Advent Reflections on Presence
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).” Matthew 1:23
I think Advent is my favorite season of the Christian calendar. Although there are many events that take place in our world that can cause us to wonder where God might be, Advent serves to remind us about a God who cares deeply for humanity and, indeed, all of creation. A God who loves and cares enough to enter our world, experience firsthand the human emotions of joy and happiness, pain and rejection. In short, we worship a God who knows what it means to be present.
Presence is one of Global Ministries Core Values and we define it as “manifesting God’s love by living in intentional, committed relationships.” But while we count presence as vital to the relationships that Disciples and UCC congregations have with international partners, it is sometimes difficult to put this Core Value into practice in a world with such large disparities between those that have access to resources and those that don’t.
While serving Global Ministries in South Africa, my wife and I helped to host many groups from Disciples and UCC congregations. During a visit by one of the first groups to come, my wife Dawn was having a conversation with one of the members of the visiting delegation. After visiting local townships and learning more about the life struggles of so many in southern Africa, this dedicated and passionate church member wondered what difference their visit could possibly make. “Wouldn’t it have just been better to send the money we have spent on this trip? Couldn’t that have done more good?” Dawn’s response to her was about the importance of presence, the importance of relationships. Yes, money can make a difference. But making friends, sharing stories, learning from cultures and ways of life different from our own, worshipping and praying together, and being “with” others (and being vulnerable enough to allow others to be “with” us!) has a value that can never be measured in dollars and cents.
During these days of Advent, as we anticipate the coming of the Christ-child and the mystery and wonder of God’s presence in our midst, may we also thank God for the presence of those in our lives who nurture us, befriend us, challenge us and love us. And may we be willing to be present with and for others as well.