God’s Presence Among Us

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-3, 14, NIV)

Saint John’s version of the birth of Christ is a complete reinterpretation of the old, old story traditionally read on Christmas Eve. In John’s Gospel, there isn’t a visit from an angel, no shepherds keeping their flocks by night, no star in the sky, no stable and manger, no mother and child. In John’s Gospel, there is just “The Word.” “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” in Greek is literally “The Word became flesh and pitched his tent/tabernacle among us.” These words refer to the tent of meeting—or–tabernacle that was the place of God’s presence among the people during their time of wandering through the desert during their Exodus from Egypt. Now in this opening of John’s Gospel he is announcing that Jesus is God’s living presence among human beings.

One of the joys of the Advent season is seeing and hearing gifted performers share how God’s presence is felt in their performances. I remember a Christmas production at Disneyland about forty-nine years ago when I sang in the bass section in a special choir. When the choir took its place on the stage, I discovered that I was just a few away from the narrator of the program, who happened to be a Hollywood legend, Mr. Carey Grant. I recall feeling a lump in my throat when Mr. Grant began the program by a reading taken from John 1:1-3, 14. This great actor was an accomplished communicator and he read John’s passage with such feeling that the words came to life and I could feel God’s presence on that stage in Disneyland.

The Season of Advent is a celebration of God’s presence within the human family. The Emmanuel of Advent-Christmas, the God who is with us–witnesses our social life from within the community, so that God is not far away but is actually among us as we become part of each other’s lives; as we work together and as we try to support each other.

The Advent of Jesus into the world is the sign of God’s being with us and there is no greater sign. Other signs — whether they are in nature, history, or personal experience — can be ambiguous, but this one is not. Jesus came into the world to reveal and to redeem — to show us the true character of God, and to “save his people from their sins.”

Years ago, I saw a short Spanish animated movie that doesn’t have any spoken dialog. The entire movie is solely done with animation and was produced in Spain, so the plot of the movie is one that is understandable to that audience. The main character in the movie is “Justino” a security guard at a mannequin factory. Within the first minutes of the story, we learn that Justino works alone during the graveyard shift; and consequently, he has very few chances to interact with his coworkers.

To get the attention of his coworkers, Justino designs a plan to “pitch his tent/tabernacle” among his coworkers. Justino wanted his presence to be felt by his coworkers—even if he wasn’t with them during the day. With a little bit of creativity, Justino devises ways to connect with his colleagues by using the factory’s mannequins as props to stage and create scenarios that are both amusing and moving. His coworkers appreciated his playfulness, and each morning they would eagerly arrive at the factory to see what ingenious scene Justino had invented for that day.

In Spain, there is national tradition that commenced in Christmas 1812, and all Spaniards look forward to the annual “Christmas Lottery” even if it means standing in line for hours to purchase the tickets. Nicknamed “El Gordo,” which means “the fat one,” because lottery prizes are valued up to more than 2.2 billion Euro dollars, it is the biggest lottery prize in the world. It is common to “share” the “Christmas Lottery” by buying “shared tickets” at offices, and with friends and family. The belief is that the Christmas Lottery is unique because it is one that Spaniards participate in together; and if they win, they win together.

In our story, just before Christmas, Justino’s coworkers got together and decided to show their appreciation for him by “passing the hat” and then using the proceeds to secretly purchase lottery tickets on his behalf. In the event one of the tickets is “El Gordo,” the winning ticket would be given to Justino to claim the prize. When Christmas Morning arrived, the winning ticket was drawn and it turned out to be one of the tickets Justino’s coworkers had purchased. The day after Christmas, Justino’s coworkers surprised him when he came to work at midnight, and it was then that they gave him the lucky ticket.

The closing scene of the movie shows Justino hugging everyone with tears in his eyes-not because he was gifted with the winning ticket, rather it was because Justino was deeply moved his that coworkers thought so much of him. For Justino, the prize money was not the important part of winning the lottery. The real prize was wining the love of his coworkers who combined their efforts in order to have a better chance of winning.

The manner in which Justino’s co-workers showed their appreciation for his thoughtfulness is pensive commentary that God is still with us—especially when we share His Spirit of respect and compassion for others. God’s presence has been with us…is with us…and will be with us…without end.

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