As with many congregations, we had a large number of folks attend worship on Christmas Eve. I was happy to see some familiar faces, those members who cannot attend worship regularly because of their work, and also those who simply are not in the habit. Oh, it is easy to speculate as to why they don’t come more frequently, but on such a night there isn’t much call for speculation. This is a celebration of the Nativity of our Lord, a jubilant time to be shared among church family and visitors alike.
Among our many visitors were family members from across the country; as far away as Texas and California. There were also friends from other cities within our state who were once members of our church, but had moved away. And there were also some from neighboring congregations who chose this opportunity to visit with their friends across town. Yet there was one visitor who quickly stood out among the rest. To the surprise of many, Jesus came to worship with us on Christmas Eve.
Readers of my former blog will recognize Jesus in this post, as I have frequently commented on my encounters with him. Being that I have removed my former blog, I regret that I cannot point new readers to previous stories. One day, perhaps, I will post them again. I can assure you; however, that Jesus does show up in the most unexpected of ways, especially when you may not be prepared to meet him. Such was the case during our Nativity service, and few recognized him.
Jesus came in and sat near the back of our sanctuary, in the second to last pew. I don’t blame folks for not realizing it was Jesus, because he didn’t seem dressed for the occasion. I don’t blame those who found another seat, for he was quite disheveled. His hair was a mess; he seemed lost and disoriented. He was quite dirty and he had even urinated in his pants somewhere prior to visiting us. Needless to say, Jesus didn’t fit our image of him that night, but he took the time to come worship with us.
As he sat quietly, Jesus enjoyed listening to the harpist play beautiful music. Other than his appearance and odor, he tried not to be a bother. One of our ushers came to me and told me of his presence, though it wasn’t Jesus whom they thought was in our midst. Again, I don’t blame them, and I’m glad they came to get me. It is such an honor to welcome Christ in our midst, even when we are not ready to make his acquaintance.
I recognized our Lord right off; I could see in his eyes the love that calls us to care for the poor and unloved. Kneeling at his side, I called him by name, the one he goes by, and invited him to come pray with me. My heart sank as he stood on wobbly legs, his tired hand outstretched so that I could assist him. We walked together, hand in hand where there was fresh air and quiet so we could talk.
Once outside Jesus and I shared a moment of quiet reflection on what this day means to people in need. We spoke about the gift of immeasurable love that God so freely gives to his people, and we shared a prayer of thanksgiving that our Father in heaven would bless us with such a wonderful gift through the Babe of Bethlehem. I’m not sure how long our visit lasted, but I can tell you that I was late getting back inside, the service had already started without me.
Before going back inside, I invited Jesus to rest a while in a place out of the cold until I could tend to his needs further. He graciously accepted, but following our worship he had moved on. I don’t know where we went, but I do hope that I will see him again soon, and I’m certain I will. For you see, Jesus comes to us in so many unexpected ways. He isn’t one for announcing his presence either. Rather, Christ often comes to us quietly, through the meek and the lowly, just as he first came to this world on that dark, cold night in Bethlehem.
Thanks be to God.