I have a confession to make. And it’s not about eating too many Christmas cookies– though that’s true. I’m confessing that Christmas is like just about everything else in life: we say it’s about You, but we make it about us.

It’s just so easy when there are foods we don’t need, cards we don’t read, gifts we can’t afford, people we don’t truly appreciate, songs we know all the words to but don’t think about, controversies that aren’t important compared to other struggles in the world, and lights that distract us from what else is going on around us.

It’s all flash with little substance. So I get it when people are up in arms about materialism and commercialism and “the reason for the season.” But what are they really fighting for? Are they fighting for You or for sentiment? For their own self-righteousness? I don’t know, and I don’t want to judge. But I think they wouldn’t need to be so contentious if they were actually about what they said they were about.

Nor would any of us feel the need to fill our holidays with all the trimmings. We might actually do it out of joy, but we wouldn’t need it. The insatiable hunger to make Christmas mean something wouldn’t drive our every December moment if we actually focused on what Christmas does mean.

I get caught up in it as much as anyone else. I love all the trimmings. It doesn’t take much searching for me to find sentimental value in any aspect of Christmas. But no matter what I do to admire tradition, appreciate my blessings, and enjoy my family, that growling hunger for meaning is still there. Without You, it might as well be empty.

It’s crazy how the time of year we celebrate You coming to be with us, we forget to celebrate by being with You.

Because that’s what it’s really all about.

When I first discovered the wonder of the concept of You being Immanuel, I thought it was just part of the Christmas story. A profound, epic part, but still just a part. After all, it’s really only based off one verse in the New Testament and a small prophesy in the Old. But every year, it’s been growing even bigger in my heart and mind. And this year, I’m convinced it’s not just part. Immanuel is the essence of Christmas.

Immanuel. God with us. You being with us is what it’s all about. All the details of how, when, and where are amazing and precious, but they’re all pointing to the who. And in this story, that’s You. But we’re there, as well. In the teenage girl obeying God even when doing so thrust her into scandal. In the young man standing by her side with incredible faith. In the poor and dirty shepherds getting the surprise of a lifetime. You came to them, and to us. But You didn’t just come for a moment and then disappear. That’s the beauty of You being born, living, and dying as one of us. You came to be with us.

“With” is the most beautiful preposition in the English language. It connects. And when You, Lord of all, plunged into humanity as a baby, it connected us. The Healer was with the broken. The Pure was with the stained. The Holy was with the sinful. The Light was with the darkness. The Creator was with the creation. The Savior was with the desperate. And though we’ve done nothing to deserve it, that trajectory of with-ness continues on through this very day.

God with us. It’s so simple, but it’s over our heads. It’s everything. The manger makes it possible. The cross makes it effectual. The empty tomb makes it eternal.

When I celebrate Christmas, I want to celebrate all that. You being with me– with us. That’s where the meaning is. That’s the heart of it all. I can’t make it mean anything on my own. It only means something with You. I don’t want it just to be about You. I want Christmas– and every moment of my life– to be with You.

It’s not like You aren’t with me sometimes. I know that. You’re always there. Always with me, even when I don’t feel You. Even when I don’t want You. But I let myself get distracted from being with You. Like someone who ignores their friends by spending all their time staring at their phone. I’m that person so often when it comes to You. And I don’t want to be. I want to be with You. I want to revel in Your presence. I want to listen for Your voice. I want to rest in Your love. I want the gift of Christmas to be a present reality at the forefront of my mind and heart always.

God with us. The songwriters of those classic Christmas hymns got it, and most of the time I don’t even notice it as I sing:

“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail the incarnate Deity,
pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.” — Hark, The Herald Angels Sing

“Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning,
Jesus, to thee be all glory given.
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing:
O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.” — O Come All Ye Faithful

“Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever and love me I pray
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care
And take us to heaven to live with Thee there” — Away in a Manger

Immanuel, I lift these words up to You. Thank You for being with us. That is everything to me. You are everything to me.