BY RICK PORTER — OKOBOJI BIBLE CONFERENCE MINISTRIES
It was my privilege to assist a local church on Christmas Eve. They are without a pastor just now. I came off the bench to do what I could. They thought they needed me. I learned that night how much I needed them and how much we need to engage each other around eternal truths, in sacred moments above the clamor of shopping and “to do” lists.
The service was remarkable in its unremarkableness. Carols and candles and readings and communion. The birth of Jesus was also wildly routine. Angels in fields. God in a barn. That is rather the point of God-with-us is it not? So on Christmas Eve, while I provided my substitute services, Holy God embraced my frail humanity in one small church in one small town in our neighborhood, representative of thousands around the world.
As I drove home after the gathering in the foggy quiet of Highway 71, I reflected on the hour. I had experienced God-with-us in unexpected ways. I expected a run-of-the-mill Christmas Eve service. There is no such thing. Button God down and He appears in an ugly Christmas sweater. Shoot your selfie and He’ll photobomb it every time.
I saw Him in the faces. All ages convened with various motives, but faithfully participating, worshiping and welcoming the Savior to the world and to themselves. The candles pictured Him. “The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” He was in the Bible readings. For sure He was the subject. But it was more than that. He jumped off the page. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.”
I heard Him in songs. Oh yes, I heard of Him, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see. Hail the incarnate Deity” but also heard Him, as in “Do You Hear What I Hear?” “He will bring us goodness and light”…on His terms.
He was visible in the children. They are hope. Expectation radiated. Whether they wanted gifts or the Gift did not matter much. That will sort out in time. But Jesus was True Truth when He said, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Finally and most certainly He was in the Eucharist, the service of Holy Communion. Church traditions gently dispute just how He is present in cup and wine, but most believe He is. Born in Bethlehem, a word which means both “house of bread” and “house of flesh,” near the end of His earthly mission He took bread and said, “This is my flesh for you.” Whatever that means, it means at least that His flesh is for our flesh. His bread is for all our hungers. His hope is for our despair. His blood-sacrifice is for our sin. His life is for our deaths.
I hope you’ll be in a church before next Christmas. Meanwhile, have eyes for Him everywhere. Watch the children. Watch the birds. Watch the wind. He told us to do such things because he will not be contained in religion. He wants to photobomb all days, not just Sundays. He is God-with-us best when we least expect Him.