by Kathy Lay
This Week’s Verse: Matthew 1:23—“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" —which means, "God with us." (NIV)
I don't remember what elementary grade I was in the year it finally happened. But I do remember that in the years leading up to that particular Christmas, I had failed. Each preceding holiday season had been tinged with regret, and the wonder, joy, and excitement that were supposed to abound in my heart that time of year had been tainted by defeat.
What was it that tripped me up and sucked the joy right out of too many childhood Christmases? Of all things...the annual kids' program at church!
I had stage fright. Bad. So bad, that several years I worked myself up into such an emotional frenzy that I actually tossed my (Christmas!) cookies all over the church basement before the program began. Of course the benefit of that was that it automatically pulled me out of the show and I could just relax and watch it, the anxiety purged along with the contents of my stomach. But I was always very disappointed with myself because I felt like I'd let Jesus down.
That was, until the year “it” finally happened. In early December of that blessed year at the very first Christmas program practice, our parts were distributed. Lo and behold...could it really be? I only had one line! Not even a whole line, really, just these five words: Immanuel means “God with us.” No WAY! “I might actually be able to say my piece this year since it's so short!” I thought excitedly.
That month was the most light-hearted and plain ol' fun time I'd had in my young life because I was able to anticipate Christmas for what it was really about without this shadow of dread hanging over everything. It was bliss! I threw my whole heart and loud voice into the songs we sang at practices and offered support and encouragement to my peers who'd been given entire paragraphs to memorize. But even better was the fact that I had been nailing my line, and MAN, was I gonna make Jesus proud of me this Christmas Eve!
The big night finally arrived. My older brother and sister teased me as we got dressed up in our best at home about whether I'd still be a cry-baby or whether I'd actually make it through the program this year. Even my parents expressed shaky confidence in me. But I resolved to let it all roll off and said to myself, you know, just to prove it was still in me, “ImmanuelmeansGodwithus...ImmanuelmeansGodwithus.”
Our program was structured into a service that alternated between the singing of Christmas classics and the children sharing scripture. Different Sunday school classes would take turns coming up to stand in line for each child to “say his or her piece” into the microphone that magnified the voice through the silent air amidst the watchful eyes of the congregation. Screw-ups were easily identifiable and quite frequent. But I surely didn’t have to worry about that this year, did I, with my five words.
There were only three kids in my small class and as we proceeded to the front for our turn I thought, “So far, so good…” I hadn't had the slightest inkling of nausea and I wasn't even shaking. I was last in line so I waited as the other two shared their messages. I noticed that when anyone said a word that started with a “p” the “p” sound came across really loudly—kind of like a pop—and startled some people. Thank goodness I didn’t have a “p” word! The girl in front of me finished her part and stepped to the side.
It was then that I approached the mic with surety and proclaimed to the masses, “Immanuel means 'God with us.'”
Whew! Boo-yeah! Hot-diggety dog! I pretty much floated back to our pew having a little party in my head and heart. Take THAT all ye nay-sayers (aka—brother and sister!). At last I knew what it felt like to do my part in making the program a success. I had a part, I said my part, and I didn't let anyone down—especially Jesus.
But you know what? The real triumph of that night did not come full circle until now, decades later, as I much more humbly realize the power in those five words and the awesome orchestration in the wonderful gift Jesus gave me that night. Immanuel means “God with us” and oh, how my God was with me! He had given a high-strung little girl a worry-free Christmas to remember, one she didn't have to dread or feel anxious about. And he did it by ensuring that I received a small, do-able part in the program. But that small part that he picked out special, just for me, speaks volumes to me now, for contained in those five precious words, was the very reason for my victory.
Father, thank you for the intricacies of your wonderful plan! And thank you for your patience when it takes some of us years to fully realize a special message or gift that you’ve given us. You are our Immanuel, you are with us, and there is no greater promise than that. Help us to remember it now and always. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Application: Can you identify times in your life when God was with you, working things out for you, protecting you, or giving you a wonderful gift and you didn’t fully realize it until later? Take this opportunity to thank and praise him for it.
Isaiah 8:9—…Because when all is said and done, the last word is Immanuel—God-With-Us. (MSG)
James 1:17—Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (NIV)
Deuteronomy 31:8—The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." (NIV)
Joshua 1:9—This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (NLT)