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“And they shall call His name Immanuel, which translated means ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:23)

It was at this time last year that I became aware of the seriousness of Jim’s illness. “He looks like the life is ebbing out of him,” I thought as I watched him slowly walk to the bedroom to lie down, looking pale, tired, and weak. Quickly brushing aside those thoughts, I focused on scheduling doctor appointments for him.

Nevertheless, we went through the Christmas season with its traditions. We spent an afternoon at Disneyland exactly one year ago today, enjoying a beautiful choral Christmas concert there.  Noticeably weak, Jim managed to keep up the pace.

One week later Jim climbed the ladder to the attic and brought down the Christmas decorations.  Traditionally, we have put the tree lights on together. (I am all thumbs when it comes to hanging lights.) I knew Jim was in pain, but he characteristically did not complain as he lovingly and patiently attached each light to the tree’s branches.  This was his labor of love for me, sacrificially giving of himself for his bride, loving me just as Christ loves His Church and laid down His life for her. (Ephesians 5:25)

As Christmas neared, one day he entered the house after having been gone for awhile, frustrated over his failure to find a Christmas gift for me. I assured him that I was more than happy with the new study Bible (in Spanish) that we had ordered for me, and that the greatest gift was having him with me.

Christmas Eve came.  He encouraged me to attend the Christmas Eve service alone, as he did not have the energy to attend and still be able to preach the next morning.  Of course, I was worried.

The following day, Sunday, was Christmas Day. Jim preached a beautiful sermon.  It was to be his last.  On the way home he confessed that he had thought he was not going to be able to finish the sermon and then greet the people afterward, so great was his weakness and pain.

Our family celebrated together the next day. Jim could not assume his usual role of reading the Christmas story and joyfully distributing the family gifts from under the tree.  Not this year.  He sat in the recliner, pale, weak, and in pain, leaving in the middle of the festivities in order to lie down.  Not one of us in the family could have imagined that the following days would find Jim in the hospital, culminating in a diagnosis of incurable, untreatable cancer that was blocking his intestinal track. This would be his last Christmas with us.

I kept the tree up well into January. Upon returning home from the hospital each night, I sat in the stillness of the living room, the only lights in the room those that twinkled on the Christmas tree. It was hard for me to remove that tangible reminder of those last happy moments hanging the lights on the tree together– Jim’s sacrificial gift of love to me. I could almost feel his presence.

Jim is not with me this Christmas. In the midst of loss, life still goes on.  Tonight my son, Steve,  helped me put the lights on the tree.  Did I miss Jim?  Of course. . I spoke of him constantly while we worked.  “Dad did the lights like this,” I would tell Steve.

I have shed a few tears today. But mixed with the tears of sadness were tears of gratitude.  Thankful because I know I am not alone.  God is with me! He has shown me time and time again in the year since last Christmas that He is my Immanuel – my “God with me.”  In the good times and in the bad time.  In happy family holiday times, in lonely moments.  My Immanuel is with me –  today and every day!

Immanuel. God with us. this is the beauty of Christmas.

 

Questions to ponder:

Do you know this Emmanuel personally?

Can you think of a time when it was especially meaning to you to know that God is with you?

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