Emmanuel

I’m posting this in memory of my nephew who would have turned three years old this Christmas. Read my note after the sermon for an update on the story.

Emmanuel: God is with us
Message by Andy Jolivette
December 21, 2008

Christmas is going to be different for me and my family this year.

This is usually my favorite time of year. I love everything about Christmastime. In my family and among my friends, I’ve been known to get out the Christmas music as early as September because I just can’t wait any longer.

This Christmas was going to be one of the best ever for my family, even topping the year I got a pair of Air Jordan basketball shoes when I was about 11 years old. You see, this past summer my oldest sister and her husband announced that after years of trying, they were pregnant and would be having their first child. We were all very excited, and you can imagine how much more excited we were when only a few weeks later, my other sister announced that she was pregnant too. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, it turned out they were due within a week of each other…the week of Christmas.

We were all preparing ourselves for two little ones. My mom couldn’t contain her joy about having grandkids, and you could tell my dad was loving the idea of being a grandpa. My sisters were glowing, happily surprised to be going through their first pregnancies together, and the idea of their children having an instant friend and cousin was pretty cool too. My brothers-in-law had the typical nervous/excited look of “I’m going to be a dad” on their faces, and I couldn’t imagine my sister’s having chosen better men as husbands and fathers. I was obviously excited about being an uncle too.

My family spends a lot of weekends together at our cabin during the summer, and during a weekend in early August my oldest sister and her husband told us they were having a boy. Yes!!! On the ride home that weekend, they asked if I’d be his godfather and told me they had picked a name, Emmanuel Andrew. A great name!

Sometimes, even when you don’t think you can get any more excited about something, you do anyway.

The next day I flew to California for a week, and on the second day of that trip I got an email from my mom saying something about visiting my sister in the hospital. I had no idea what she was talking about, so I quickly called her and found out that my sister had gone to the ER the night before complaining of stomach pain. She was being kept overnight to do some tests and find out what was going on. I was nervous, since getting pregnant had not been easy for her, but assumed it was just an inconvenience the doctors would take care of. So I checked in with my family every day and went about my trip. She had an emergency surgery at the end of the week and I nervously waited to hear that she and the baby were still doing okay. She was still in the hospital the day I was scheduled to fly home and I was planning to go straight to the hospital, still hoping for the best. But then it all changed in one short voicemail message. While I was getting ready to leave for the airport that morning, my brother-in-law had called to tell me that she was going into labor because her body could no longer take care of both her and the baby. She was only 20 weeks pregnant, and the baby would not live.

I flew home through a cloud of confusion. While waiting for my ride at the airport, I called my mom and heard the story of my nephew’s birth. It was much different than the story of a little baby boy entering the world that I had imagined it would be.

The next few days, weeks and even months are a blur, but I know they included a lot of time spent at the hospital. There were hugs, tears and prayers, and lots of pain and confusion.

Remember, my other sister was…is…still pregnant throughout all this.

Christmas is going to be both really hard and really exciting (all that the same time) for my family this year. My oldest sister was due on December 25th. My other sister will be having a baby girl a few days later. She’s due on December 30th.

We’ve had a lot of time to think about all that’s happened since August, and even if we’ve accepted it and know we can’t change anything, that doesn’t make it any less painful. My sister was supposed to become a mom this Christmas, her husband was supposed to become a dad. I was supposed to have a nephew…but that’s not going to happen.

Every time I think about my nephew and start feeling sad, I remember his name, Emmanuel. I remember what it means, and I remember that God is with me.

It doesn’t make anything easier, but it does offer some comfort.

Christmas might be the “most wonderful time of the year,” but it’s not always the easiest time of the year. It can bring back memories that are difficult and we all have painful stuff from our past that might make it hard to truly enjoy this time of year. Let’s not ignore that, but let’s also not dwell on it, because this is also a season of joy and giving. A time of peace and hope.

My sister is going to have a daughter sometime in the next few weeks. That is still exciting. Someday, that little girl is going to be old enough to hear the story of a little boy who was supposed to be the same age as her, who maybe would have even been her best childhood friend, but she’s only going to know that he’s not here anymore because he’s up in heaven. But she’s also going to hear the story of another baby boy who was born a long time ago. A boy who became the Savior of the world, who, like her cousin, died too early…only he died so that others might live. She’ll learn both stories, and as she gets older, they will hopefully both have an influence on her life.  She will learn that one of the baby boy’s was named Emmanuel, and the other Jesus.

Someday she might even read these verses from the Bible…

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14, NIV)

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23, NIV)

And although she’ll notice – and eventually understand – why her mom and dad, along with her aunts, uncles, grandma and grandpa get sad every year around Christmastime (which is just before her birthday), she will hopefully also notice that it’s a time of year when they experience hope and happiness.

Confusion and sadness are as much a part of the Christmas story as joy and hope.

I pray that no matter what is going on in your life this Christmas, you will experience the joy, peace and hope that comes from knowing that what the angel told the shepherds is true…“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

Emmanuel. God is with us. God is for us. God is in us.

Amen.

Update: my sister and her husband will welcome their daughter into the world Friday morning (they have a scheduled c-section). I can’t wait to meet the little girl, and my three-year old niece is pretty excited to meet her new cousin as well!

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