“What do you think is the most important word in the Bible?” That’s the question author Sara Miles posed to the audience who gathered at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Lutheran Center last month.
My pastor Beth Ann was there that night, and when we met for lunch a couple of days later, she asked me the same question.
I couldn’t decide on my answer; there were too many good options. Was it love? Grace? Forgiveness? Salvation? Or maybe it Jesus or God – those both seemed like good possibilities, too.
I looked at Beth Ann and shrugged, unable to choose just one word.
“She said it was with,” Beth Ann answered. “She said the most important word in the Bible is with.”
I hadn’t expected that answer, but when I heard it, I nodded. Out of context, with isn’t a very important or impactful word. A mere preposition, with doesn’t carry much weight. But in the context of the Bible, and in the context of this day, Christmas Eve, with is everything.
It means God with us. Not simply God alone – unreachable, distant, removed – but God with us – right here, right now, in the midst of our everyday, ordinary, messy lives.
In the Gospel of Luke we read a story that for many is as familiar as our own personal history. Some of us have read the story of Jesus’ birth every Christmas for as long as we can remember. Some of us can recite it nearly by heart. And yet, when was the last time we really thought about the impact of Jesus’ birth on our own personal lives and on who we are as human beings living in this present moment?
Jesus came humbly, with humility, not as a powerful, ruling Lord, but as a helpless, dependent, human baby, wrapped in swaddling and laid in a manger. He came like the rest of us, as a human being. He was divine, but he was also human, and he experienced life, with its laughter and lament, its triumph and travail, like we do.
Jesus knows our pain, and our passion; he knows the depth of our sorrow and the height of our joy. He knows it because he lived it. He knows it because he lives it with us still.
With. It’s a small word, a preposition, pretty ordinary and unremarkable. But when it comes to our Savior, with makes all the difference. Immanuel is God with us, born into flesh 2,000 years ago, present with us today.
From my family to yours, we wish you a joyful Christmas and a peaceful, healthy New Year. Thank you for being the very best people!