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God is With Us

This is one of the most exciting times for Christians, the coming of Jesus- God with us- Immanuel.

Advent marks the beginning of the new church year, followed closely by the new calendar year. New beginnings, a chance for renewal, the birth of something new and different. God came to be with us, to live with us forever.

What joy we have to share with the world!

Christ lives on in the world today through us, the community of believers called the Church. During the pandemic, many of us came to realise the importance of being physically present. God realised this over 2,000 years ago and gave us a Messiah, born in a manger, to be physically present with us, sharing his life with us, and teaching us how to live as human-beings worthy of the image of God.

Being holy as God is holy, by loving each other, loving all people. I have mentioned before that John Wesley taught that pursuing holiness is pursuing love of God and neighbour to perfection, to glory.

“Presence” is another Godly habit or discipline. Giving our physical self, to the extent we can, to be present with each other is a divine gift. I know of no way to experience the fullness of Christ’s presence without being a part of a Christian community in which to worship, serve, and grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ. No one walks alone as a disciple of Jesus.

Being a follower of Jesus means being in community with other followers of Jesus.

We can be religious or spiritual without the presence of other people in our lives, but we cannot be growing disciples of Jesus Christ without the encouragement, guidance, wisdom, and accountability of other disciples. Community worship and small groups are essential to grow in faith and love.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu defined the African concept of ubuntu as meaning, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours. . .A person is a person through other persons” (No Future without Forgiveness). We find our humanity in our connections with others. A self-made individual is an oxymoron. I am who I am because you are who you are. Jesus said, “I do not call you servants any longer . . . I have called you friends” (John 15:15). The Apostle Paul told the disciples in Corinth, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).

The priority of presence—our presence in the lives of others and their presence in ours—runs directly against the grain of the individualistic mentality of our society. John Wesley wrote, “The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness” (Preface to 1739 Hymns and Sacred Poems).

His heart-warming experience of conversion happened at a small group bible study in 1738. This event ignited the revival and Methodist movement that has changed and continues to change many hearts around the world.

What if John Wesley had not gone to that small group meeting? No one can promise you that your hearts will be strangely warmed if you go to a small group study or to worship with a community, but I guarantee it will not happen if you do not go. James Harnish writes,

“There are times when I come to worship to affirm the faith that I hold, but there are other times when I come to worship so that the faith the church affirms can hold me. There are times when I come to sing my song of hope, but there are other times when I need the church to sing that song for me. There are times when I am present with my small group in order to encourage someone else, and there are times when I need to be present so they can encourage me” (The Disciple’s Path).

We can have individualized religious experiences watching the sun rise over the mountains or watching the sun set into the ocean. But we cannot experience the fullness of Christian love and grace by ourselves. We do it together with brothers and sisters in Christ whom we do not choose and who are drawn together in the name of Christ. Our presence in Christian community and in corporate worship really matters.

It matters to us because it is one of the essential practices by which we are formed into the likeness of Christ. It matters to others because our presence may be the gift that God uses to strengthen, encourage, challenge, and bless our brothers and sisters in Christ. It matters to the world because it prepares us to become the agents of God’s persistent love as we participate in God’s transformation of the world!

It’s a new beginning, Christmas, when God decided to be present with us, let us be present for each other in Christ.

“…let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another…” (Hebrews 10:24-5, NIV).

Let’s have tea and biscuits and talk.

Let’s have tea and biscuits and talk.

Happy Christmas and New Year! Grace and peace,

Rev. Kevin Highfield


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