Emmanuel, God with us

Posted Dec 27, 2011 | New Media Project

by Verity A. Jones

I used to spend the Advent and Christmas seasons preaching. When I was a congregational pastor, I would be completely immersed in the biblical stories of preparation and birth, the central theme rising on the wings of those beloved carols and prayers—Emmanuel, God with us. In the birth of Jesus, God becomes one of us, to live and love like us and to suffer and die like us. I’d say it everyday: We are not alone. God is with us.

The news of the day would threaten to overwhelm this narrative: the national tragedies, the local violence, the global realities of poverty and oppression. But the stories of Christ’s birth were so robust, the promises and the joy so real, that I could keep the news in perspective. God is with us, overcoming the hurt and damage. God is with us right through it all.

This year, it’s been a difficult holiday season. Several friends are struggling with overwhelming feelings of fear and loss. The effects of the recession continue to threaten our city and neighborhoods. Aging family members are coming to terms with declining health. Then just last week we learned that the home of a neighbor and friend—a single mom with a daughter the same age as my daughter—was burglarized. The culprits broke open the front door in the middle of the day and walked away with her possessions. No one was home, so no one was hurt. We are deeply grateful for this. But we are also shaken. I have been gripped by an intense desire to protect my family at any cost—security alarms, bars on the window, you name it.

This is not the side of my personality I want to cultivate. I’d rather be like George Whitman, the 98 year-old proprietor of the Shakespeare and Company English-language bookstore in Paris, France who recently died. He’s remembered as a kindhearted person who welcomed anyone and everyone into his shop. He would leave the bookstore open at night for struggling writers in need of a place to sleep. One obituary said that Mr. Whitman had a very high regard for people, always thought the best of them.

A high regard for people. I aspire to this. The narrative of the Advent and Christmas seasons embrace me once again: Emmanuel, God with us. God created the world and its people and pronounced them good. God so loved the world that God become one of us. God so loved the world that God gave this son born of Mary, so that we might not perish but have everlasting life, so that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

The explosion of social media use has created new narratives about access and safety, and raised new questions about human interaction. Do social media hinder or help democratic movements toward freedom? Is there too much access to information? Who do we trust to help us vet all that comes across the Internet? What are these collaborations we see using social media—scientists and investigators asking for help from the public, scholars and journalists sharing ideas? How safe is social media? Are we opening the doors to cyber predators, identity theft, online bullies and social media stalkers? Is this broad access to people, information, and ideas also dangerous? Is it worth it?

Social media use requires a fairly high regard for people. We have to wade in, take chances, think the best of others, and open the doors to people we don’t yet know. Yes, we take measured steps for safety, too. But through it all: Emmanuel, God with us. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Verity A. Jones is the project director of the New Media Project, and a Research Fellow at Union Theological Seminary.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.


  1. 1 dcsloan 31 Jan
    Jesus is not the reason for the season – neither for this calendar season nor for this season of your life.

    The reason for the season is Emmanuel – God with us.

    It might be acceptable to be at a party with strangers, it is good to be at a party with friends, it is better to be at a party with your loved one. Take this “with-ness” one more level – that is Emmanuel – that is God with us.

    God is always with us. So, the question really is: Am I with God in the same way that God is with me?

    Those WWJD wristbands have it right – What Would Jesus DO – not believe, not wish, not pray, not sermonize – what would Jesus DO?

    If we seriously strive to answer that question in all our actions, we will find ourselves striving to live like Jesus. Yet, such striving is inadequate. It is not that living like Jesus is not good or not good enough; it is just that there is more. That is where we find resurrection – the transformation of the human spirit. It is an earth-shaking experience. It is as if a stone has been rolled away from the entrance to our tomb. It is as if the curtain covering the Holy of Holies has been ripped asunder and we are no longer prevented from entering into that place where the immediate and tangible presence of God dwells and there we find our true and best self and find our true and best self with God.

    Your journey is not about living for Jesus or like Jesus. Your journey is about being Jesus, being Emmanuel, being “God with us,” being the Good News, being the Kingdom of God on Earth here and now.

    Merry Christmas!
  2. 2 Thomas Healey 31 Jan
    God with us - that is what allows me to do the work I do as clergy in a hospice setting. That is was what called me to get involoved in everything I have, from therapeutic riding, ecological theology to legislative advisory committes and including social media networks. Emmanuel - God with us, to me, means becoming co-creators of the peaceable kingdom, the kingdom of God, as the continuing incarnation of "God in us" through the Spirit. Great blog!
    Tom Healey
  3. 3 Karen Ward 31 Jan
    Great thought and questions. I'd say the answer to the questions asked is 'yes.'

    Yes, 'social media hinders and help democratic movements toward freedom. Yes Is there too much and too little access to information.
    Yes Are we opening the doors to cyber predators, identity theft, online bullies and social media stalkers. Yes this broad access to people, information, and ideas is also dangerous, and Yes it is worth it!

    Yes, wherever humans we, 'we are' and we bring ourselves with us (good, bad, ugly and redeemed).

    Wherever humans are (including the new media world) the Evil One will lurk around 'seeking someone to devour.'

    And yes, wherever we humans are, God also is there.
    As: Where can we from God's spirit? Or where can I flee from God's presence? If we ascend to heaven, God is there; if we make our bed in Sheol, God is there... So also, as we enter the world of new media, God also is there. 'Thanks be to God'!



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