The Emergency Room doctor finally came into our room in the early morning hours to inform us that the children’s hospital a couple of hours away, had room for us. “Go home, pack your bags, and get a few hours of sleep.” They will be ready for you when you get there.”

Over the past week, our son’s epilepsy had spiraled out of control. The Emergency Room doctor decided it was time to get specialized help for our son. We followed his instructions and headed home for a few hours. As I packed our bags, my heart sank. Our house looked like an EF5 tornado had torn through it. The dishes were piled high. The laundry was overflowing onto the floor. It had taken so much of my physical and emotional energy to try to get Jaron’s seizures under control, I had nothing left to give to maintaining the house. I didn’t want to leave it in such a state of disarray, but there was no time to deal with it. We caught a few hours of sleep, dropped our other son off at a friend’s house, and headed down the highway with the hope the children’s hospital would have answers and a solution to our son’s seizures.

By the grace of God they did. After five days in the hospital, Jaron was given a diagnosis and a treatment plan. As we were headed back home I had a feeling of dread. How was the house going to smell? How many days was it going to take for me to recover the house from the chaos that reigned before we left? I got out of the car and headed for the door. As I turned the handle and pushed on the door, I braced myself for the stench I knew had been percolating in my home for the last week, but the smell of rotting food didn’t accost me. Instead, a freshly vacuumed and dusted living room greeted me. The dining room table and kitchen counters were no longer stacked with dirty dishes and covered with crumbs. Instead, a spotless, decluttered kitchen glistened back at me. I wandered into the bedrooms. All the laundry had been washed and folded neatly on the dressers. Someone even had the kindness of heart to scrub the toilet clean.

As I stared in gratitude at the gift given to me, I began to cry. It was one of those cries that comes from feeling unworthy and so very loved all at the same time. A cry of joy and relief. It was a cry that comes from knowing you have been in the presence of God and received a blessing. In that moment I knew that God was with me–not because I saw His shining face, or heard His voice speak to me, but because I saw Him living and active in His church through those who showed up in our time of need.

We often think of Immanuel “God with Us” as an experience that only happened to those blessed people who were able to walk alongside Jesus two thousand years ago. But when Jesus’ resurrected body left to prepare a place for us, His presence didn’t leave the earth. It returned as the Holy Spirit working through His church. As 1 Corinthians 12:27 says, “We are the body of Christ.” And Jesus’s body loves, serves, sacrifices, comforts, and heals. When we use the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to us, we continue Jesus’s work on earth. We show the world that God is still with us.

Think about it for a moment. When you choose to use your gift of listening to encourage the lonely stranger at the store, you are loving like Jesus to that person. When you use the gift of cooking to provide for a new mother, you are serving like Jesus. When you sit with someone going through a season of mourning, you are comforting like Jesus. Whenever you choose to care for someone, that person gets the chance to experience God through the Holy Spirit working through you just like when the members of my church used their gifts to reclaim my house from chaos. They performed a miracle in my life. They showed that God knew exactly what I needed and used His people to provide it.

What an indescribable privilege it is, that the God of the universe would choose to use us to love His creation. Looking around at our broken world, it isn’t hard to see that it is in desperate need of the presence of God flowing through His people. The world needs us to be God’s hands to hug, comfort, and serve–to be His voice bringing good news of love and hope. The strengths and gifts we have could be used to bring light and encouragement to those who are experiencing darkness and sorrow, if we are boldly willing to use them.

As we close one year and look ahead to another, I pray that we will have eyes to see the needs of those around us and the courage to follow the Spirit’s guidance, so others too may have the opportunity to experience, Immanuel “God With Us.”