In October, Char and I were blessed to visit the cave on the island of Patmos in Greece where John received and wrote Revelation—his letter of prophecy to the seven churches in Asia.
Revelation is a difficult and disturbing book for many people. But actually, it is a book of hope, because in the end, John describes the climax to God’s redemption story. He describes the “new heaven and new earth” that will break forth. And, with amazing clarity, John eagerly declares three different times that the new heaven and new earth ultimately means God dwells with God’s people.
Listen again to John’s declaration: “See, the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them as their God; they will be God’s people. And God will be with them” (Revelation 21:3).
Or, as Eugene Peterson says in The Message: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They are his people; he is their God.”
Immanuel—God with us!
Two thousand years ago, God made a dramatic move into the neighborhood, when he sent his only son, Jesus, to dwell with us. You know the story well. A very pregnant Mary and an equally expectant, if not conflicted, Joseph made the arduous journey from Nazareth to Joseph’s hometown of Bethlehem. They went to be counted in the census ordered by the Roman Emperor Augustus. But, when they arrived in Bethlehem, there was no room in anyone’s home or inn for Mary and the child she carried. So, the baby Jesus—the son of God, the fullness of God—was born in a stable and laid in a manger.
It remains a wondrous, joyous mystery why God chose to come into the world in the form of a tiny, vulnerable, poor, and homeless baby. I personally think it was God’s way of demonstrating his twin desires: first, for us to make room for Christ in our homes, our lives, our relationships, our politics, our hearts; and, second, to provide a home for all of God’s beloved, vulnerable, poor, homeless and searching people. This is the Gospel narrative. This is the Gospel imperative. God can only move into the neighborhood—God can only dwell with us and be our God—if we make a home for Jesus in our hearts and we make a home for all of God’s people.
I enjoy the Christmas season. I look forward to our sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren coming home for Christmas. But I must confess that the hectic pace and extra demands on finances and time often cause me to leave Jesus out in the cold. And, in my most reflective and honest moments I realize if I am to make a home for the God who came to dwell with me and within me:
• I can’t put off making time to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen and learn.
• I can’t wait to become a peacemaker, or find a hungry person to feed, or a naked person to clothe or a prisoner to visit.
• I can’t avoid telling the spiritually hungry and sin-sick where to find the living water.
• I can’t ignore the tens of millions of immigrants, refugees, and displaced persons seeking a safe and secure home.
• I can’t be silent when racism and exclusion prevent persons from being welcomed in Christ’s Church.
• I can’t delay praying for the Holy Spirit to break through and usher in the new heaven and new earth in The United Methodist Church.
In the end, when all else is said, God made it clear in the coming of Jesus at Christmas that God intends to dwell with us—to make God’s home within our homes, within our hearts, within our lives—to make us God’s people for the sake of the world.
The best gift we can offer God and one another this Christmas is to make a home for Jesus in our lives. The best gift we can offer God and one another this Christmas is to allow Christ’s love and grace, justice and mercy, to take deep root in our homes.
May God bless you with a very merry Christmas and happy new year!
Bishop Bruce R. Ough is resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Area of The United Methodist Church.