God With Us
One of the texts our church choir sang on Sunday was “The Hands That First Held Mary’s Child.” This Thomas Troeger poem, along with Dan Forrest’s musical setting is such a moving expression of the reality that God is with us.
When we read the story of God and his people, we see that God has always been with his people. But in the miraculous conception of Jesus and the subsequent birth, “God with us” took on new meaning. The awe-factor was multiplied beyond anyone’s imagination. If God’s people had any doubts as to whether God was really with them, the pre-existent Son of God, through whom everything was created, confirmed that “God is with us” by becoming human. The Son of God is willing to be cradled by hard, yet loving, hands. And then he’s willing to be executed by hard, cruel hands.
The poem and the music are emotionally gripping, for sure, but Joseph’s response was more. When Joseph understood that he was holding the fulfilled promise, he worshipped. Do we?
The final stanza calls us to a more radical response. Are we willing to follow the way of Jesus? Are we willing to do more than merely “hold the child”? This one requires faith, for sure, because the way of Jesus is a way of suffering. If your heart just changed from worship to fear, you’re not alone. But here’s the thing—God is still with us. That’s what He continues to show us. So, we pray for faith and we pray for boldness to “follow in his way,” knowing that Jesus has done what is necessary to fix the brokenness. Just like men, women and children waited through suffering for their Messiah to come the first time, so we wait for him to come again.
In the meantime, Jesus has not forsaken us—he has given us his Spirit—He is with us.
The hands that first held Mary’s child were hard from working wood.
From boards they sawed and planed and filed and splinters they withstood.
This day they gripped no tool of steel, they drove no iron nail,
But cradled from the head to heel our Lord, newborn and frail.
When Joseph marveled at the size of that small breathing frame,
And gazed upon those bright new eyes and spoke the infant’s name.
The angel’s words he once had dreamed poured down from heaven’s height;
And like the host of stars that beamed blessed earth with welcome light.
“This child shall be Emmanuel, not God upon the throne,
But God with us, Emmanuel, as close as blood and bone.”
The tiny form in Joseph’s palms confirmed what he had heard;
And from his heart rose hymns and psalms for heaven’s human word.
The tools that Joseph laid aside a mob would later lift
And use with anger, fear, and pride to crucify God’s gift.
Let us, O Lord, not only hold the child who’s born today,
But charged with faith may we be bold to follow in His way.
Words by Thomas Troeger (2010 Oxford University Press)