” (Romans 7: 15, 18b-19).
As Advent gives way to the glory of Christmas, the arrival of “God with us,” I desire to yield myself once more to God’s control, knowing that even in my struggles and rebellion, God remains with me and uses every circumstance of my life to teach me the truth of that starry night in Bethlehem: He is with me and will not let me go.
Psalms 139 attests to this truth. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (Psalms 139:7). If there is a message with more meaning than “God with us” at Christmas, I cannot imagine what it could be. God chose to send his son, Emanuel, from the perfection of heaven to live among mankind and to give us a needed Savior. This is the only truth of Christmas.
God with you. God with me. God with us. Amen.