Thursday, December 20, 2012

Never alone

During my junior year of high school I was on the wrestling team. I had the bright idea that if I lost 15 pounds I could wrestle in the 145-lb. class and have a better chance of beating my opponents. So I practically starved myself for a few weeks, worked out in a rubber suit, and made weight - just barely - for our first big meet against our rivals from Woodruff High School. After weigh-in, I downed two Hershey chocolate bars for energy. I felt good. I knew I'd win. My opponent didn't look very strong. When it was time for my match, I strode confidently out on the mat and got in position.

It took about ten seconds to find out I had nothing to give.

I had no strength. Since I hadn't eaten for several weeks, I was Silly Putty in my opponent's hands. He threw me around like I was his little four-year old brother. All I could do is keep one of my shoulder blades off the mat. I managed to survive all three periods of the match, but the entire time I was on my back, trying not be pinned. When at last the ref's whistle signaled the end of the match, I was a goner. I could hardly stand up. I hobbled off the mat and dragged myself into the locker room, where I promptly threw up those two Hershey bars. I lay down on the locker room floor and prayed it had all been a bad dream.

And then I felt a hand on my shoulder, and heard a voice asking me if I was OK. I looked up, and saw my Dad.

Dad helped me off the floor and onto a table, where I lay for a long time trying to recover. Dad stayed by my side. He didn't say much, but I remember he told me he was proud of me. Then he helped me into the showers, where I sat under the comforting stream of hot water and cried. Dad waited on a bench. Then he helped me get dressed and walked with me back into the gym, where the wrestling meet had just ended. He stood by me while I faced my coach and teammates. He was there as everyone stared and a few chuckled. He walked with me out to the car and drove me home.

It was a humiliating night. But Dad was there the whole time. He was for me. He was with me. I was not alone.

Through the years, that experience has been a reminder to me of God's promise to be with us no matter what. And that's what Christmas is all about - God with us. Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, left heaven and came into our world of sin, misery, failure, and shame to be our Rescuer. As theologians put it, Christ left his pre-incarnate state and entered a state of humiliation. He chose squalor for his birthplace, a disreputable village as his hometown, and a couple of poor unknowns to be his parents. He quickly became familiar with suffering and acquainted with grief. He was tempted in every way, just as we are. He was a friend of sinners and tax collectors, but he hung out with anyone willing to listen. He showed the world what God was like. And then, three years into his ministry, he was arrested, tried, condemned, and crucified. It was God's way of taking the blame and paying the price for our sin. Three days after he died, Jesus rose again, ascended to heaven, and sent his Spirit to live inside us.

And he has never left us, not for a minute. He's lived up to his name - "Immanuel," God with us.

No matter who you are, what you've done, how you've failed, or where you've run, if you've put your trust in Jesus Christ you can know he is with you all the time. You are never alone. The One born in the manger of Bethlehem also died on a cross outside Jerusalem. And if he did that, you can count on it that he will never leave you or forsake you.

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