Emmanuel: God is (Still) With Us

Post Author: Caela Simmons Wood

Earlier this week, I ran into Jesus on Facebook.

I was scrolling aimlessly through my news feed, and saw that my friend Rev. Tisha Brown, who pastors a UCC church up in Madison, had posted a video with this note: “This is incredible – not only feeding but loving the poor. I wish I was this compassionate and willing to give everything to serve my sisters and brothers like this man does.”

Well, that sounded pretty cool to me, so I decided to click on the video and watch it.

The video opens with an image of a Hindu temple in Madurai, India. A man’s voice can be heard over images of a busy street and close ups of streetpeople lying on the edge of the road.

He says, “I finished my college here. I was working for Taj Group of Hotels Bangalore. I saw a very old man. He was eating his own human waste for hunger.”

The camera focuses on a young man who is speaking directly to me, sitting on the other side of the world. He says, “I thought what is the purpose of my life? What am I going to do? In my star hotel, I feed all my guests, but in my hometown there are people who are living, even without food. I quit my job and I started feeding all these people from 2002.”

The voice of Christ – right there on Facebook. This time of year, we typically are on the lookout for the advent of Christ in our world – but we often expect the Spirit of Christ to hit us in more predictable ways. Perhaps we feel it move among us as the candles are lit and Silent Night is sung at church. Or we see a newborn baby with her parents and realize God is still being born into the world – even today.

I don’t know about you, but I just didn’t expect to see a video of the living Christ on Facebook. Of all places!

I have to admit. It actually took me a few days to realize this was Christ speaking to me through my laptop. I was taken with the video immediately. In it, Narayanan Krishna dices, stirs, and lifts giant pots of food. He drives around town in his truck, delivering food to the destitute, mentally ill, and elderly. Every day, he delivers breakfast, lunch, and dinner to 400 people living on the streets of Madurai.

But he does more than just deliver food. He delivers love.

In the video, Mr. Krishna gets out of his truck and opens his arms wide as a young, shirtless boy walks into him. They share a long embrace. Mr. Krishna has trained himself to offer eight styles of haircuts. He gently washes and dries the faces of the homeless as he offers them a shave. He massages their temples as he shampoos and trims their hair.

Mr. Krishna says, “For them to feel, psychologically, that they are also human beings – that there are people to care for them – they have a hand to hold, hope to live. Food is one part. Love is another part. So the food will give them physical nutrition. The love and affection which you show will give them mental nutrition.”

After watching the video one time, I shared it on my wall so others could see it, and then I temporarily forgot about it. But it just wouldn’t leave me alone. I watched it several more times over the next few days. Then I started hunting for more information about this man – who isn’t named in the original video I saw. From CNN’s website, I learned more about his life.

Turns out that since he’s from a Brahmin family, Mr. Krishna is not supposed to be doing this work. As a part of the Hindu priestly class, he should not be feeding, touching, cleaning these people. His family was initially horrified when he began this work. They were upset that he was wasting the expensive education they had provided for him.

When he quit his full-time job in 2002 he was well on his way to climbing the ladder as a chef. He had recently secured a transfer to a fancy hotel in Switzerland, but when he visited his hometown and saw the poverty there, he couldn’t move to Europe. When he finally convinced his mom to come see the work he was doing, she was transformed. She spent the day working with him and then immediately pledged to do anything in her power to help him live out his dream. Mr. Krishna, who is 29 years old, lives off of a meager allowance provided by his parents so that he can continue his work.

Brahmin or not, Mr. Krishna insists that these streetpeople deserve love. He says, “Everybody has got 5.5 liters of blood. I am just a human being. For me, everybody the same. There are thousands and thousands and lots and lots of people suffering. What is the ultimate purpose of life? It is to give. Start giving. See the joy of giving.”

I saw another video about him on CNN.com and learned that he gets up at 4:00am each day to begin cooking. He doesn’t slow down until after dinner is delivered and cleaned up. He does this every day – no holidays, rain or shine. Mr. Krishna says, “Others find it difficult to do this. I don’t find it difficult. My vision and my ideals are very clear. The happiness in their face keeps me going. I take energy from them. I want to save my people. That is the purpose of my life.”

And it was that phrase – “I want to save my people” – that made me realize why I couldn’t get Mr. Krishna out of my mind. He is the Spirit of the Living Christ.

Jesus came into the word to save his people. That’s what the Gospel of Matthew tells us this morning. And, apparently, Narayanan Krishna came to do the same thing. I’m not saying Jesus of Nazareth and Mr. Krishna are the same person, of course. But they both represent a specific reality – the Spirit of Christ – alive and well in our world.

Let’s get some terms straight before we confuse ourselves any further.

