DO NOT FEAR, I AM WITH YOU
I was reading Chapter 43 of Isaiah on Tuesday morning in which Yahweh encourages his people with the news that their period of punishment and exile will come to an end. He tells them “Do not fear, for I am with you” (Is. 43:5).
Because I’m presently worried about a couple of people and issues, this promise of God’s caught my attention. I copied it into my prayer journal and began to say it over and over to myself. “Do not fear, for I am with you.” Then I went to the other place where I knew there was something similar: the story of the burning bush in Exodus 3, where God commanded Moses, “’Come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ [God] said, ‘I will be with you’” (Exod. 3:10-12).
Just as in Isaiah 43, “I am with you” is all that God offers Moses by way of reassurance. God’s promise to be with us is evidently supposed to settle the issue. What more could you want than God’s being with you! Is there something more reassuring than that? I can hear God saying to me, and perhaps to you, too, “I told you I’ll be with you. What more do you want?” What more could there be?
When you dare to think about it, the idea is overwhelming, God’s “being with you.” Yet I say it all the time when I celebrate mass, “The Lord be with you!” What would happen if all those people who I say that to (most of whom are poor, some homeless) what would happen if they suddenly understood that God really IS with them? What if they could grasp what that means?
As for me, what if I let myself experience the fact that God is with ME? Then nothing could ever frighten me or discourage me. My chronically bad back would not discourage me – God is with me! The lack of new vocations to our community wouldn’t worry me – God is with me! That certain student of mine with serious emotional problems would not discourage me – God is with me!
Then, naturally enough, my thoughts turned from “I am with you” to the feast of Christmas. That’s when it hit me: Remember how you say “God is with us” in Hebrew? Right! “Emmanuel!”
In Matthew’s infancy account we read
“an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him 'Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’” (Mt 1:20-23).
At Christmas we see God taking flesh and living with us as one of us. You can’t get any more “with you” than that! My prayer for you (and for myself) this Christmas is that we will each be able to experience more intensely the overwhelming mysterious fact that God is with us!