The Nineteenth Day of Advent
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
American poet Edwin Markham tells of the incarnate Christ’s oneness with humanity in his poem “How the Great Guest Came”. It is a story about Conrad, a kindly cobbler, and how the Lord appears to him one morning with the promise: “I’m coming your guest to be!”
So Conrad springs to his day, eagerly preparing for the Great Guest’s coming. He scrubs the floor, polishes the shelf, and spreads a generous table, all the while watching his front door. But he was never so busy in preparation for the Great Guest that he did not care for three strangers who knocked on his door: a cold beggar, a hungry woman, and a homeless waif.
Yet sadly, Conrad’s day came and went, ebbing down to the end, and the Great Guest had not come. Confused and sadly disappointed Conrad knelt to pray: “What is it Lord, that your feet delay? Did you forget that this was the day?”
Then in his heart Conrad heard the Great Guest speak: “Three times I came to your friendly door; Three times my shadow was on your floor. I was the beggar with the bruised feet; I was the woman you gave to eat; I was the homeless child on the homeless street.”
Like the Great Guest speaks to Conrad so the Lord Jesus speaks to us in today’s Scripture: “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Jesus says that what we do for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, and the prisoner, we really do for Him. He makes all of our debts of love to Him payable to others!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer observes:
…in the Incarnation the whole human race recovers the dignity of the image of God. Henceforth, any attack even on the least is an attack on Christ, who took the form of man, and in his own Person restored the image of God in all that bears a human form… The incarnate Lord makes his followers the brothers of all mankind. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics)
It is tempting in the holiday season to want to run from the world, the hectic hustles, and our responsibilities to others. How we yearn this year for a holy and quiet Christmas! And yet as followers of Jesus we learn not to run from the world, but to seek His presence in its midst. “The Incarnation is the ultimate reason why the service of God cannot be divorced from the service of man.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship)
As a chaplain I often worked on Christmas days and was moved by how the Great Guest often came in the guise of broken lives. I took encouragement from the words of Virginia Stem Owens:
As I struggle to insert the purple swollen foot of a diabetic into his slippers, I am also asserting my allegiance to the flesh, loved and not rejected by our Lord, who did not hesitate at the unhealthy, the flesh he clothed his own glory in, thus sanctifying it forever. (Virginia Stem Owen, A Hand in the Wound)
Ah yes! The Word becomes flesh, reminding us: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Jesus knocked at Conrad’s door, and he knocks at your door today too (Revelation 3:20). This is the great joy and the great seriousness of the Incarnation. It is Jesus who confronts you in each person you meet today. “By being partakers of Christ incarnate, we are partakers in the whole humanity which he bore.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship)
- How is it that by taking human flesh to Himself Jesus makes us one with others?
- Think of a time or two in your life where you met Jesus in “a cold beggar, a hungry woman, and a homeless waif”.
- Where do you imagine the incarnate Jesus showing up this Christmas?
EMBODIED PRAYER: LYING DOWN
We spend a lot of time lying down, which makes this posture of prayer a favorite of many. I do some of my best praying lying down between two and three in the morning. Like their contemporaries, Jesus and His disciples ate Passover lying down, symbolic of being free and no longer slaves in Egypt. Lying down embodies rest and peace, our lives secure in God. David wrote in the Psalms: “I will both lie down and sleep in peace: for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety“ (Psalm 4:8). David liked to think of God while lying down and talking with Him: “My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night” (Psalm 63:5-6).
Lying down is symbolic of knowing ourselves cared for by God: “He makes me lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:2). When we are fretful and anxious, God wants us to lie down and experience our rest and safety in Him.
Today, and every day (and night) of the Second Week of Advent pray the Lord’s Prayer while lying down. As you pray let yourself go into God’s strong hands.