THIS SERIES: FINDING WINTER’S REST
One moment can change a life. One encounter can transform our circumstances. And one night can alter the world for ever.
Bethlehem was full to the ginnels with census arrivals; the hated Roman authorities had demanded that young and old, rich and poor make their way, at whatever inconvenience, to their town of birth, to be counted. We can imagine the grumbling and cursing in the streets and at the local tavern as footsore Bethlehemites, many having walked for days, assembled for registration. And we can imagine that negative atmosphere being lightened by laughter, here and there, as the human ability to find comradeship, and even humour, in trying circumstances surfaced.
Bethlehem was full, noisy—and unconscious. Not one person, apparently, in the clamour and bustle realised they were just one step away from the manifest presence of God, and life-transformation. Not one person had ears for anything other than their pressing concerns. And so when the Lord of Heaven and Earth took flesh and came to dwell among them, they remained in their ignorance.
Out on the hillside, beyond the town boundaries, and in a faraway land, there were, however, people keeping watch that night; men who were accustomed to silence, who were alert and focused, ready for anything. And the story of these men has been told for generations, for they were the ones to whom Emmanuel (which means, ‘God with us’) became an experiential reality. They weren’t the rich and powerful, the religious and knowledgeable, or even the apparently good and deserving; these men were reviled foreigners, men outside the covenant promises, and humble shepherds, despised for their poverty and their failures in Law-observance.
AN ENCOUNTER WITH EMMANUEL
It seems that the qualifying attributes for an encounter with Emmanuel was not their nationality, or whether they had been ‘good’, religiously observant or ticked a host of other boxes; their qualification was that they were quiet, they were available and they were listening.
Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice
…wrote T S Eliot in ‘Ash Wednesday’.
In these few days before Christmas, when the ‘surround-sound’ becomes ear-splitting, let’s make sure that we are not so busy with food preparation, decorations, present-wrapping, and even religious activities, that we miss Emmanuel when He comes to us. Let’s try and carve out some time when we take time to get really quiet inside, focus our hearts on Him and ask Him to come close.
Let’s make sure this Christmas, that we are numbered with the shepherds, rather than the townsfolk. And let’s remember that the only thing which disqualifies us from a life-changing encounter with Jesus is being unaware of our need, and being too busy, too preoccupied with ourselves and our own affairs to make time for Him...
Let's make the most of the night hours, and the quiet moments which punctuate our days, to turn towards Him and pray...
'Come Lord Jesus! Come and fill my heart and life with Your presence today!'
[Photo credits: Kevin Dowling (city street); Jon Carlson (manger) @ Unsplash, with thanks]
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