In my last Blog I wrote about the amazing miracle of God making the Word flesh among us—first in Jesus himself, now in us. As I’ve thought about that more, the last phrase from the last verse of O Come All Ye Faithful, has really captured my heart—“Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.”
I live near LA, where our entertainment section is filled with which stars are appearing in which venues here or in Vegas, such as “Celine Dion Now Appearing at Ceasar’s Palace.” It has made me think of the lives I’ve known this year in whom Jesus is now appearing. And I mean that not just because they confess him as Lord and Savior, but because God has changed them in significant ways and liberated them to know him better, even through the most unspeakable tragedies. So that today I can see the Word of the Father in Tim, Nancy, John and hundreds of others whom Jesus is making more like himself. None of these would even claim to be replication of Jesus, but I see him now appearing in them in cities all over the world.
Religion doesn’t transform people. It weighs them down with obligation and busies them with countless activities. While it may compel us to make external cosmetic changes to appease God, it doesn’t change them at the deepest core of their being. Only God does that and I think he does it best as we simply live each day with our eye focused on him and responding to his grace as situations unfold around us.
Nothing illustrates that better than one of my favorite Mike Yaconelli stories, this one from his book Messy Spirituality. He tells the story of Daryl, a reluctant youth group volunteer who got roped into visiting the local nursing home with the youth group. Daryl didn’t want to participate in the service so he stood against the back wall between two residents in wheelchairs. Just as the service ended Daryl was thinking about a quick exit, someone grabbed his hand.
As everyone began to leave, Daryl realized he didn’t want to leave the old man. Daryl had been left to many times in his own life. Caught somewhat off-guard by his feelings, Daryl leaned over and whispered, “I’m… uh… Sorry, I have to leave, but I’ll be back. I promise.” Without warning the man squeezed Daryl’s hand and then let go. As Daryl’s eyes filled with tears, he grabbed his stuff and started to leave. Inexplicably, he hear himself say to the old man, “I love you.” and he thought, where did that come from? What’s the matter with me?
After the sixth visit, the service started, but Oliver still had not been wheeled out. Daryl didn’t feel too concerned at first, because it often took the nurses a long time to wheel everyone out. Half way through the service, Oliver still had not shown up so he went to the head nurse who led Daryl to Oliver’s room.
Oliver lay in his bed, his eyes closed, his breathing uneven. At forty years of age, Daryl had never seen someone dying, but he knew that Oliver was near death. Slowly he walked to the side of the bed and grabbed Oliver’s hand. When Oliver didn’t respond, tears filled Daryl’s eyes. He knew he may not see Oliver alive again. He had so much he wanted to say, but the words wouldn’t come out. He stayed with Oliver about an hour, then the youth director gently interrupted to say they were leaving.
Daryl stood and squeezed Oliver’s hand for the last time. “I’m sorry, Oliver, I have to go. I love you.” As he unclasped his hand, he felt a squeeze. Oliver had responded! The tears were unstoppable now, and Daryl stumbled toward the door trying to regain his composure. A young woman was standing at the door, and Daryl almost bumped into her. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t see you.”
“It’s all right. I’ve been waiting to see you.” she said. “I’m Oliver’s granddaughter. He’s dying you know.”
“Yes I know.”
“I wanted to meet you.” she said. “When the doctors said he was dying, I came immediately. We have always been very close. They said he couldn’t talk, but he’s been talking to me. Not much , but I know what he is saying. Last night he woke up. His eyes were bright and alert. He looked straight into my eyes and said, “Please say goodbye to Jesus for me,” and he laid back and closed his eyes.
“He caught me off guard, and as soon as I gathered my composure I whispered to him, “Grandpa, I don’t need to say goodbye to Jesus; you’re going to be with him soon and you can tell him hello.”
Grandpa struggled to open his eyes again. This time his face lit up with a mischievous smile and he said as clearly as I am talking to you, ‘I know, but Jesus comes to see me every month, and he might not know I’ve gone.’ He closed his eyes and hasn’t spoken since.”
I told the nurse what he’d said and she told me about you, coming every month, holding Grandpa’s hand. I wanted to thank you for him for me, and well, I never thought of Jesus as being as chubby and bald as you, but I imagine that Jesus is very glad to have had you be mistaken for him. I know Grandpa is. Thank you.”
I can’t imagine any greater joy than to be mistaken for Jesus in the way we love and care for others. As this New Year begins, I pray that Jesus will be more visibly seen in me this year and that somewhere often in the year ahead you might be mistaken for Jesus. Word of the Father, now in YOU appearing!