by Pastor Gary O’Shell, ©2020
(Dec. 24, 2020) — “I said the the Lord, You are my Master. Apart from You I have no good thing.” Psalm 16:2
I first wrote this in 2004, and felt led to once again share it, with a new addition at the end. It is not about me, but about the wonder of Immanuel, God With Us. It’s a kind of “Tale Of Two Christmas’, widely different, but present with the same Christ. It’s my prayer that He blesses you in the reading.
The first experience took place in Colorado Springs, nearly 25 years ago, during the first year of my study for the ministry. I was single, away from home and family, and alone, as my roommates had left to be with their families. Before they’d left, we’d gotten a tree, and draped it with as many decorations and lights as it could hold. I remember Christmas Eve, after returning from my church’s special service, lying on my sofa, listening to the songs of the 2nd Chapter of Acts, gazing at the tree and the lights. Here, over 1500 miles from family, separated from friends, physically alone, I had a sense of His Presence unlike anything I had known in my young walk with Him. In that small apartment, my Lord was with me, giving me Himself. I would open no presents that night, something my family always did, but it wouldn’t matter. I had the gift of my Jesus, and nothing else mattered. The joy of my Lord flowed out of my heart. I had never experienced such a visitation before, and while He has come to me in so many beautiful ways since then, I’ve never again had a time with Him quite like that. For one who’d come out of deep darkness only a year before, it was, and is, a gift to be treasured all the rest of my days. It was my happiest Christmas.
The second time happened 9 years later, on a church campground on a bitterly cold night the week before Christmas. My wife had left me several months before. In the midst of that, I’d had to resign my church, and leave the ministry. I was working at a Coca-Cola distribution center in Charlottesville, Virginia, driving a forklift. I had just returned to the campground. It was late at night, and very dark. The place was almost completely empty of life. My heart was filled with an indescribable ache. Each day I would drive in, and each night I would drive back, constantly asking the Lord, “How did I end up here? Why did you let this happen? Father, where are you?” As I parked my car and got out, the intense cold hit my face. It couldn’t have been more than 10 degrees out. I remember the thought that came to me as if it were yesterday. A voice that came from a much deeper darkness than made up that nighttime. It whispered, “Aren’t you weary of the pain? Everything has been lost. Can it ever be good again? It can all be over. All you need do is walk into those woods over there. Lie down. Go to sleep, it will be over.” At that moment, in the midst of what seemed complete hopelessness, I looked towards those woods. It was then that I heard another voice. It was soft, but mighty. It was Him. The Jesus, my Jesus, who’d come to me in the midst of my most special Christmas, had also come to me in the time of my darkest. The same Jesus. I didn’t hear words so much as truth. I was not alone. This was not the end. Where I was now, was not where I would stay. I had life, and though the enemy sought to destroy it, I would live. I would laugh again. I would live again. I was living now.
With that I went to the small cottage I was staying in, and just like in that small apartment 9 years before, I was washed with His Presence. I was not alone. He was with me, and true to His word, my life didn’t end there. Neither does it end here. There will still be pain. There is pain now, but whether in laughter or sorrow, times of light, or times of darkness, He is, and will always be, Immanuel. God with us. With me. With you. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.
It may be as you come upon this season, you find yourself in a place you never thought you’d be, or a place you can do nothing to change. Please know that no matter how cut off you may feel, how alone you might think yourself to be, you are not. Into your time, this time, allow Immanuel, Jesus to come. He will, and He will not leave. This is not the place you will stay, it is not here that you will die. He will bring you out. There is life for you, abundant and free. Let Him lead you into it.
Here, in 2020, I find myself grieving a new and personal loss. I do not grieve it alone. Besides the many friends He has surrounded me with to share the burden, He, above all, shares and carries it with and for me. In the pain, I know His joy. He remains always, Immanuel, God with us. God with me.