by Rev. Jennifer Rygg, Senior Pastor First Baptist Pendleton

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

Matthew 1:23

Oh, Advent…a time of expectations, anticipation, and so much work to do!  In this busy time of year, I want to feel peaceful and joyful. I imagine sitting by the Christmas tree, watching a Christmas movie, and drinking hot chocolate…and then I look at my stack of unread commentaries for this week’s sermon, the pile of ornaments my two-year-old has not-so-gently removed from the Christmas tree, my growing list of errands to run, people to visit, and gifts to purchase, not to mention the “unwritten” list that never quite makes it from my mind to one of my multiple lists.  And I wonder, when did Advent become so overwhelming?

At our Wednesday night Bible study this week, we talked about how it is the church’s job to remind Christians of the true meaning of the Christmas season, the birth of Christ. And yet even in church, we often become distracted and overwhelmed by the many activities of the season. One woman commented “I loved Christmas, until I became in charge of it! And now I just feel relieved when it is over.” I can certainly relate to that sentiment. How easy it is to feel responsible for making Christmas happen. The pressure to create special moments and memories for our families, friends, and churches, from planning the perfect worship service, to finding the perfect gift, to preparing the perfect meal can distract us from what Christmas actually is – the celebration of Emmanuel, God with us.

God is with us not just in the magical moments of candlelight and music, but God is with us in the messy moments, the frustrating moments, the lonely moments. God is with us when nothing is going according to plan. God is with us when we are grieving, when we are frightened, when we are angry. God is with us.

To show us just how much God is with us in this imperfect world, God was born in the form of a vulnerable human baby. Jesus, Emmanuel, God With Us, came into the world without comfort and luxury. He was placed in a manger, surrounded by animals, and cared for by a young couple who were probably worried about how they were going to pay their bills, take care of this baby, and meet all of their responsibilities. Into this imperfect world, Jesus was born.

While we are busy trying to make Christmas happen, Jesus is already here. Emmanuel, God With Us, dwells with us in this imperfect world. This Advent season, may we look for signs of God’s presence in our midst. May we let go of the pressure to create the perfect Christmas, and may we encounter God’s presence right where we are, in the midst of this imperfect world.