With Christmas approaching we had a family get-together yesterday. It was great spending time in Stoke-on-Trent with my brother William and his wife Karen and their children, Joshua and Sarah. All 7 of us went from York and my Mum too. As we drove home last night I was thinking how good it is to spend time with loved-ones. Catching up. Telling stories. Playing games. Eating. Going for a walk. Just being together. Enjoying their company. Appreciating their presence.
When talking with someone whose spouse has died I sometimes ask them what it is that they miss most about them. The answers are always interesting and moving. The most common is ‘their presence’.
At the first Advent the Wise Men journeyed hundreds of miles, taking many months to go and worship the new-born King. Eventually they found him. What must it have been like for them to finally be in his presence? To discover that which they’d sought after for so long? I imagine they were full of joy and wonder. I suspect it was one of those awesome moments that they would cherish for the rest of their lives. To be in the very presence of divine royalty.
Throughout Scripture – including the Advent stories – we see two things normally happen to people when they experience God’s presence.
One relates to worship. People worship. Like the Wise Men. This is the most natural thing to do in the presence of greatness – to bow and worship. CS Lewis saw this and commented in his Reflections on the Psalms that there’s a close link between God’s presence and human worship.
The other is assignment. In his presence, God often calls people to particular tasks. A number of years ago I was at an event being led by John Wimber. He introduced the meeting, prayed and then we worshipped. And as we worshipped the presence of God came very powerfully. I remember Wimber later asking how many people, whilst experiencing God’s presence, had felt the Lord speak to them about some aspect of their calling and at least 60% of people raised their hands. This is often the case. In God’s presence he speaks and gives us assignments to do. Often seemingly impossible ones! But they’re not impossible because not only are we called in his presence, but his presence goes with us, making all the difference (see eg Mt 28:19-20).
I love sharing gifts at Christmas. They’re a sign of love – of grace. But other than those of the Wise Men, gifts are not particularly prominent in the Advent stories. Instead there’s a much greater emphasis on people experiencing God – worshipping him and being called to serve him in some capacity. We see ordinary women and men being changed and commissioned as they meet the Lord himself in the person of Jesus. So the emphasis of Advent is less on presents and more on presence.
Presence, more than presents.
May his presence be our true delight this Christmas.
ACTION: Are all your presents ready and wrapped yet? If not, write in your Notebook who you still need to buy for, and be determined to do that today as Christmas is nearly here! Below that write in your Notebook 2 or 3 examples of times you’ve experienced the presence of God. Find a few words for each that describe what it was actually like. Think about whether afterwards you sensed there was something you should do in response (ie some kind of assignment to do/fulfil)? If so, write that down too. Did you do it?
PRAY: If you didn’t do the assignment you felt called to do, pray and ask the Lord if that is something he still has for you. If so, ask him to commission you again and give you his Spirit to help you fulfil it. Also spend some time worshipping Jesus today – right now if you can. Give him your thanksgiving and praise, your adoration and devotion. Give him your life today. And pray for his presence this Christmas.