We had touching and beautiful stories shared in church yesterday by people describing moments over the past few days that for them had been “pregnant with the presence of God.”
The touching thing about all the stories is how ordinary they were: a child caring for an aging parent and being aware of the nearness of death, a grandfather unexpectedly accompanied by his children and grandchildren to a Christmas pageant at an unfamiliar church near his young family’s home, a touching gift received from a man who is blind, a family sharing baking in the neighbourhood, a father touched by the miracle of his family, a small family experiencing the beauty of being together in spite of the mess and uncertainty of life, a grandmother witnessing an intimate gentle encounter between her grandchildren.
None of these stories was dramatic or earth-shattering. They did not come accompanied by great fanfare. They did not change the world. But they were real and authentic. The heart of each story-teller had been genuinely moved. And, as we listened to these tales in church, our hearts were touched in response.
Each story illustrated perfectly the story I shared at the end of the sermon time.
The moment when I was particularly aware of the presence of God over this Christmas season, came at the end of the early service on Christmas Eve. Every year for our Christmas Eve service Shannon prepares bags for the children to help entertain them during the service. Among other things, in these bags are items I am instructed to use to tell the children the story of the Nativity.
This year I was confronted with a piece of twine, a bandaid, an elastic band, and a small stone. I asked each child to hold these items in the palm of their hand, look at them carefully and wonder how these items might relate to the story of the birth of Jesus.
I spoke about Christmas as the story of a journey. Joseph used a rope to lead the donkey carrying Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem. No matter where our journey takes us, there is always something leading the way.
It was not an easy journey for Mary and Joseph. Sometimes in life our journey is difficult and we may get hurt along the way; so we always need to have a bandaid close at hand.
The journey of life does not always go exactly as we might have planned. Certainly for Mary and Joseph the birth of Jesus in a busy unfamiliar village where there was not even room for them at the inn, would not have been ideal. So, we have a rubber band along to remind us that it is necessary to be flexible.
But, the stone reminds us that we do not take the journey alone. We always have within us the strong, steady, stable presence of the love that was embodied in Jesus and that lives in our hearts.
At the end of the service, Shannon’s daughter came to me and presented me with a small figure.
So yesterday morning in church, after the stories of peoples’ awareness of the presence of God in their lives had been shared, I pointed out that, if Grace can see the baby Jesus in a piece of twine, a bandaid, rubber band, and a stone, then there is nowhere, ever that it will be impossible for us to perceive the presence of God.
Love is always present, active, and at work. As we trust in the presence of love, our ability to perceive the work of love will deepen. We will find ourselves increasingly conscious of the beauty and mystery that fills all of life.
I was deeply aware of the gift of God’s presence as each person shared their story in our worship yesterday. This feels like a good way to start a new year.