Advent Meditations from La Vida, Part One: The Hopeful Answer of Immanuel

In this challenging holiday season, the La Vida Center for Outdoor Education and Leadership team has encountered encouragement, joy, curiosity and hope. As a result of these experiences, they present four Advent devotionals composed by members of the core office staff. Register to receive La Vida’s Advent devotionals via email >

By Kate McMillan, La Vida office and finance manager

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” —Romans 8:38–39 (NIV)

These two verses are the summation of a wonderfully difficult and yet reassuring chapter of the Bible. Excerpts from Romans 8 have passed through my thoughts over the last several years as I have experienced the loss of friends, mentors and a family member. The events of 2020 were like icing on a sour cake. As with many, I have not had a season like this yet in my life and I have found that it has held dichotomies that have both tested and deepened my faith.

One example is when I had to tell my children that a friend of ours, a Christian, had passed away. My son asked me, “Why are you crying when you know they are with Jesus, aren’t they better off there then here?” I struggled to come up with an answer that felt sufficient. I felt the need to provide insight into this crucial moment, but I was confused myself.

Was I being selfish and focusing on my own loss instead of rejoicing for my friend? Was something lacking in me? Faith? Joy? Hope?

I turned to the Psalms and to other Biblical passages of lament. I found relief in the many examples of how one can feel a multitude of warring emotions and find God’s favor. More than anything though, I was left with the word “separation.”

Separation may be the most tangible way we experience the effect of sin in the world. I was deeply mourning the separation from those I knew who had passed. Death is by far the most extreme form of separation, but I began to notice how I experienced separation daily, even in small ways.

When COVID hit and social distancing ensued, we all experienced another form of separation, one imposed from outside ourselves. It has become a physical manifestation of what we feel already with our families, church members, coworkers, friends. This then multiplied throughout the year due to the extreme polarization around discussions of politics, race, and social issues which have created an ideological gap in the relationships that were already under strain. So much separation . . .

But God foreknew all things —yes, even 2020— from before the Garden of Eden when separation first occurred. God saw this great divide and sent Christ, Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” Immanuel is the truth that God fulfills his promises with his presence, his indwelling and his love. The truth of Immanuel means that Christians see and mourn separation just as creation groans as well. But our hope is ever deeper knowing that our Savior sees the separation we face and promises that a time is coming when it will be no more.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you experienced anything this year that has tested and deepened your faith?
  • How have you felt the pain of separation these past few months? What questions has it evoked within you?
  • When you hear the name “Immanuel,” what reaction does it create within you? How often do you take the time to truly consider God’s presence in and among us?
  • What hope do you have for this Advent season? What hope do you have for the coming year?