Who Exactly Is God With?
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” —Matthew 1:23 (NRSV)
“Excuse me, Mrs. Chicken,” Barbara murmurs softly as she reaches her hand beneath the brooding hen. She withdraws her hand, the peck marks hardly noticed, enclosing a warm, brown egg. “Thank you, good chicken.” On to the next layer box: “Excuse me, Mrs. Chicken. . . .”
It’s hardly a business. A few dozen lovingly tended hens providing free-range eggs for the neighbors. And yet, animals on the farm bring a special connectedness to the earth in a world increasingly estranged from the nonhuman creation. But what does the world of frogs and trees, rivers and birds, and even barnyard animals have to do with Advent, the coming of Christ?
In Matthew’s account, Christ is recognized as Emmanuel, marking that core gospel treasure: “God is with us.” God is with us! God himself in Christ. And he is right here with us in a human Savior, not watching from a distance.
But if God is with us, who then is the “us”? For Jesus’ disciples, the answer was plain. Us? Of course, it’s the beleaguered people of Israel, suffering under the heel of foreign oppressors. That’s who God is with.
But no. The Spirit of God will have none of that. In Christ, God is also with the Gentiles—family members equally loved as God’s chosen. Even the hated Romans. And slaves. The table grows bigger and bigger, embracing all the sons and daughters of earth—because, in Christ, God reconciles all people to himself.
All people? Well, in fact, the apostle Paul is not content to stop there. He writes to the Colossians that, in Christ, God is “pleased to reconcile to himself all things” (Col. 1:20). All people, of course. But “all things” means a whole new ball game. The creation belongs to God, and he is reconciling all of it.
At this moment in history, this is good news like never before—and an unprecedented challenge. That’s because in less than fifty years, our earth has lost more than half of all of its mammals, fish, reptiles, and birds. They, who once flourished with their Creator’s blessing, have dwindled under the heavy hand of habitat destruction, pollution, and exploitation. If the gospel of Emmanuel is to be good news to a frog or a hummingbird—or even a laying hen—then now is the time for that gospel to be proclaimed and lived like never before.
Prayer: Christ, our Emmanuel, teach us how to make room in our circle of belonging for all that you love—all people, all creatures, all of your creation, and everything else that awaits the fullness of your kingdom. Amen.
John Elwood is a creation-care activist and organic-produce grower. In April 2013, he joined with earthkeepers from the CRCNA and World Renew to witness and report on the impacts of climate change in Kenya. He lives with his wife, Barbara, in Andover, New Jersey.