Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Matthew 1:23
God with us. I think those are some of my favorite words from the Christmas story.
God has a way to come to us when we don’t even know how to get to Him. He can make Himself real to us.
Three years ago on December 1st, I woke up out of a sound sleep to my husband yelling, “He’s killing her! He’s killing her!” Really it was in the middle of the night for us when the screaming and crashing started in front of my neighbor Mary’s house. It sounded like it was right outside our bedroom window.
Petrified, that my neighbor’s boyfriend was finally killing her, I grabbed my phone. I was shaking and disoriented as I dialed the police.
As we waited for the police to show up, Todd and I crouched, peering through the blinds. Mary’s boyfriend was bashing in her van with a metal bar. Glass was shattering, and objects were being thrown around.
It seemed like it was taking the police so long to come. By the time they did arrive, everything was quiet, and the fight was over. The officer went to the door and knocked, but of course no one answered. The officer looked around with his flashlight at the aftermath—glass, furniture, and the van. Then, since he couldn’t find anyone at Mary’s, he came over to our house to talk to us. “Great!” I thought. “Now they will know who called the police!”
Later, I tried to go back to bed. Maybe it seemed the neighborhood was back to peace, but to me it wasn’t. I didn’t know where Mary’s boyfriend was hiding out and if he had found out that we were the ones who had called the police. He was obviously out of his head. It seemed to me that hate and violence were still in the air, invading my little sanctuary. Even a couple hours later, when it was time for me to go pray at the church, I didn’t want to. Somehow the thought of going through the dark didn’t feel the same after the fight.
At the time, I was teaching fifth and sixth grade at Independence Bible School. It had been a rough night, but I went through the motions of the day which started with a new event for December—Donuts with Dad. As a teacher, I was helping at the event. The dorm cafeteria was crammed with the fathers and students, sharing donuts, but my mind was preoccupied.
Sitting at one of the round tables at the dorm, Todd and I shared the events of the night with a friend of ours Daniel Knight, a Baptist minister in nearby Coffeyville, Kansas. We talked about Mary and our concern. We told about how we had been praying for her and how we thought she was being killed. We didn’t know if one of these days, it would be a reality.
A few days later, Mary felt like she needed help. She thought maybe she could get assistance on her utilities. She got out her phone and looked up a phone number of a church at random. I don’t know why she didn’t try a number in Independence; maybe she was trying to call somewhere where no one knew her. She found a phone number of a Baptist church in Coffeyville…a Rev. Daniel Knight answered.
She started telling him about what her needs were. Finally Daniel told her, “What you really need is Jesus.”
Mary told him, “I have neighbors who are Christians. If I ever get Jesus, I’d like to have what they have.”
An amazing thing happened. All of a sudden, Daniel just knew who she was. “Wait a minute. Are your neighbors the Hamiltons?” he asked her.
“Who?” she asked, not knowing my last name.
“Todd and Elizabeth,” he told her.
Mary was overwhelmed. “Yes!” she told him. How could he have possibly known? She started looking around for a black drone in disbelief. Was someone spying on her?
“Todd and Elizabeth are my friends,” he said. “They told me about you, and they are praying for you!” Daniel got a beautiful opportunity to pray for Mary right on the phone. Then later when we got home, she came over and let us pray for her too.
I was in awe! Between Coffeyville and Independence, there are around 19,000 people. There are dozens of churches in the area, but Daniel was the ONLY preacher that I had mentioned Mary to at that school event. The only one! And out of all of those thousands of people, Mary just happened to call the only preacher who at that time knew I was praying for her? God had planned a day of visitation for Mary. He was going to make Himself real to her! He loved her! He could reach down and orchestrate the whole thing.
God with us. He is not the God far off, but the God who draws near. That is why I have had hope as I have prayed for those fighting for their lives this winter, those with cancer, diabetes, and Covid—because I know He is the God who can come to us when we cannot come to where He is.
There will be a day of visitation. In the Bible it mentions those that knew “not the time of thy visitation.” All over Bethlehem and bustling in and out of the temple in Jerusalem, there were many who were not aware of the visitation. I want to be aware!
God drew near two thousand years ago and became God with us, and then three years ago, He drew near to my neighbor, arranging meetings and getting personal in her life. Today in this season, He is longing to draw near and make Himself real.
Be near me, Lord Jesus,
I ask You to stay
Close by me forever
And love me, I pray
-William J. Kirkpatrick
As Emmanuel draws near, I want to respond and invite Him to stay. God with us. Merry Christmas!
*Those of you who know my neighbor, know that her name is not Mary. I changed her name for this post.