God With Us

Throughout the season of Advent, we are meditating weekly on Isaiah’s proclamation concerning the coming of Immanuel – God with us! And what a proclamation it is! First, it is a proclamation to the Hebrew people during a time of exile and return, and secondly it is a proclamation to us while we experience a world-shattering year of isolation, exile and challenge. The thought of Immanuel – God with Us – is a grounding hope that helps us hang in there, to hold on, and to wait. And it lays the foundation for how we may gather again one day in a changed and potentially better world.

The power of this hope is made clear in the story of a famous monastery that had fallen on hard times. Formerly its many buildings were filled with young monks, and its huge chapel resounded with the singing of a triumphant choir. But now it was deserted. People no longer came there to be nourished by prayer. A handful of old monks shuffled through the cloisters and praised God with heavy hearts.

On the edge of the monastery woods, an old rabbi had built a tiny hut. He would come there from time to time to fast and pray. No one ever spoke with him, but whenever he appeared, the word would be passed from monk to monk. “The rabbi walks in the woods.” And, for as long as he was there, the monks would feel sustained by his prayerful presence.

One day, the abbot decided to visit the rabbi and open his heart to him. Upon entering the small hut, the monk saw a wooden table with scripture opened on it. The two men stood silently for a moment in the presence of the Book. Suddenly, the rabbi began to cry and this touched the abbot’s heart, so he too began to sob. In that moment, the two embraced like long lost brothers.

After the tears had ceased, the rabbi lifted his head and said, “I know you and your bothers are serving God with heavy hearts. And you have come to ask a teaching of me. I will give you a teaching, but you can only repeat it once. After that, no one must ever say it aloud again.” The rabbi looked straight at the abbot and said, “The Messiah is among you.” With these words hanging in the air, the abbot froze. The rabbi waved his hand and said, “Now you must go.” The abbot did not look back.

The next morning the abbot gathered his monks and told them that he had received a teaching from the rabbi who walks in the woods and that his teaching was never again to be spoken aloud. Then he looked at each of the brothers and said, “The rabbi said that one of you is the Messiah.” The monks were startled by this saying and began to look at one another pondering, “Is brother John the Messiah? Or brother Thomas?” But no one ever mentioned it again.

As time went by, something amazing began to happen at the monastery. The monks began to treat one another with very special reverence. They prayed over the scripture together as those who were still looking for something to be revealed. And the atmosphere of the monastery began to change, catching the attention of people everywhere. Visitors returned and found themselves deeply moved by the genuine reverence of the brothers for one another.  Before long, people began coming from far and wide to be nourished by the Real Presence of the Messiah evident amongst these people of God.

Through the proclamation of an old rabbi, the monks rediscovered God at work among them and experienced the return of Immanuel – God with us!

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas!
Pastor Frank Waugh