Headlights shine like lanterns in the night as the tires glide into parking spots, leading us and inviting us in. Children hold the hands of mothers and grandmothers as they enter the expectant sanctuary. Friends introduce distant aunts and second cousins to the familiar church family as they slide quietly into the pew.

It seems the whole world is beaming and vibrant, yet quiet and still.

I always scoot in at the very last minute, waving at friends and family members, slipping fuzzy gloves into the pockets of a warm coat. Oh, how I adore a room full of old and new faces all anticipating the sweet celebration of Him.

Many faces in this church building are guests, but few are strangers.

Peeking to the left, it thrills my heart to see my farmer grandpa and my dearest friends in the same place, gathering to worship our King and to sing of Him as an infant in the manger. We’re all guests to the throne of God, bringing our less than perfect, torn-up, tired, battered hearts and laying them down for His glory with abundant gratitude for all He has done. Immanuel, God with us, remains faithful in every season.

Tonight, we lay aside the hustle and bustle of the past weeks as a united body of believers.

We gather and isn’t it stunningly beautiful? We don’t gather around the comfort of tradition or the thrill of merriment, although I enjoy both immensely! We gather around a manger.

Our hearts collectively join in more of a harmony than a unison as our souls adore the Savior.

This is the reality of my Christmas Eve. In my little part of the world, it feels and looks and smells like joy. I know this isn’t everyone’s story. Someone is lonely. Someone is without a family. Someone is hungry. The baby in the manger is the Savior of this whole, wide world. He is with each and every tired, hurting soul. The real beauty of Christmas is found in the presence of Immanuel.

My heart is with my friends in Haiti this Christmas and every Christmas. I know they are celebrating with a zealous enthusiasm, because these friends are full of passionate joy in Jesus! They are happy and singing.

My heart only aches because miles and cultures seem so far away and I find myself overwhelmed by the shared occasion, both here and there. It’s the birthday celebration of our King, our shared Savior. I imagine the fried plantains on a bed of white rice with beans on the side. My mouth waters. The delicious meal is well-suited to honor the Giver of all good things. My mind in another place, I quickly pray that they’re having the best time! We have a Savior.

God is with us. The very definition of Immanuel warms my soul from the inside out as someone opens the door to the farmhouse and winter rushes in, the chill dancing among the heat from a wood stove. We share grandma’s peanut butter fudge and the sausage from my dad’s deer.

And your Christmas? I’d guess your Christmas has traditions, quirks, and celebrations of your very own. How beautiful.

What a privilege to gather at the manger of the very Father, manifested as a newborn, that created such diversity.

Wherever you are in this season, friend? Whether you celebrate with plantains or deer sausage this Christmas? If your church is filled with candles or your heart is heavy with pain? Sweet friend, please know that Jesus is for you. He is Immanuel, God with us. He is for us all. Wherever this finds you, please lift your hands to Him and know that you are loved by the Messiah who came as a tiny baby to save us all.

He is for you and with you even right now. You are the reason He came.

May your heart be held by the love and promise of Immanuel this Christmas. May this season be defined by His goodness and His unfailing love. May this be the most sacred Christmas.