Lesson 7: God’s Presence in Other People

Grandmother and Child HugAs I implied last week, I began this series thinking it would be short and sweet. My intention was to focus on how God is present among us in the words of the Christian story that enable to perceive him all around us. I still think that is extremely important. However, every time I thought I had made a point, I found myself asking where the body was. If there is a voice, there must be a body speaking.

That is an appropriate question to ask during Advent, because in a sense Christmas provides an answer. God’s Word that fills the Old Testament now appears in bodily form.

Of course, that was 2000 years ago. We are primarily asking where the body of the resurrected Christ is among us today. I have already acknowledged the most relevant answer challenges each of us to be the body speaking in our own witness. And we talked about God being present through other followers of Jesus who speak to us in liturgical gatherings, church discussions, and
everyday conversations.

Another beautiful tradition maintains God speaks to us in the unexpected confrontation by the least among us. Jesus identifies these in Matthew 25: 31-46 as the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in one of his very early Advent sermons put it this way: “We are faced with the shocking reality: Jesus stands at the door and knocks, in complete reality. He asks you for help in the form of a beggar, in the form of a ruined human being in torn clothing. He confronts you in every person that you meet. Christ walks the earth as your neighbor as long as there are people…Christ stands at the door. He lives in the form of the person in our midst. Will you keep the door locked or open it to him?”

In one of his last lectures, Bonhoeffer again describes Jesus coming “in weakness and not to be recognized as God-man… He goes incognito, as a beggar, as an outcast among outcasts, as despairing among the despairing, as dying among the dying…Jesus is the hated Jew, the imprisoned dissenter, the advocates for peace despised because of their so-called lack of patriotism in a Germany hell-bent on war.”

Those are certainly words our society needs to heard loud and clear during this Christmas season. In a time when our leaders find all sorts of excuses for neglecting the needy, we who claim to speak for Jesus must proclaim that its is Christ himself who is being neglected and abused.

I felt this message this year when our congregation sang the Advent hymn “El Camino.” It goes like this:

When the poor ones, who have nothing, still are giving; when the thirsty pass the cup, water to share; when the wounded offer others strength and healing: We see God, here by our side, walking our way;

When compassion gives the suffering consolation; when expecting brings to birth hope that was lost; when we choose love, not the hatred all around us: We see God, here by our side, walking our way;

When the goodness poured from heaven fills our dwellings; when the nations work to change war into peace; when the stranger is accepted as our neighbor: We see God, here by our side, walking our way.

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