Presence has taken on a new dimension for me this Advent. As we approach Christmas Eve worship, I have memories of last Christmas. At the church, we were filming videos of our worship services ahead of time so that they would be available to the congregation to worship at home on Christmas Eve. We had a presence with each other during worship, although it was virtual. I am grateful that worship could be made available in this way, and I am grateful that we can continue to stream live worship. However, when I think about being totally present to each other when the faith community gathers for worship, there is the stark reality that something is missing when we worship virtually.
Recently I spoke to a person who is homebound and so watches the streamed worship service on Sunday mornings. “Watches” is the key word. Sure, there is music to listen to and some that can be sung at home, but the presence of others, walking to the communion server, and receiving the bread and the wine are not possible on a live stream. She imagines what it would be like to be physically present receiving those gifts. She closes her eyes and imagines she is there.
We have Eucharistic Ministers who bring the Lord’s Supper to some of our homebound after the worship service is completed. However, due to the pandemic, this ministry is not back into full swing. This ministry is very important because it provides presence. It provides the physical connection between fellow members of the Body of Christ. As we have received the Real Presence of Christ in worship, so now that Real Presence is coming to the one who is homebound. Christ is with her in the sacrament. Christ is in her, after first being visibly placed in her hand, taken to her mouth, chewed, and swallowed. Christ resides in each of us. Granted there are other ways Christ comes to us, but this special gift of bread and wine that somehow contains the body and blood of Jesus is an affirmation of God’s unending love that we can touch, taste, and feel God’s presence.
During this Advent season, the world can fill us with busyness. Enough busyness that presence can be sacrificed with holiday music bombarding us, stores filled with shoppers searching endlessly for that one particular item that is probably on a ship somewhere out in the Pacific instead of being on the store shelf. Baking, parties, even grocery shopping take on extra special meaning as we prepare to be with loved ones. But Advent also is about presence. Awaited presence. As the prophets of old revealed that someday the world will be different. Someday hope, peace and love will reign. Someday the world will be different and it will begin with God’s promised Messiah. Now we wait. We know that Jesus was born and we will celebrate his birth as King, Savior of the World. A birth that brought fear to the powerful. A child born of a God-chosen mother who was not a queen but a peasant girl. A world with the stamp of Rome controlling every movement of its conquered people. Yet, there is the presence of another, the presence of God who has come to be with us. A presence to permeate this earth and its inhabitants. A presence to turn the world upside down. We live in the time that Christ has arrived, but the Kingdom is not yet complete. So now, more than ever, we need the Savior dwelling in us. We need to be aware of his presence in the here and now, and make space for his presence in our here and now. When we do, the world looks different. When we do, the world changes.
As the day of Christmas draws near, perhaps it’s a time to be aware of our presence. How present are we to the here and now? How present are we to our loved ones? How present are we to God in corporate worship and in acts of worship every day? The busyness of life and its expectations desire us to focus on the future and miss the here and now. The Church tells us there is another way, that of putting Christ at the center. Listen to the words of the psalmist:
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving,
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God
and a great King above all gods.
O come, let us bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture
and the sheep of his hand. (Psalm 95:2-3,6-7)
My prayer for each of us is that we be present - to each other, and to our Savior, as we live being God’s people in this secular world. May we be the presence of God’s love in all circumstances and the instruments of his justice and mercy!