Jesus was the name of a particular baby boy whose birth we celebrate this time of year. It was a common name in his time and place. It was probably pronounced Yeshua and it’s where we get our name, Joshua. It means “YHWH saves” – which is why the angel told Joseph to “name the child Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Christ comes from the Greek Christos, which is a translation of the Hebrew word for Messiah. It means “the anointed one.” It can be used to refer to the one person who is more anointed than all others – but it can also be used to refer to anyone who is anointed. In fact, the ruler of Persia, Cyrus, is referred to as Messiah in the book of Isaiah because he had been anointed by God to escort the people of Israel back to their homeland after the Babylonian Exile. Cyrus wasn’t even Jewish and he was called Messiah – anointed one – by the prophet Isaiah.

And then we have Emmanuel – God is with us. We see that name for Jesus in Matthew’s text – “the virgin shall conceive and bear a child and they will name him Emmanuel – God is with us.” Matthew is quoting from a much older text, the one we heard from the book of Isaiah earlier this morning. Traditionally, Christians have believed that the prophet Isaiah was predicting the birth of Jesus Christ, but it is fairly apparent when you read the book of Isaiah that this was not the case. Isaiah was writing to a specific time and people and he was writing about the birth of another baby. Isaiah told King Ahaz that while this child was an infant, the two kingdoms Ahaz feared, Damascus and Syria, would be defeated by Assyria. The child, Immanuel, signified that God was with the people Israel and that all would be well.

Whew! Okay – enough with the vocabulary lesson. I guess the point I’m trying to make here is this – when I say that I ran into Jesus on Facebook in the person of Mr. Krishna, I’m not being totally accurate. Jesus was a particular person who lived a long time ago. But he was called Jesus because he embodied the Spirit of Christ – the anointed one. And he was Emmanuel – God with us.

I believe that part of what it means to be a people of the Resurrection is to recognize that while the person Jesus of Nazareth is not walking around today, the Spirit of Christ and the reality of Emmanuel are still alive and well. Christ cannot die. God is always with us.

Matthew uses the Isaiah text to say, “Hey, folks, pay attention. Because do you remember what God did when that baby Immanuel was born a few hundred years ago? Remember the story about how King Ahaz learned from Isaiah that his people were about to be saved from their foes? Well, that’s what I’m talking about when I’m talking about this baby, Jesus. This baby reminds us that God is with us, just like that one did.”

And, really, don’t we all need to be reminded from time to time that God is with us?

The good news of Christmas is not just that God came in a baby boy wrapped in swaddling clothing and lying in a manger. The good news of Christmas is that God comes again and again.

God is still with us, just as God was with the people of Israel when Ahaz was King, and as God was with the Jews living and struggling to persevere in the Roman Empire. God does not quit.

When you find out your mom has cancer, God is with you. And God does not quit.

When you are staring at a bottle of pills and wondering if you really want to wake up tomorrow, God is with you. And God does not quit.

When you break someone’s heart because of a stupid, selfish choice, God is with you. And God does not quit.

And if you’re lying on the side of a street in Madurai, India – eating your own waste because you are literally starving to death, God is with you. And God does not quit.

God sends people – tiny babies and big grown men and little girls and old grandfatherly types and everyone in between – God sends people to be the presence of God to a broken world.

When Narayanan Krishna wakes up at 4:00 in the morning and begins chopping onions and carrots, when he loads up his truck, and when he hugs those kids on the street – he is doing more than just bringing himself along. He is bringing the very Sprit of Christ into the world day in and day out. He is Emmanuel – God with us. He felt a call to save his people and he is living it out in the streets of Madurai each and every day.

I think the only way to sustain this wild and crazy kind of behavior day in and day out is to truly be called to do this work. I don’t believe that every person sitting here today is called to save their people. But I would be willing to wager that a few folks might be.

This Advent season, as we await the birth of Jesus Christ, we also await the birth of the Spirit of Christ in our own time and place. It’s more than just a story, folks. It’s reality. The shocking and incredulous and simple and real gospel truth is that God is still with us.

God is breaking into our world in every crack and crevice that can be found. And all we have to do is pay attention and say yes.

Thanks be to God.

Editor’s Note:  This sermon, “Emmanuel: God is (Still) With Us” uses Matthew 1:18-25 and was prepared for t First United Church on Sunday, December 19, 2010 (fourth Sunday of Advent). This sermon was previously published on the First United Church website and Caela’s personal sermon blog (revcaela.blogspot.com). More information about Narayanan Krishna’s foundation, The Akshaya Trust, can be found at: www.akshayatrust.org .

Rev. Caela Simmons Wood is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She has served as the Associate Minister at First United Church of Bloomington, Indiana since January 2010. Caela has a Master of Theological Studies from Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas and a Master of Divinity from Christian Theological Studies in Indianapolis. Caela was raised in Kansas, where she met her future husband, David, in youth group. Since moving to Indiana, they’ve added a beagle and a son to their family. Caela spends too much time on facebook.

 Photo Credit: by The Fluffy Owl, http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/7856630628/ via href=”http://photopin.com”.  Used by Creative Commons License 2.0.

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