This week’s lectionary Gospel text is Matthew 1:18-25, which describes the birth of Jesus. In Matthew’s Gospel, he is clear from the beginning that the important part of this story is that Jesus is the Messiah. He describes communication with angels both with Mary and Joseph although separately. We know with Matthew’s certainty that this child is unlike any other child. This child is Emmanuel which means, ”God is with us.”
In seminary, I studied both Hebrew and Greek and, sadly, I remember only two sentences by heart, one from each language. However, they are two important sentences and are filled with theological meaning.
In Hebrew, Hineni, “Here I am.” Saying Hineni is understood to mean you are fully attentive and emotionally available. In the Torah, Hineni is used to signify a turning point, a potentially life-changing moment requiring decision, action, and resolution. In the Torah, the person speaking is saying: “I hear your call. I understand what you are asking of me. And I am prepared and ready to do it, because I recognize, although it is hard, it is also important that I act.” This phrase is most memorable to me when Abraham says it to God just before God tells him to sacrifice his son, Isaac.
In Greek, ho logos sarx egeneto, “the Word became flesh.” This is from John’s Gospel…John who loves poetic language… John whose Gospel makes me feel the message as well as thinking about the message. Jesus is “the Word”; he is the message that God wants to communicate to the human creation. For John, Jesus pre-existed and was involved in the creation of everything. Jesus, the Word, is the full embodiment of all that is God and has become flesh to dwell among us.
Both of these phrases, Hebrew and Greek, are about being present…fully present…attentive, available, not distracted. What an amazing gift to give! Imagine looking forward to that special person you have longed to spend time with yet while you are excited to talk with and hear him or her, all his or her attention is on the phone in front of them. Texting or googling taking their attention away from what you had hoped would be a real connection. Perhaps, they are looking over your shoulder at the ballgame behind you or listening to another conversation. How disappointing this would be!
Disciples of Christ often use the term ‘ministry of presence.’ Sometimes being present is the best thing you have to offer. We are present with women in difficult times offering them support and hope and reassurance that they are not alone in whatever they are facing. When we journey to other countries to stand beside, sit at the feet of, and listen to women who are being ministered to by our Global Ministry partners, it is often that fact that we are there, that we are interested, that we care, that is the greatest gift we can give them.
Your presence is the most valuable present you have to offer. Giving your full attention and connecting deeply is of greater value than anything Amazon can ship or Mrs. Fields can bake.
I invite you this Christmas season to bask in the realization that God is with us, Emmanuel. Whatever we are doing, wherever we are doing it, Jesus, the Word, has become flesh and dwells among us. God loves us so much that God’s Son dwells among us to save us, to be present with us, so that we might better understand what God’s love is like. The presence of God and the knowledge of God’s love are the greatest presents you will receive.
I invite you, too, to offer the present of presence to others. Family, friends, and those whose need of your presence may be even greater.
Never underestimate the value of presence, of giving your full attention to another person. My hope and prayer is that you will also receive that same gift from someone for whom you care deeply.
Blessings in this Christmas season and may you know God’s presence in your life.