Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
On my last night as a hospital chaplain in seminary, I received a call around 3:00 am. It had already been a hectic night. It seemed like the pager would not stop going off. The nurse told me that they had a baby in the pediatric intensive care unit on life support because of brain swelling from a car accident. His mother had been driving and had been hit by a drunk driver. Her mother was killed instantly, and now her son was on life-support.
I got myself together and walked over to the pediatric ICU to talk with the nurses and see the little man. I had never seen a baby’s head swollen and banged up like that in my life. While I was standing next to his bed, I noticed his name was Immanuel. The nurses informed me that Immanuel was going to die. I prayed with little Immanuel and then visited with his mother.
When I walked into the waiting room, I immediately observed that she had a lot of support with her. There were friends and family members all sitting with her and comforting her. At hospitals, people tend to get scared when a chaplain enters the room because they either know or assume the chaplain brings or precedes terrible news. Unfortunately, this was one of those times. I informed everyone who I was and let her know I was there to support her in any way I could.
I sat and listened as the mother explained what happened that night and how she was upset because she watched her mother die because of someone else’s fault. She then began talking about her fears for her son’s life and how she did not know what she would do if she lost him and her mother. And then she said something I will never forget. She said, “I named my son Immanuel, which means ‘God with us,’ so I know God is with me right now.” It was painful to hear her say that, knowing what I knew yet, I could not tell her. Her son was going to die. I remained with her for the rest of the morning until she fell asleep. I left my contact information with her friends in case she needed me later.
As I returned to my room, her words echoed, “I named my son Immanuel, which means ‘God with us,’ so I know God is with me right now.” I began to wonder what “God with us means.” Had God failed her in the death of her mother and son caused by the actions of an irresponsible individual? Where is God in all of this?
God was there long before I arrived. God was there when the accident took place. God was there in the nurses and doctors, tending to her and her son. God was there in the friends and family, comforting her. God was there even in me coming there to comfort her in her time of need. And God is still there with her even now. God is always there. We may not always understand how God works, but we can rest assured God is with us, Immanuel.