The people who need the most to hear the news of Immanuel – that God is with them – are the people who have the least reason to believe that he is.
When you live in relative comfort, it’s easy to believe in Immanuel. God is with us? Well, of course he is. The evidence is all around.
We have life, liberty and most of us are pursuing happiness as opposed to mere survival.
We have a great educational system, great health care and a car for each driver in the household.
In a really bad economy, 85 percent of us have jobs. In a good economy, that figure will rise to between 90 percent and 95 percent.
We have freedom of religion, of the press and of assembly. We go on vacations, see wonderful sights and experience amazing things. Of course God is with us. We’ve always believed it, right from the very beginning of the U.S.
A word of caution is in order, however, when we consider the larger historical context.
In Jesus’ day, the people who had little problem believing that God was with them were the Romans.
They would have said, “Of course God is with us! Look at the Roman Empire! We have conquered many lands. Who can do that unless the gods are with them? We have wealth, rights and privileges like citizens of no other lands.
“We have a republican form of government that is more equitable than any other, and we endeavor to spread that to the barbaric lands that we conquer, bringing to them the ‘Pax Romana,’ the peace of Rome,” they might have added. “God is with us? Yes, and his name is Caesar!”
By contrast, the peasant living in Galilee or Judea believed that God would someday come back to be with them, but under Roman rule there was little evidence that he was going to show up anytime soon.
Rather, there was plenty of evidence that God was still angry over their sins, their inability to keep their covenant responsibilities and their war-like natures.
The pursuit of happiness? Such a thing never entered their minds. Who can be concerned with being happy when surviving another day is a constant struggle?
They might wish that God was with them, but it didn’t appear to be so. It is to these people that the word went out: “God is with you.”
It takes faith to be poor and believe that God is with you. Again, the people who need the most to hear the news that God is with them are the people who have the least reason to believe that he is.
The young girl who has been kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery, do you think she believes that God is with her?
If she believes anything at all, she must believe that she has somehow angered God and he has abandoned her.
Or the mother who watches helplessly as her young child dies of a disease contracted because the only water available is full of impurities.
She needs to hear that God is with her, but what kind of faith will it take for her to actually believe it?
And what about the child living amid people who live comfortable middle-class lifestyles, yet is forced to sleep in his car with the rest of his family because dad lost his job and mom works for minimum wage? What is he to believe?
The Christian life is an incarnational life. We are called to be the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27).
If people in situations like those I’ve described are going to actually believe that God is with them, it’s going to be because we are with them.
It’s going to be because we don’t look past them like they don’t exist or, even worse, like they are an embarrassment.
It’s going to be because we refuse to make snide comments about them or dismiss their plight by exclusively blaming them for their present situation, as if poverty and injustice don’t have systemic causes as well.
The Kingdom of God is the place where it’s easy to believe that God is with us.
That’s God’s vision for the earth – that no person has to live in such a way that being told that God is with them is a cruel joke. That instead it’s just self-evident truth.
Larry Eubanks is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Frederick, Maryland. A version of this article first appeared on his website and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @EubanksLarry.
Larry Eubanks is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Frederick, Maryland.