The peanut brittle is dwindling, the eggnog has been drank, soon Christmas lights and Christmas trees will be taking up their regular spaces in basements, attics, and sheds. The season is over, soon we’ll be greeted by Valentines Day displays as we walk through Wal-mart and the mall. The holiday may have ended but Christmas can stay with you through out the year.
When we look at one of the proclamations concerning Jesus birth we see the Prophet Isaiah quoted by Matthew making a powerful statement.
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “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 1:22-23:
God with us.
God constantly assures us that he is with us though we often do not recognize it. His presence is God’s promise, his gift, that we often have failed to grasp. Part of the reason we take time to practice the Remembrance of Advent is so that we can bring the reality of God’s presence, as evidenced by our past experience, into our present situation and take it with us as we forge ahead into the future.
Hope of Christmas
Hope, the confident expectancy that God is working things in our favor. Even as believers we face time and time again, moments where we may not feel God’s presence, there are times when life doesn’t go as planned, times when bad even terrible things happen, times when we are powerless and our hope is this that in that state, God is working on our behalf. That this situation will not be the defining moment in our lives, that God will keep his word and will come through for us in the end. God does these things, time and time again and that is why we have the hope that we do.
Love of Christmas
The truth of God’s love for us is that without God’s love there would be no hope. Love is the reason for the season. Love is why he came down leaving his place in Heaven to put on flesh and blood. To talk about God without talking about love is presenting only half the picture, to talk about love without talking about God tells only half the story. Love is vital, we not only need it we do best when we have the opportunity to share it.
Joy of Christmas
The joy of Christmas comes because we have firmly latched onto the idea that the rescue is coming. That God’s love it real and we have experienced it. Joy is the realization of the hope we have in Christ. Joy for Christians is an emotional expression but it is also much, much more. It is an attitude, a deep inner assurance, it is also a choice.
Peace of Christmas
Peace is the ultimate gift between God and man, to know that the eternal wrong of the sin in our lives that separates us from God has been forgiven and covered brings us peace with our Lord. Living our lives in submission to his will brings us peace as we avoid the trappings of sin and death that destroy our lives.
These are what Christians all over the world reflect on and practice during this Christmas time. For me however I was able to walk through these weeks focusing on these topics in a very real and very personal way when my wife’s cousin Stephen was faced with a life threatening illness.
This is the email I received from Bridget's cousin Mindy Wednesday Dec 1st while I was at work:
Friends & Family,
My brother Stephen (39) was taken to Good Sam in Lafayette by ambulance. He is very critical. Please be in prayer for his healing. He is in congestive heart failure and has pulmonary edema. He is on a vent and is completely sedated. He came out of a cardiac cath procedure early this morning. We are in shock at how rapidly his condition has deteriorated. He needs a miraculous touch!
I was taken by big suprise, Steve is 39 years old. How could this be? I immediately felt this huge burden on my heart and I kind of just fell into a chair. No sooner did I bow my head to pray than two friends I worked with showed up out of the blue for a meeting that wasn’t going on. They must have discerned something was bothering me and asked me about it, so I told them about what was happening to Stephen. And they immediately sat down and we prayed for God to move, we prayed for a miracle. I shared the request with my church family as well, and the prayer started growing picking up steam as person by person, people began to share this request and God’s people called out on Stephen’s behalf.
But he was still sick, if there was ever a dark time it was this one. You could say that they were clinging to hope. The doctors told them they could have cautious optimism, but the outlook was still grim. After doing some procedures to help his breathing one doctor told a caregiver that her time would be better spent else where. They gave him very little chance to survive, Stephen’s heart was beating at just 5% capacity. He was alive though none of the medical professionals knew why.
I received this email Dec. 4th and it shed some light on the seriousness of his situation:
Hi Family & Friends,
We continue to needs your prayers. Stephen is making slivers of progress, but remains very, very ill. We still are uncertain of the cause of this. It seems like it happened so quickly. The good news is God was not taken by surprise by any of this AND he knows what the future holds. We trust Him completely.
That is what it looks like when you have nowhere else to turn but to the Lord. When all you have to cling to is hope. It is a very vulnerable moment. Stephen was very sick, the rest of the email read like this:
The critical care doctor told us tonight that he had Stephen classified as "catastrophic-critical condition" upon his admission and gave him about an hour to live. The next day he upgraded him to "critical-critical condition". Today he was upgraded to "critical condition". Baby steps, but we are glad to have it, no matter how small the progress. We are just so very grateful for the many prayers and generosity and love that has been shown. Please keep praying. He needs a miracle. Good thing for us, our God is in the business of miracles!
