Emmanuel. God with us.
For a lot of us, these words will conjure images of angels appearing, of a baby in a manger, of wise men from the East…of, well, Christmas. But here we are, halfway through the year, and we’re still talking about God with us.
We don’t always think about Pentecost in these terms. Different traditions place different emphases on the Day of Pentecost, the day that the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and marked the beginning of the Church (see Acts 2 for the full story). Some seem to emphasize the gifts that the Spirit brings, whether those are our talents or supernatural gifts. Some seem to want to downplay Pentecost, recognizing how divisive conversations about the Spirit can be.
But at its heart, Pentecost is the culmination of the promise that God has been telling us over and over: I will live with you. I will be “God with you.” He promised this to Israel and the glory of God dwelt in the Temple. In the person of Jesus, God dwelled with us and showed us how he loves and acts and laughs and cries.
However, for all their wonder and glory, those were just whispers of Pentecost. The glory of God was in one place, the Temple. Even in Jesus, “God with us” was limited to one place.
But Pentecost blows open the doors of “God with us.” The Father sends the Holy Spirit who dwells within those who follow Jesus, making them mini-temples, places of renewal and life.
It’s God with us on a grander scale than we’ve ever seen before.
And God knew we needed it. The ethics and teachings of Jesus aren’t always easy to follow. The call of Jesus to lay down our life to follow him fights against all of our selfish inclinations. We know ourselves, and abandoned to our own devices, we make little movement towards God, preferring the sofa to sanctification.
But God has never been a God of abandonment or a God who sits back and observes how things take their course. He has always come and been among us, and Pentecost celebrates that fact. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes that we may be formed more and more into the likeness of Jesus, not by our own power, but by God himself.
Pentecost is a promise, a promise of transformation, but it’s also a relief. We don’t do all of this on our own. We don’t muster up the strength to just be better people. We do it with our “with us” God. We do it through, in, and because we have a God who is always Emmanuel.
If you want to dig deeper into this season of Pentecost, here are some things to think about and reflect on with those around you.
- What is your experience with Pentecost in the church? Do you have memories of specific traditions or was it widely ignored?
- What feelings does the truth that the Holy Spirit is living within us conjure up? Are they feelings of relief, anxiety, or something else?
- What are some ways we can daily embrace that God is with us and how can we reorient ourselves to invite the Holy Spirit into our lives?