Jesus wasn't hiding. He was here all along. But it took me a good portion of 2014 to get authentically reacquainted. In my head, I knew he hadn't disappeared. But in my heart, I lost touch for awhile.
On Sunday evening, I sat in a state of seasonal bliss during the 33rd Annual Festival of Lessons and Carols of Zumbro Lutheran Church, held at the Saint Marys Chapel. The acoustics, history, and sacredness of the space made it an outstanding location for a time of pre-Christmas worship. Scripture readings, liturgical dancing, handbells, choirs, and a host of instrumentalists provided the backdrop for a night rooted in the story of Jesus' birth.
As I stepped into the immensity of the sanctuary that evening, I suddenly remembered the last time I had entered that space, six months ago. I was a patient at Saint Marys at the time, dealing with a low platelet count that wouldn't seem to budge. On one afternoon, I ended up in the chapel. I picked up a Bible, attempting to open to some verse of profound medical wisdom. That didn't happen. Instead, I cried in the way you cry when you're tired of crying. Some water streamed out of the ol' tear ducts but there was not much emotion left to accompany them.
It feels like a distant memory now, but at the time, it was a frustrating, exhausting stretch of days. I was longing for hope and searching under every nook, cranny, and cup of cafeteria pudding for a sign that God hadn't disappeared. I remember thinking, "Jesus, where are you?" As a pastor, it has always been easy for me to recognize God at work in the world and in other people's lives. But sometimes I struggle to see Christ working in my own journey. I am much more comfortable acting as the pastoral chaplain than the impatient patient.
Fast-forward from then to Sunday — lessons and carols at the Saint Marys Chapel. I was sitting toward the front on the left-hand side. We all stood for the processional hymn, "Awake! Awake, and Greet the New Morn." I suddenly remembered the question I had asked in the silence of the chapel six months ago — "Jesus, where are you?"
At that moment, I looked to my left and saw something I hadn't noticed before. It was a statue of Jesus with arms outstretched and a look of compassionate concern on his face, as if to answer, "Here. I'm right here, Emily. Right with you. Right with every person in this space tonight. Right with every person who has ever walked the face of the earth. I came to be with all of creation, and I'm never going to leave. So in answer to your question: I'm here. Even when it is hard to recognize my presence, I am always with you."
Christmas is an opportunity to proclaim the permanence of Jesus' nearness. His birth serves as an eternal reminder of the immensity of God's love. Even when life is hard and complicated, even when we forget where to look for our creator, Jesus doesn't forget us. He keeps walking with us. Forever. This is the promise of Christmas: God is with us.
Through Jesus, all things are possible. Peace. Justice. Compassion. Healing. Forgiveness. May this holy night fill your heart with hope. Hope for your individual journey and hope for the global community. We rejoice in the joy he brings to the world.