B6   CHRISTMAS - Emmanuel

St. Luke 1.vv.18-23

~ Zechariah said to the angel, "How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years". The angel replied, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur". Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realised that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home. ~

One of the tragedies of modern life is homelessness, whether it be the rejected, the abandoned, the dispossessed or war victims who are the sufferers. How many feel estranged, alienated (or in modern jargon "marginalised", or the "bottom of the pile"). A universal cry goes up, "All I want is a place to be!". We cannot separate ourselves from places.

Significant events in life are often recalled by recollection of places. Indeed certain places suddenly and quite unaccountably occur to our minds so that we think, "Now why on earth did I suddenly think of 'Cleeve Hill'?"

Often we hear old folk refer to places they remember - places of holidays, marriage, places of singing, crying, places of menace, of reassurance, of hurting or healing.

"Jacob came to a place". This (recorded in Genesis 28.vv.10-17) was an absolutely unforgettable experience. Jacob could never forget it, for he not only found a place but a conviction that God is omnipresent. As a fugitive he found that he was even yet in the presence of the God he thought he had left behind in the tent of his father Isaac. He called the place "Bethel", the "House of God", for he knew that this God was "Emmanuel", "God with us".

Jacob "saw the invisible" in his vision of the ladder reaching from earth to heaven and the messages of God and his children passing upon it. This two-way traffic is strikingly depicted on the west front of Bath Abbey where, carved in stone, we see a ladder on which some of the angels are shown apparently falling off the ladder (according to a misinformed brochure) since they are descending (suicidally?) head first - but how otherwise can you depict in "still life" someone descending a ladder?! However, the point is made; there is a two-way traffic from earth to heaven - God is omnipresent, Emmanuel, God with us.

Elisha also saw the invisible, and so did his servant, at Dothan. This was a conviction that there are spiritual forces all around us on our earthly pilgrimage (2Kings 6.vv15-17)

Francis Thompson, the poet, laments, "The angels keep their ancient places, Turn but a stone and start a wing. 'Tis ye, 'tis your estrangèd faces that miss the many splendoured thing". We are in the presence of spiritual forces all around us.

The writer to the Hebrews describes Abram's faith; he left his friends and his security. We all have to venture out and leave home. For Abram there was to be a new religion, a new vocation, but God was Emmanuel for him. He went out not knowing where or why - but again with Emmanuel into the unknown.

The Gospels and Acts describe Jesus, the Disciples, Paul and the early Christians leaving home in faith that every place is Bethel, "God's House" and God is Emmanuel, "with us".

The whole Bible and Christian experience witness to the fact that we do not go out alone, for we are encompassed about with a great cloud of witnesses on our pilgrimage.

Often the journey through life is daunting, but take courage as you press on towards the goal of the high calling in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3.v14).

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