"So Dark is our situation that God Himself must enter and occupy it in order that it may be light. We cannot fully understand the Christian 'God with us' without the greatest astonishment at the glory of the divine grace and the greatest horror at our own plight."–Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, The Doctrine of Reconciliation, IV.1, p 13
There are lonely times in life, times when we don't understand why things are the way they are, times when we do not understand why God is so silent, times when we feel like the presence of God is galaxies away–or question whether he exists at all. The Psalmists were not afraid to ask such questions or feel such feelings. I am learning not to be afraid to ask the same questions, to use the words of the Psalms to express what I cannot otherwise express. I mean, God forbid a god-fearing Evangelical Christian ever dare to question whether or not God is 'there.'
Even an uncareful reading of the Psalms brings us back to reality. Seriously, why would the Psalmist say something like 'come quickly, Lord, to help me' (Psalm 40:13) if, in fact, God were already there helping? Surely the Psalmist was feeling the full of weight, or lack thereof, of the theological vacuum: Where was God in my time of need, in my darkest hour, when others were running roughshod all over my name, reputation, family, and career? Why does the Psalmist have to 'wait patiently' (40:1) for the Lord if the Lord is already there and not, as it were, making sure things were going well on another planet fully of people?
That's just one Psalm. Believe me, if you haven't read them, there are others. Many others that utter the same audacious things: Where is God when I need him most? This is how we can talk to God who is 'with us.'
Growing up in the church we are taught that reverence for God is important (it is!) and that we should whisper our prayers and be careful what we say to God. We should have our heads down and hands folded, bowing, as it were. I think maybe we should learn to pray from the ancient Hebrews who wrote the Psalms: they were loud, audacious, fish-shaking, crying, weeping, moaning, complaining, shouting, worried, fearful, and honest with God. They held nothing back from him at all.
So, Matthew's Gospel and God with us. It starts and ends the same way, not with someone asking 'where are you God?' but with someone noting or telling us that 'God is with us' (1:23, 28:20) and that he has promised never to leave us. It is God who came into this space–not merely to inhabit space, but to walk with us, among us, and beside us. To be near us, is part of the goal. 'God with us' when Mary and Joseph were running all over the earth to protect that very God from the likes of humanity that he came to save.