Here’s an Advent blessing: The Lord be with you. I know an elderly minister who makes that his sign off. “Great to see you!” he says. And: “The Lord be with you!” I’m charmed by the simplicity and power he conveys with those words. It’s a blessing that covers any eventuality—fear, sickness, anxiety—in the brightest and most genuine way. The Lord be with you.
Some churches use these words as the greeting at the beginning of the service, a practice taken from Boaz’s salute to the harvesters in the book of Ruth (2:4). Our congregation began the practice a number of years ago. I find it more fitting than the standard “Good morning”–a signal that we’re entering a different sort of space than the coffee shop or the hardware store or the grain elevator. Say “The Lord be with you,” and we evoke worship of the Triune God.
Advent is the preeminent season where we celebrate the Lord being with us. The gospels teach that Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s dangling prophecy: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14 KJV). King Ahaz got a foretaste of what it meant for the Lord to be with him when Isaiah first uttered that prophecy. The Syro-Ephraimite siege of Jerusalem was lifted, just as the prophet foretold, before a young woman could give birth to a child and that child learn right from wrong (7:15). In Jewish tradition, Ahaz’s son Hezekiah was the Immanuel sign. Maybe he was, though not the sign’s completion. If anything, Hezekiah was a foretaste—the little immanuel pointing to the greater Immanuel who was to come.
Jesus is the Word made flesh (John 1:14), and above all the word we see made flesh is The Lord be with you. Jesus signs God’s presence in all that he is and does and says. “Are you the one who is to come?” asks John the Baptist. “Or are we to wait for another?” (Matthew 11:3). Jesus responded: just look at the evidence and report what you see, “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matthew 11:4). That’s what it means for the Lord to be here and present and now and working. That’s the meaning of The Lord be with you.
I’ll confess that in an earlier stage of my life, I prayed for God’s action and saw God’s presence as a kind of consolation prize. As in: God didn’t heal your mom’s cancer, but at least he was with her. For me, it was as if God were just along for the ride, but helpless to influence events. But that sort of split doesn’t capture the way God’s presence is God’s action, that just as in Jesus’ ministry, wherever God shows up, healing and release and resurrection happen. The good news is always this: “The kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 10:7).
Jesus reveals God’s heart: his infinite desire to be with humanity. Jesus of Nazareth is Adam of Eden, redux and restored, God collapsing the jagged space wrenched open by sin. Jesus is the alpha and omega of God’s presence—God’s dream and God’s aim. “See, the home of God is among mortals” (Revelation 21:3). Here it is: God’s blessing, God’s goodness, God’s power, God’s presence. Here he is: Immanuel, born then, born now, coming again. The Lord be with you.