by Scott Arbeiter
What beautiful words – God has come to us! I know the story so well and have shared it in many ways and in many places over the years. I can tell it from different parts of the scriptures. I can unpack the theology and history of the Incarnation accurately and mean every word of it.
But like any story, even the most amazing story in history, the words can sometimes fall flat in my own soul. They are no less true to the world or to me, but they don’t ignite my passions, drive me to my knees or bring me to tears as many times in the past. That all changed earlier this week.
One of my daughters who is currently serving in southern India sent a message on WhatsAp to tell me about her day. This is what she passed on:
Today we went to a home for people with leprosy. I’d never seen someone with the disease before and it was heartbreaking. The government has ‘housing’ for them, but with 65 people there and only 4 to 5 staff the conditions are not great. As the government doesn’t provide meals and they can’t cook for themselves they depend on people bringing food to them. So we brought food to those whose condition was so bad they could not walk to get their own food.
I met a woman that my heart was really drawn to. I had been feeling like today for me was just making one person feel really loved. So, I went up to her and said hello in her language and shook her hands which are no longer really hands as most of her fingers have fallen off and become nubs. As I did that she began to cry and kiss my hand all over, so I then kissed her hands right back and gave her a hug. We had to finish the rounds but I wanted to go back and sit with her later. After the meal, we did a drama and shared the gospel and got to pray with people and talk with them. But I wanted to find this woman once again.
When I got to her room, she was laying on her ‘bed’ back turned towards the door throwing her arm up as in desperation and frustration. I knocked and said hello in her language and she turned and saw me. She gave a huge smile and began to sit up and I motioned to ask to come in and she shook her head yes, yes.
So I came and sat on her bed next to her and gave her a hug. Even though we couldn’t speak the same language I just looked in her eyes and prayed and I know God was comforting her. She would also just talk and I would just listen even though I didn’t know what she was saying. She nestled her head into me and cried and I just held her tight.
She kept rubbing me and I rubbed her also. She kissed my cheeks and I kissed her cheeks right back. You could tell she was so desperate for human contact and love. And I wanted her to know there was no part of me that was scared to touch or envelop her. I just wanted her to know how loved she was. I don’t really know how to explain the time in words to be honest. But we did this for a while. Laughing, crying, talking in opposite languages, hugging and kisses on the cheek.
The translator came to tell me it was time to leave. So I got him to tell her how much love I felt for her in my heart and that I cared for her so much. And she told him that even her own children have abandoned her and she couldn’t believe I would come all this way to see her. I prayed that Jesus would visit her in her dreams and begin to bring her comfort and take away her pain and loneliness.
It was hard to leave her. I could tell she didn’t want me to go. I did think about germs, but it was so worth it just to make one woman feel loved and important. I got a picture with her, I told her I won’t forget her and I will pray for her.
After wiping my eyes, I knew I had encountered the love of God “in the flesh.” The beauty and power of Incarnation came alive once again and my heart melted. And two questions came to mind.
Is God With Me?
Can it really be that God has come to me in my despair, brokenness, and loneliness?
Does he break into my world unexpected, embracing me despite my disfigurement?
Do the things that shame me make him draw closer still?
When I feel excluded, forgotten, unworthy or captive to my own sin does he really come to hold me close, kiss my hands, draw my head into his shoulder, listening to every word I say and every cry of my soul?
The gospel says yes! –over and over and over. This is why it is “good news.” The first words Jesus offered at the beginning of his public ministry make it clear:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
And again, from Matthew 1: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” meaning ‘God with us.’”
I am alive again to the reality that Immanuel has come and has declared
“God With Us.”
God with YOU, God with ME.
How Do I Respond to This Love?
My daughters text reminded me of the words Jesus spoke to his disciples when he said “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you. I am to be an “in the flesh” carrier of the message of Immanuel. We who are the “Body of Christ” are to be the embodiment of this grace to the world. Am I? Are we?
The truth is, I cannot express God with You, if I have not first experienced God with me.
My prayer for you and for me this Christmas season is that we settle into the amazing grace of Immanuel. Then, being loved, healed, restored and made anew we become carriers of this same message of incarnation. In this, we will break any barrier, enter any space, accept any danger and lay down every right because of the great love we have received.
For no other motivation for the gospel will carry us forward; not a desire to be noble, not a hope to be heroic, nor a sense of responsibility or even obedience. The only enduring motivation is love. Love received and then freely given.
God with us – Joy to the World!
Scott Arbeiter was a partner at Arthur Andersen serving in a variety of functions over 17 years. He resigned to become Lead Pastor at Elmbrook Church in Milwaukee. He served previously on World Relief’s Board, including three years as Chairman. In 2016, Scott was asked to serve as President of World Relief. Scott has been married to Jewel for 33 years and they have daughters, Kelsey, Jacquelyn, and Karis.