“I’ll be right here…”
Few scenes from any movie can evoke such deep emotion as Elliot’s farewell to E.T. in the movie E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. If you’re sketchy on the details, a lonely boy named Elliot befriends an alien whom he calls “E.T.” Despite sharing absolutely nothing in common, the two form a profound bond. Yet, E.T. desperately wants to return home—and while he waits, E.T. begins to slowly die. E.T. eventually (spoiler alert!) dies and comes back to life. Elliot then transports E.T. on his bike to a field in the woods where the cute little alien boards the spaceship that takes him home.
E.T. Was Echoing God’s Promise
So what does this have to do with Christmas?
A great deal.
In their final conversation, E.T. points to Elliot’s head and says “I’ll be right here.”
In what way would E.T. be “right here” for Elliot? A memory, for sure. But more than that, a piece of E.T. would remain with Elliot for the rest of his life.
Seven hundred years before Christ was born, God offered a similar promise:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Isaiah 7:14 NIV
If you were reading this prophecy in the original Hebrew, it would read: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him ‘God with us.’”
If you were reading this passage in the Klassen paraphrase, the last part of the passage would read: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him ‘I’ll be right here.’”
In the Hebrew understanding, our names describe our essence. It’s the core of who we really are. So the nature of the coming messiah is described as being “with us.”
When Jesus was born, Matthew 1:22–23 tells us, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means “God with us”).”
This God who lives in relationship—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—will come to earth to be with us. But in what sense is God with us?
- God is among us. That means he’s present with us. Jesus came to earth in the form of a man and lived among us (see John 1:14). Most Christmas celebrations commemorate this fact. But that’s not the only way that God is with us…
- God is in us. Through Jesus, God makes his home in us (see Colossians 1:27).
- God is of us. By clothing himself in human flesh, Jesus has become one of us (see Philippians 2:7).
- God is for us. Jesus’ birth is evidence that God is for us, not against us (see Romans 8:31).
Through Christ, God Engages Us
All of these truths are important and worthy of reflection and meditation. But this Christmas season, a different understanding of “God with us” has ruminated inside me.
God is engaged with us.
Are you with me?
Actually, that’s what I mean by “engaged.” You’re with me. In addition to being among us, in us, of us, and for us—God engages our hearts. He’s interested in who we are and how we are. He engages us in our sorrows, our grief, our sadness, our despair. And, he engages us in our laughter, our curiosity, even our boredom.
The nature of God, the character of God is to be with us. To engage us. To feel what we feel. To listen to us and hear us.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone who wasn’t listening? They may be repeat what you said, but they aren’t engaged in what you said.
That’s not God. God is with us through Jesus. Through Jesus, God…engages…us.
Jesus–“God with us,” “I’ll be right here,”–is evidence that God really does love us, delights in us and rejoices over us with singing (see Zephaniah 3:17).
And through Jesus, God engages you, no matter how filthy your manger that symbolizes your life might be.
f you don’t have plans for celebrating the birth of Jesus during this Advent season and you live in the Denver, Colorado area, please join us at The Neighborhood Church as we explore The Gift Of Christmas Presence.
Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. He’s still learning what it means to be engaged in his world.