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One of my childhood memories is that of Grandpa Lawson having a stroke a day or two before Christmas and dying.
The funeral was the day after Christmas. Family showed up to see grandpa before the funeral, and more came for the funeral.
On Dec. 5, 1997, Ralph Lawson had a stroke, a severe stroke, which left his earthly life hopeless and his heavenly life approaching quickly. His children and grandchildren came great distances, and most made it before he passed away around midnight of Dec. 5, 1997.
More family came for the funeral to say their earthly goodbyes. It was a celebration of life, and a difficult time of saying goodbye to a person who loved and was loved.
My family is like most, in that we show up for celebrations of life and death. God’s promise is that he shows up. He is present in everyday life. He is waiting for you and me to respond to him. Isaiah 7:14 says: "Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Immanuel means "God with us." The birth of Jesus is what many had hoped for and looked expectantly for. Just when we needed a touch of God on earth, he showed up.
We celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas, and yet the full impact of the birth may be lost on a personal level. God came to earth in human form to provide a way for each of us to know him personally. His desire is to have a personal relationship with each of us here on earth.
I remember hearing a saying that 90 percent of life is showing up, the rest is trying. God showed up; and God doesn’t try, he does. God fulfilled his promise to us by sending a savior in the form of a child. When the savior left the earth, he sent the Holy Spirit to be a comforter, a life guide and to make each of us aware of our sin. God is still with us. His presence is all around us.
I find that the presence of God is here with us in other ways.
One way that God presents himself to us is through his creation. Psalm 19:1 says: "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world."
God declares his presence every day through his creation of the universe. Sunrise or sunset, violent storm or serene sunny day, each tells us God is in heaven and he creates. He creates beauty through flowers and autumn foliage. The fact is that God proclaims his presence every moment of every day simply through his creation.
Another way that God presents himself is through his children. His children are the people that say and act like they are believers in Christ. I have a granddaughter whose name is Emmanuel Grace. Recently, when with her parents, I noticed they called her Gracie, Mani and Emmanuel. I asked her dad if they had decided what they might call her consistently. His response was that soon she would pick a name of the three that she liked. I jokingly said I hope she doesn’t get confused. One certain fact is that she is cute, sweet and can let her presence be known. I have not often thought of God as cute or sweet, but am certain that his presence is known. The fact is that we each have different names and characteristics, yet once we become believers in Christ, we are the presence of God on Earth. We are to make God’s presence known as believers.
Think about your day today. Where you will go and who might you encounter? Now think about the fact that you are the presence of God wherever you go, whatever you say, with all you encounter.
Several years ago, I took a unit of Clinical Pastoral Experience. It was a long 16 weeks of detailing pastoral visits, sharing these in eight hours of class, and being evaluated by fellow ministers on how the visit was made and God was presented. I jokingly told someone that it was 16 weeks of emotional torture where the peer group gladly looked for fault and challenged most of the statements made during a visit. During one session, I was critiqued and challenged by peers who felt I didn’t give grace to the person I visited. They felt I had passed judgment on the individual and didn’t offer grace from God. One peer went on to say that as God’s representative, I was God’s earthly agent of grace.
I learned that I must offer and make grace known to the people I visit. You and I are God’s earthly agents. He sent his son, Immanuel, to be the presence of God on earth. We carry on where Christ left off.
Christmas evokes varying emotions from people. Some folks are elated, while others are depressed or discouraged. You can be God’s agent and presence wherever you go. Give a smile, a prayer and an encouraging word. Jesus is the reason for the season, and we live in this season for a reason: to be the presence of God. I pray that you will take the challenge and be God’s presence wherever you go and whatever you do.