As disconnected and disjointed as many people are, our culture certainly seems to place a pretty high value on presence. It might not be something we specifically talk about or think about in daily conversation, but the void of it seems to permeate everything around us.
Politicians are criticized for being present during elections, but distant throughout their terms. We have rising virtual connections through the use of various social media outlets, yet research shows “social isolation” is simultaneously on the rise.
I find this to be hauntingly true in my own life. I’ve always been the guy who hangs out around 30,000 ft. Life to me is nearly all about strategy, concepts and ideas. The way I process data or information is to evaluate whether or not it makes sense, the likelihood that it will work in the real world, and how possible it is to prove if this information is true. I rarely consider how said information might make someone feel. To do that, I would need to descend the metaphorical atmosphere and come down to street level. The trouble with living at 30,000 ft, is that you end up convincing yourself you don’t really need anyone. If you had a need for other people, it would only be to strategically accomplish something, much like moves on a chess board. People like me are great at manipulating people, and we use others to accomplish our own self-involved agenda, even if that agenda is to get people to like us, which is strange because we think we’ve convinced ourselves we don’t need them.
I’m a lot like the Heissman Trophy. Not because of my athletic prowess, but because of my skill at the emotional and relational stiff-arm. The closer I should be with a person, the more they are likely to feel the thrust of my forearm in their chest in an effort to keep them away.
In the opening part of the first chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus shows himself to be something completely different. Different than our culture, different than personified concepts, and different than people like myself who keep others at a safe distance. The Christmas-term Emmanuel, means “God with us”. That’s who Jesus is. That’s what he did. Even if I have a good grasp on this theological concept at 30,000 ft, I still suck at imitating Jesus in this area in my day-to-day life.
God-with-us is a gospel concept, and the gospel goes much deeper than rescuing eternity for individuals. It’s so much bigger and deeper than eternal security and salvation, although eternity is admittedly so much bigger and deeper than our time here in this life. But from this life stretching forward throughout all eternity, what we have in Jesus is a God who is present. He is in every space, and in every moment. The ability to see Him in these spaces and moments doesn’t involve a change in proximity for him, but a change in perspective for me. For you.
For those of us who have spent considerable time in the church, this might be a concept that loses it’s intensity with us. We can tend to get use to it. But our complacency with God-with-us as a concept, has left the people around us feeling lonely and perhaps it even feeds the loneliness in our own souls.
In a culture that lacks presence, Jesus exhibits exactly what the people around us are looking for, and he’s succeeding where many of his followers like myself are failing.
Thank God for grace.
Fortunately, this post isn’t about me. It’s not about distant people, and really, it’s not even about our culture or what it needs. Although what it is about has a profound and transcendent effect on all of that. It’s about Jesus; God with us. The word that became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The one who wants to shine light on the good and bad things about you, so that ultimately, you would see not your shine or your stain, but Him. That’s it. That’s what his presence does. Perhaps that’s what he wants you to see today. Will you – will I – look?