When I was younger, I had a group of friends. Well, maybe like you, I had a bunch of different groups of friends. There were work friends who all went to different schools, so we hung out at work and after. Maybe we would catch a movie from time to time.
Then there were my church friends – the other students in my youth group. But here too, a lot of us went to different schools and most of them didn’t go to mine. So we did youth events together, but basically just saw each other on Sunday nights. I was also in the drumline in my high school band. We had practice at least twice a week and every school day. We were pretty close, but I was the only one who could drive so most of our time was spent in someone’s basement playing video games.
Then there was my other group of friends. Some might call these folks my “ride or die” group. Some of us played on the same sports teams, but not all of us. We had some classes together, but most of these folks were a year older than me. To be honest, they probably weren’t the best influence, and my parents weren’t thrilled that I hung out with them. Every Friday and Saturday night I was with this group, staying out later than I should, having fun, and more often than I care to remember, getting into trouble.
All of that was years ago, but I am still in relationship with many of them today. When I look back on what brought us together and why I hung out with these friends, there is one glaring feature to our relationship: these friends always showed up. They didn’t do anything to raise my social status in school. They weren’t mentors or people I necessarily looked up to that I could learn from. It was just that I knew instinctively, that whenever I needed them, they would always be there.
I think if we took stock of our life and prioritized what we want most, it would not be wealth, power, influence, or notoriety. All of these things are probably awesome, but time after time and headline after headline, we come to realized that each of these things are fleeting and rarely, if ever, deliver on what they promise. But what we all want or need most deeply in our bones is people surrounding us who show up. We want people who don’t judge us, but will be honest with us. People who may disagree with us, but will never “cancel” our relationship. People who want what’s best for us and think about us even when we are not around them.
That’s why this year on Christmas, I chose to share who I believe God is. God is the God who shows up. Many of us have heard this before in the name or title given to Jesus, Immanuel, which means “God with us.” Christmas is God saying to all of humanity, whose own choices have led it farther and farther into darkness and chaos, “I’m never going to give up on you.”
Christmas is God showing up, in human form, to share in our experience, but also show us the way out: by showing up for one another.
As we think about this next week, next month, and new year, I invite you to do two things. First, spend some time with God in gratitude for God never giving up on you. Because I promise God hasn’t. Maybe at times it’s hard to see where God is, but God is never far off. That’s the promise made to us in Jesus, and the commitment given in the Holy Spirit. God is always talking to us. And then second, take this out into the world. When God speaks to you, who is God inviting you to show up for? Maybe there is a fellow student in school who doesn’t seem to have a group of friends. Maybe there is a co-worker who seems to be carrying more weight than they can handle. Maybe there is a single parent you’re aware of having trouble making ends meet. Maybe there is a widow or widower who just needs someone to have coffee with once a week.
Because this is that way “God with us” spreads light into this world of darkness. God shows up for us, and so we show up for others. It’s what everyone needs deep down in their soul.
As one pastor said, “You, your life, may be the only gospel (good news) some people ever read.”
Grace and peace.