Elk City, Oklahoma

Turning "what if" doubts into "even if" faith!

Who Are You?

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Emmanuel, Emmanuel,

his name is called Emmanuel. 

God with us, revealed in us.

His name is called Emmanuel.”

         His name is called Emmanuel and I met him on my first trip to Guatemala over 20 years ago.  I wasn’t one of the original team members to go on this particular mission trip.  In fact, I only decide to go at the last minute (which seems to be the only way I get to Guatemala sometimes!) One of the team members had to cancel the day before the team left.  That same snowy, frozen January day, my youth group was to leave for our weekend retreat. But after talking with my youth sponsors about the 4 inches of snow, rain and sleet on the roads, we decided it was best that we not go on the retreat. So, I called the pastor to tell her we were canceling the retreat. I was expecting a little hesitation on her part but her response was, “Okay.  That’s fine. Do you want to go to Guatemala?”  

         I was standing in my kitchen with my jaw on the floor, my heart in my throat, and my brain doing cartwheels. I stood there wondering what it was that I was about to do… but I knew  well within my heart the answer.  Even though I was almost 30 year old at the time, I called my parents to tell them that I was leaving for Guatemala in the morning at 4:00a.m.! I ran around that day in the snow going to Target, trying to take care of missing classes at seminary (which meant missing the first week of class—and my professors were NOT impressed with my new found opportunity!)

         So there I was trying to re-organize my life from preparing for what was going to be a simple weekend retreat to preparing to go on a 10 day mission trip to Guatemala.  All in less than 18 hours!

         And so it was that I met Emmanuel.  Emmanuel was a young, hard working, Christian man who has worked for the National Methodist Church in Guatemala. Emmanuel was a vital person to the Volunteers in Mission (VIM) program in Guatemala.  Emmanuel was the experienced bus driver who worked with all of the VIM teams.  He was a trustworthy, dependable, honest person who I, and many others, trusted our lives with during mission trips.  Many teams from the U.S. request for Emmanuel to drive for their teams because he is that trustworthy. You see….you had to be able to trust your bus driver in Guatemala with your life…. for many interesting things can happen on the journey.  

So there we were on a six hour bumpy, dusty, bus ride down the winding dirt road to the village of San Juan Cotzal.  The roads were so steep that Emmanuel had even welded off part of his bus to accommodate the switchback roads.  Our team alone paid him $1800 to drive us, work with us, and be present with us for 10 days. He was funny, hard working, and a joy to be around.

         During our time in Guatemala, Emmanuel had spoken with a friend who told him that somebody else had been hired to drive the next four mission teams.  This did not make sense to Emmanuel because he had been working for the VIM office for three years and was told that this year he would be driving all the mission teams. Emmanuel had reason to believe that it was just a rumor that someone else had been hired. 

         On our last night in Guatemala, I saw Emmanuel at a table in the courtyard and from the way he was sitting I could sense there was something wrong.  As I approached Emmanuel, I could see he had been crying and I realized that his greatest fear came true. Emmanuel had been fired from his job of driving the mission teams.  

“Emmanuel, Emmanuel,

his name is called Emmanuel.”

         Initially, this was devastating news to Emmanuel. This had been a great job.

I know that some of the details got lost in the translation, but I remember that Emmanuel lost his job because one of the pastors of the church owed somebody a favor…someone other than Emmanuel. The pastor fulfilled this favor by firing Emmanuel and hiring a friend to drive the VIM teams. This left Emmanuel without a job and four kids and a wife to care for.  Emmanuel had been replaced….He felt depressed, discouraged, and disenchanted for there was nothing he could do to change the situation. Of course, my American way of doing things came from the point of view that said, “That’s not right! They can’t just fire you because they owe someone a favor.”  But, oh so humbly, Emmanuel said, “It’s okay…God is with me…”  

God with us, revealed in us.

His name is called Emmanuel.

Later that night at dinner,   I cried because I would be leaving the next day.  I cried because I had to leave a place where I had most fully experienced God’s presence in me and with me through the Guatemalan people….and especially in Emmanuel. And Emmanuel cried because he just lost his job. And Emmanuel said this….. “You cry because you have to leave.  I cry because I have to stay.”  And in that very moment, I knew God was with us.  I knew that the God who would give peace and comfort to Emmanuel was the same God that would give me peace and comfort; different people, different situations…. but the same God with us and revealed in us. 

 Because Emmanuel knew who He was and who’s he was, he was able to believe that everything will be fine….even though he had just lost his job.  He knew that his identity wasn’t wrapped up in a neat little package of being a bus driver.  He knew that what he did for a living didn’t solely define who he is…..

Emmanuel the bus driver taught me that when times are depressing, discouraging and disenchanting we find out who we are and we find out who Emmanuel the Christ child is.  We won’t find peace and comfort in the drama and chaos that all too often surrounds us and blinds us and prevents us from seeing Emmanuel–Christ child– in the manger.  Emmanuel taught me that God is with us no matter what.  He taught me that we are never without God’s presence, power, and promise of the coming of the Christ child who never leaves us and  

Emmanuel, Emmanuel,

his name is called Emmanuel. 

The words of that hymn tell us who Jesus is…..We call Jesus by the name of Emmanuel….which does mean God with us.  I think that if we asked Jesus the same question the priests and Levites asked John, “Who are you?”  The simple answer from Jesus would be…I am Emmanuel….I am God with you. 

In this Advent season, we don’t have to simply wait for Jesus to be with us…for in Advent we discover that God comes to us in Jesus Christ who never abandons us, fires us from a job, or leaves us alone in foreign lands.  Emmanuel promises to be with us always:

         *even if a biopsy comes back positive

         *even if the money never seems to make it to the end of the month

         *even if the drama and stress feels like it will never end.

         *even if the days feel like they slip away like sand through the hourglass.

         *even when the gospel holy day of Christmas is all too often a consumer holiday

Advent is more than a journey to Guatemala or to the shopping mall. It is a journey to Bethlehem …may we be guided by the star that we find at the end of the journey…hanging there….just above the manger.  And that infant in the manger….that Christ child who is Emmanuel…..who is God with us….he will guide us on the journey…for many interesting things can happen along the way….…

This journey to Bethlehem isn’t easy… was never meant to be easy.  We are challenged on the journey….challenged to testify to the power of Christ in our own lives….we are challenged to be prepared to know who are and we are challenged to proclaim to the world what Emmanuel is up to.  And that is exactly what Emmanuel the bus driver did.  In knowing who he is… he knows who Christ is……he knows what it means to witness to Christ…..For being able to witness to Christ means being able to answer the question “who are you?”

         In our gospel lesson today John the Baptist was asked that same question……..The priests and Levites didn’t ask him, “what do you do”, but they asked him, “WHO are you?” Interestingly enough though….that in this Gospel According to John, John is never identified by the title of “the Baptist” he is just John and he knows who he is.  He knows who he is…he knows that he has one purpose and one purpose only……to witness to Emmanuel…the Christ child… who we meet along the journey.

         The journey will end and we will arrive at Bethlehem and somewhere, sometime, someplace along the journey you just might be asked, “Who are you?” 

         May you meet Emmanuel on your advent journey just as I met Emmanuel on my Guatemalan journey. 

Emmanuel, Emmanuel,

his name is called Emmanuel.

God with us, revealed in us.

His name is called Emmanuel.

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