The family maintained hope, and the number of people praying began to increase daily, people who didn’t even know the family were now calling out for him on a regular basis. There were literally thousands of people across the county calling upon God to work a miracle in Stephen’s life. He continued to make little slivers of improvement, but it was like 2 steps forward and one step back. At one point his blood pressure was 240/140 and his pulse raced to 180 bpm. Every time they touched him to check his blood sugar, every time they moved him to bathe him, his vitals spazzed out. Then we got this email:
Stephen's wife, Lisa just called and asking for all to pray. Stephen has a high fever that must be controlled. He is receiving more sedatives and is still on a vent. He has been making small improvements for 24 hours now, but is by no means out of the woods. He is still considered unstable & critical. We know our God is able. Jesus, if it be your will, we ask for healing!
Stephen’s wife Lisa was his champion and she had to fight for him, she urged people to pray and the medical staff to do their part as well. She was on a first name basis with the medical staff, through the whole ordeal she never left his side. People heeded her call to prayer and by the end of the day we received this email:
Praise Jesus his fever has come down! Its been a very emotional afternoon. The doctor is cautioning us to not have too much hope for his survival. We know we serve a mighty, powerful God and NOTHING is too big for Him.
Through out all of this, The family clung to a certain passage of Scripture:
Ps. 91 (Read passage)
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5 You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
9 If you make the Most High your dwelling—
even the Lord, who is my refuge—
10 then no harm will befall you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread upon the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
14 “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life will I satisfy him
and show him my salvation.” 1
When you read this right away you see that God provides peace in the midst of the turmoil. He doesn’t necessarily deliver us completely from it, but he walks with us though it. God reveals himself through our trials, to quote C.S. Lewis
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world”
- C.S. Lewis
God was able to speak to many through out this whole ordeal. There are many many details to this story, many more emails came to update the family on Stephen’s progress. This one though, is my favorite:
Family & Friends,
Hope you all are doing well and enjoying all the blessings this season brings. I know its been a few days since you have gotten an update on my brother, Stephen. I am surprised when I think that this all started almost 3 weeks ago. We are so grateful where HE has lead us, GOD is so very, very good. In a nutshell, Stephen's progress is amazing the doctors. Love it! Many of his doctors, nurses & respiratory therapists have come to tell him that he is their "Christmas miracle patient" this year. They have been honest with him that they were certain that he was going to die & how happy they are that his children still have their Daddy. Only our HEAVENLY FATHER knows the number of our days, right? They are now taking bets on the extent of improvement in his next echo-cardiogram (ultrasound of the heart). He will have that test done soon and we are anticipating good results as well. The plan was to send him to acute rehab for 4-6 weeks or so. Now, it looks like he will not need to go at all! He even walked from the 4th floor to the 2nd floor to see his docs & nurses from ICU last night. He may just be in his own bed in time for Christmas. Wow! PRAISE THE LORD! We don't want to take anything away from the wonderful doctors and nurses Stephen has had, but truly, this was DEVINE HEALING. There will be a lot of work & adjustments ahead of he & Lisa. He still has some confusion from all the medications. The doctors say this will eventually resolve. We are still concerned about his fever & pancreatitis. His heart needs much strengthening yet. The cause of all of this is still unclear. We know that GOD knows and HE is in control, we trust HIM fully. Be sure to read Psalm 91. It has become our family's theme scripture. Thanks to everyone who has prayed on our behalf, sent cards, flowers, food, visits. GOD has blessed our family with the most awesome extended family, church family & friends. I hope you all enjoy a very blessed Christmas, celebrating IMMANUEL, indeed, GOD with us!
It was great to read that update, but it was even better to hear from Steve himself.
I share this with you as a reminder that prayer does work, God hears and answers prayer in a mighty way, God still does miracles. I also share this because we all need to know that this gift wasn’t just given to a few. Jesus died for us all. The gift of his life as our sacrifice is the gift of all mankind given not because of our merit, anything we have done, but because he loves us.
Miracles are either an interruption into our cold reality or a glimpse into a another beautiful reality, the one God intends for us.
- Tom McComb
Life without God is a cold reality, something I am glad I do not face. Many do face it though, it is one of the great tools of the Deceiver to try to make us believe that God does not care about our troubles or that he doesn't exist and can't make a difference anyway. He would have us believe that God can't/won't see us in our distress, hear or answer our prayers, or work on our behalf and for our good. Those are lies, plain and simple. In Stephen’s story we have all the proof we need to the contrary. All they had for his life was the HOPE that God, out of his LOVE, would hear and answer these requests and we received JOY as we heard the stories of how God did the miraculous. And we have experienced his PEACE as a result. Stephen's story is proof to me that Jesus Christ really is Immanuel: God is with us.
Grace and Peace,
P.S. - Stephen still has a long ways to go before he is back onto the road to health. He and his family still need your prayers and support. You can follow his progress here at his personal website, http://www.stephendye.com