MAGINE YOURSELF ON A QUIET TRACT OF LAND WITH NO OTHER HUMAN to be seen or heard in any direction. You’ve longed for moments of solitude, the opportunity to escape all the “theys” in your life; so at first this is wonderful and you revel in your newfound privacy.
But very soon, to your surprise, you actually begin to long for companionship. Because without others you realize there is no one with whom to share beauty or observations or discoveries; no one with whom to partner on tough tasks or to lighten the load in tedious tasks. No one to cheer you when you’re discouraged, to support you when you take a stand; no one to hold you accountable or remind you of your best self. No one to hear you out as you try to make sense of the things you think or see or dream. No one to enable you to be compassionate, giving, sacrificial, honoring, respectful, generous, or kind; no one to keep you from becoming completely self-centered, arrogant, willful, spoiled, greedy. No one to teach, and no one by whom to be taught. No one to challenge your thinking; no one to call you out when you’re wrong; no one with whom to brainstorm solutions; no one to sing harmony with. No one to cook with, eat with, bond with, laugh with, sing with, pray with, fight with, walk with, talk with. No one to trade with, swap with, loan to, make for, care about, check on, check with, compare notes with. No one to love, and no one to love you.
It’s no mistake that the Bible begins with a story of a relationship. It is foundational for all relationships to follow. Adam was single in paradise, and lonely. God saw that it was not good for the man to be alone, and He created a helpmate. He met with them in the cool of the day. And behold, it was very good. If there were just one word to express the inexorable comfort of never being alone, that word might well be “with.”
But day followed day, year followed year, and with the passing of time humankind increasingly felt the effects of the curse of sin. Surrounded by others, human beings still felt alone. Outside the garden, outside God’s will, they no longer saw God, and they sensed His presence less and less. And if there were just one word to express the inexorable pain of feeling separated from the Holy One, that word might well be “without.”
That’s what makes Christmas a wonder, a marvel, a tearing down of the veil between us and holiness Himself. Emmanuel—God with us; forever linked to us by choice and sacrifice and scar and, most important of all, by love. A love that said, “I will not be separated from you forever; I cannot bear it, and I know you cannot either. I would rather die than be without you.” So He did.
It is no mistake that the Bible ends with the story of a relationship. It represents every relationship ever to follow. Back within the garden, walking with all our beloveds in the cool of each day, gathering with the redeemed around the throne, singing with the heavenly choir our never-ending praises to a God who would not let us go. Reunited. With, forever.
Emmanuel, God with us!
Valerie N. Phillips is associate director of the women’s residence hall at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where she has ministered to collegiate women for more than 25 years. This article was printed December 10, 2009.