Sign of Immanuel

A few years ago, Jana and I were at a church conference where one of the speakers was Gary Haugen, President of International Justice Mission. The mission of IJM is to rescue people from slavery and human trafficking. Gary was talking about finding the courage to end slavery, which is worse today than any time in history. 

When Gary was ten years old, his dad took Gary and his two older brothers hiking on Mount Rainier. He was having a good time until they came to the point where the paved trail ended. There was a big warning sign with all the dangers that lay ahead.

Steep drop offs. Loose footing. Bears and other wildlife. Beware crossing streams and creeks. Watch out for sudden storms.

Trying to be nonchalant, he told his Dad that he thought it would be fun to spend the day in the visitors’ center. His dad told him about the adventure they were going to have, and said, “I’ll be with you.” But Gary wasn’t buying it. He went back, while his dad and brothers went ahead.

When he got back to the visitors’ center, it was nice and warm. There was a video playing, showing what it was like to climb to the top of the mountain. There was a hot chocolate machine which he liked. There were lots of other exhibits. At first, he had a great time.

But as the day wore on, time dragged by. The video was on a loop, reminding him for the umpteenth time, what he was missing. It was the worst day of his life. 

When his dad and brothers came back, their cheeks were red from the adventure, their eyes glistening as they told of all the things they had seen and experienced together. 

His dad asked him how his day had been. And do you think he admitted being bored? Did he tell his dad he was sorry for having been such a coward? No, he lied, and said he had a great time.

Even then he knew he had missed out on a special day with his father.

Gary said, “You miss out on the joy in safety.  The church doesn’t thrive in safety. God doesn’t show up in power in safety.”

The sign of Immanuel means that God invited us to be part of the greatest adventure of all. God came to us and said, “I’ll be with you.”

As Gary Haugen said, “Let God show up in power. Go where you can only go with God.”

You were a child once too

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is the new movie starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers. The story is loosely based on the relationship Mr. Rogers had with real-life Esquire magazine reporter Tom Junod. In the movie, the reporter (fictional movie character Lloyd Vogel, played by Matthew Rhys) is assigned to do a story on Mr. Rogers. Vogel objects; he’d been hired to do investigative journalism, he said. But his editor insisted. Vogel had anger issues; all his previous profiles had turned into hit pieces. None of the other subjects for the Esquire article would agree to speak to him. The editor thought that talking to Mr. Rogers might do Vogel some good.

Grudgingly, Vogel set off to interview Mr. Rogers and get the assignment over with. But Mr. Rogers refused to be rushed. He gave Vogel the same undivided attention that he gave to everyone, even if it meant getting behind in production and frustrating the studio crew. Mr. Rogers was far more interested in Vogel’s life story than in talking about his own. Like he did with the children watching his show every day, he wanted to help Vogel deal with his emotions.

Did Vogel have a favorite toy growing up? “You were a child once, too,” he said.

Vogel was incredulous. Could Mr. Rogers really care that much? And about him?

Slowly, the movie begins to reveal some of the sources Mr. Rogers’ profound grace.

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood isn’t a Christmas movie, but it is a story of grace and love. Like the grace and love that came down at Christmas.

God was a child once too.

Facing the darkness

For years I’ve heard that suicides spike during the holidays. It turns out that’s not true. Suicides are actually lower this time of year, yet news outlets recycle the myth that because people are under stress, miss loved ones, etc., they take their lives in greater numbers. No.

It turns out the opposite may be true; the season offers hope and support that are lacking at other times. People care and give and volunteer more during the holidays.

But we still need to “face the darkness.” So says Anglican priest and author Tish Harrison Warren in her excellent op-ed in the New York Times last week. The world really is a dark and broken place and only God can fix it. It’s why Jesus had to come.

So Christians observe this season called Advent where we prepare for the coming of the Savior. In Advent, we avoid jumping straight to the celebration; we linger in the darkness for a while. We take stock of what’s wrong with us, and what it cost Jesus to save us.

And when we celebrate, and we certainly do, we remember that Jesus not only faced the darkness, he went into the ultimate darkness.

Jesus allowed his life to be taken so we can live in hope.