Matthew’s rendition of the Christmas story includes these words,
As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. Joseph, son of David, the angel said, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son,and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’ Matthew 1:20-22 (NLT)
Immanuel, which means “God is with us.” That’s the heart of Christmas. God is present. God is now with us. Jesus was born in the real world in the midst of real problems that caused real pain. God is with us in our suffering. God is with us in our brokenness. God is with us when our brokenness causes suffering for someone else.
In the last few weeks, we have been reminded that our valley is part of the real world. Is there happy in the valley? Certainly. But there’s also very real suffering, brokenness and sin in the valley. The sin which we have found in our valley is child abuse, child sexual abuse. But make no mistake, we have not discovered a new sin, we’ve uncovered an old darkness. Statistics suggest that one in six boys and one in four girls will suffer the wounds of sex abuse before the age of 16.
One of the most difficult questions to answer for someone who was abused is, “Where was God when I was being abused?” One woman said, “I’m kind of angry with God. Why did he let it happen to me? He couldn’t really love me.”
It’s a difficult question, not so much theologically, but emotionally. I can give a reasonable explanation of why suffering exists in a world created by an all-powerful, all-loving God. But reasonable doesn’t really cut it when you feel betrayed.
So where was Jesus, where was God when my friend was abused as a child?
Immanuel. God is with us.
He is where he is…every time sin abuses the world, every time darkness rebels against light. He is with us. In fact that’s the heart of the Christmas message; Jesus was born in the midst of the real world, with real pain, and real problems. It’s also the message of the cross where he took all the pain, wounding, sin, crud on his shoulders. From Christmas to the Cross, he is with us in our suffering. He has experienced more suffering than we could ever know, and the suffering of a child grieves his heart. Like Jesus cried out on the cross, he cries out when people wound others. When my friend was abused, Jesus was with him…and His heart was broken.
He is with us. But make no mistake, he is not passive. He grieves. He breathes hope. He strengthens little hearts. He works through people, every kindness, every word of hope spoken comes from Him. He is in the process of redeeming moments lost in the dark, to bring light for the future. Where was Jesus? With us. For us.