The group of children rehearsed their songs as part of the Christmas program. C wanted to be in front of the microphone. What child doesn’t want to hear himself through a PA system? Especially a child who thinks it cool his Grandpa uses a mic regularly. Straining his neck in the direction of the mic stand, his mother shook her head.
(For the remainder of the Season of Advent I am going to offer some reflections on David Fitch’s new book, Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission. Christians continue to find great value in the celebration of God-With-Us. What could this mean for the Church-In-the-World as an expression of God-with-Us?)
Stories often Share a Plot Line
C and L share similar life stories.
They both faced difficult odds early on in this world. Their parents shared difficulties having children. They both are deeply loved by people other than their biological parents.
The specifics of their stories differ significantly.
C was born 8 weeks early. L was born into a life situation equally tenuous, even if not as physically precarious as a preemie. C’s parents faced physical difficulties being parents. After years and special help they finally learned a baby was in their future. L’s parents faced even greater physical difficulties being parents. After years and disappointing news, they found not one but four young ones to adopt. C found lots of people, not just family, rallying for not just his survival but his growth and development. L learned an equal number of people who once could be named as strangers are now extended family and friends cheering her on as she grows up.
They met at church.
At Church, Oh Brother . . .
Church/church plays a decreasing role in many lives. We could consider the shift in our culture. Skepticism about anything beyond the material – the world that may be known by our five senses – creates doubt about a story involving Deity and even more so if that Deity may be described as personal. Cynicism shifts the base assumption. Rather than assuming something beyond the material and working from there, more people assume there is nothing beyond what we can see, feel, hear, taste and touch.
John wrote a letter in the New Testament anticipating those who would be skeptical, even cynical, about the reality of a personal, forgiving Deity. He described Jesus as that revelation of God that had been experienced by the human senses. It is as if human beings always needs reassurance that God in Christ is not the same as the gods of Olympus.
Two children meeting at church reveals the presence of God as their lives intersect. David Fitch refers to this sort of recognition as discerning.
What may cause some in the Church/church to resist this idea is that the God who is personal shows up everywhere in the world. That is, themes that churches emphasize are not exclusive to the experience of those in the church/Church. Fitch would, and I am interpreting here, suggest that the missing element is those instances where, say, the pursuit of reconciliation is at work in those not participating in church/Church is the lack of discerning the presence of God.
To those outside the church, this may sound arrogant maybe even gnostic. What Fitch points to is that God is always at work in the world and that the means of our awareness comes through people who have learned by experience that this reflects the presence of God. Jesus is Lord and as such is working through a people to bring about a change that reflects the Way of Jesus in the world.
There is no secret handshake. This is not some secret body of knowledge. Instead, it is the recognition the presence at work to bring about hope, peace, joy and love is the faithful presence of God in the world.
Sometimes we make it too hard to see.
When the Child Reflects the Parent
C thinks L is quite special.
The rehearsal progressed as normal. C kept working to be heard in the microphone. No matter what end of the row he found himself on, he crooned his neck and sung louder. Several talks with his mother revealed his frustration the the wanted to sing louder, to be heard. He talked with his Grandpa too.
In a stroke of wisdom, C’s mother suggested to the leaders that C might do better if he were standing next to L in the center of the stage. C would then be equal distance from both pics. The next song the adjustment was made. It was revealing.
C proved more interested in standing next to L than stretching to sing into a microphone. Now everyone sang without concern for a mic. All voices were heard.
After the rehearsal C’s Mom thanked L. L responded, “I will do whatever it takes to help C. Two children with similar stories and dissimilar specifics made a connection where one helped the other.
L’s parents continue to lay the groundwork and invest in their four children. They lead them to think and choose in ways that war against some of their earliest influences. Regularly talking with them about life and faith in Jesus produces the sort of spirit that responds, “I will do whatever it takes to help.”
Rather than discerning that this is an illustration of, “Children obey your parents,” it is more, “Honor your Father and your Mother.” Honor and glory are very close ideas in the Hebrew Scriptures. L’s parents invest in their children faith in Jesus and a trustworthiness in Jesus’ life. L learns from her parents all the ways that looks as they interact with family, neighbors and friends. L reflects that in her young life as she is willing to do for her little friend, “whatever it takes.”
All the Way(s) God-with-Us
The church is more than a space where some individuals gather to affirm they believe in something. It is the place where God’s people discern his presence and submit to Christ’s concrete rule. He has given us disciplines for doing this. Here a new world is born that is nothing less than his kingdom breaking in. Here an incredible faithful presence takes shape. (Fitch, p.32)
C and L illustrate God’s concrete, even material, presence in the world. When they meet at church it is about more than rehearsing for a Christmas program.
God’s work is necessarily twofold. God first is present and active in the whole world. But God also chooses to become present in and through a people locally. He, in essence, completes his work in the world in the concrete lives and circumstances of a people through the real presence of Christ. (Fitch, p.33)
Advent is a reminder of the ways God is always With-Us . . . even standing on a stage . . .