Emmanuel, God with us

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 at Union Theological Seminary is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmedia@uts.columbia.edu.