“Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Immanuel,” which means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).
Mind renewal, or neuroplasticity, is a spiritual as well as a mental and physical phenomenon. Perhaps this is why many of us think about it in largely metaphorical terms, yet may inadvertently add a layer of abstraction to the already complex study of neuroscience. Therefore, I would like to challenge us to begin with the physical. Our brains are wonderfully adaptable, and, it seems, underused. After a recent stroke, I am training my brain to retrieve words in a new way. The old way just does not work anymore. My damaged tissue cannot be renewed, but thanks be to God, other areas of my brain can be used instead. And it doesn’t take a catastrophic event to build new neural pathways; what it takes is repetition.
We build any habit, good or bad, using the “wiring” in our brains. The more we repeat a given task; the more it becomes a part of us. Now, this is where our verse comes in. I propose that we spend Advent thinking about Immanuel, the fact that the incarnate Lord is still with us, always, no matter what. If we take time each day to consider the presence of Jesus, at the very least in the mornings and before we go to bed, we are building a neuro-road. Some of you have laid the road before and are well acquainted with divine immanence. It might be that you are ready for a new lane; you may be sure that He is with you, but not as sure how to make that evident to all around you. You want everyone to experience the Immanuel of the season.
Others of you may be wondering how to get from the physical to the spiritual. Telling ourselves that God is with us does not make it so; His reality does. We are neither thinking wishfully nor engaging something bad for us when we form a neuro-pathway to God. Thus, once it is paved, we have access to every spiritual blessing. We practice the presence of God, and God in His great love meets us there. When we share Immanuel, God is truly with us, we offer the only gift this world needs. For God it took everything, for us it takes repetition.
Elodie Emig, MA is an instructor of Greek at Denver Seminary. She joined the adjunct faculty in 1988 and teaches Greek. She became a full-time instructor of Greek in 2004. In addition to her duties at the Seminary, she is also on the adjunct pastoral staff of New Song Church and Ministries and the board of Where Grace Abounds.
Ms. Emig holds an MA in New Testament from Denver Seminary. Since her student days, Ms. Emig has served the New Testament department of Denver Seminary as a grader and guest lecturer. She has also volunteered her exegetical expertise to Where Grace Abounds. She has written numerous articles on the Bible and homosexuality.
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