Two days before Christmas last year I was sitting in church when the worship leader invited us to ponder a question: “What is it that you need to release to the Lord during this Christmas time?” He gave us a few moments of quiet to prayerfully contemplate a response.
It wasn’t long before I knew what the Lord wanted from me. He wanted me to be present with the people with whom I would spend the next few days of celebration. You see, I have a tendency during family gatherings and some other relational settings to power through—instead of savoring the moments and genuinely connecting with those around me. In other words, I have a tendency—not always, but regularly—to try to help make things run well: I wash dishes, take out garbage, and try to make sure that no relational tensions spark into flame. But I can easily do helpful things at the expense of being relationally close to the ones God has placed nearest me to care for and love. As I talked to the Lord about this during that church service, I knew what he wanted me to do this Christmas: God was calling me to be present.
As I mulled over that thought later, I realized that if I shared an attentive presence with my loved ones, I would be imitating (imperfectly, for sure) what God had done for millennia with his people. God generously shared his personal presence with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He graciously shared his presence with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then to Moses at the burning bush, then to the children of Israel at Sinai. He graced his people with his presence after the construction of the wilderness tabernacle and at the dedication of Solomon’s temple respectively. The theme of the presence of the Lord is conspicuous in the books of Job and the Psalms, in the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and the Twelve. But the most astounding example of God’s relational presence ever was his in-breaking into human history with his Incarnate Word, Jesus the Messiah, the only begotten God, himself God of very God—“God with us.” God, who needed nothing, who could have spent eternity in perfect contentment without humans, generously shared his personal presence with those he had created to love.
In light of God’s generous sharing of his personal presence, the least I could do during our times of Christmas celebration was to strive to be fully present with the precious loved ones whom God had graciously brought into my life.
So I sought to be more present in a conversation I entered with my teenaged niece who was thinking of applying for a job at a fast-food establishment. I sought to be more present with my neighbors who stopped by on Christmas night with some homemade tamales (payback for the pumpkin bread we had left on their porch), and who sat with us for an hour while we got to know one another. I sought to be more present with each family member as we walked together in the park after opening presents.
Perhaps this Christmas, God might encourage you—as he encouraged me last year and has been encouraging me once again this year—to share not only your presents, but the gift of your presence.