It was Christmas Eve. It had finally come. The pace of the world and even the rainy Portland gridlock made it feel like Christmas was coming a million miles an hour! But at the same time, it still surprised me by its arrival! Amid government shutdowns and debates of funding for a wall at the border, people went about their way rushing to the mall for last-minute shopping or off to their final Christmas destinations along the arteries of Portland freeways.
A couple of weeks ago my mother had been asked if she knew of anyone who could speak for the Christmas Eve service at her retirement center. I knew right away to ask my friend Chris. I could think of no one better suited to take on the task of bringing the Christmas message to the forgotten, sidelined and lonely folks that would be gathered there that night. Our group of friends (Bootcamp NW) is privileged to speak to these categories of people all the time. All deliverers of God’s word get to. But there is something different in Chris’ delivery because he does not worry about offending. And these days there are few words drawn from the scriptures that do not offend. Very little impresses him anymore either. He also has one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know. If someone is in pain or suffering, he is the first one to reach out and say, “Can I pray for you?”
As we gathered to pray before his talk, I joked that there were plenty of wheelchair-bound people to pray for out there. He looked at me with a sideways grin. This guy, if prompted by God would go after the healing of every single person in the facility. I could just see the news headlines. “Crazy healing man disrupts local retirement center on Christmas Eve!”
We didn’t know if there would be 50 or 3 people in the recreation center. As we walked in and waited for the time to begin, we realized that it would be an exceptionally small crowd. As a fellow speaker, I know how hard it is to speak to a tiny crowd. Smaller crowds can revolt easier and walk out leaving you standing there alone on stage. A larger crowd is easier to warm to with dozens of eyes to connect to. It is easier to find warm smiles to encourage you as your talk progresses. This was no such crowd. Two men with walkers and 4 women were all besides my family.
Chris had decided to talk about EPIC, a message John Eldredge had crafted from the story of God composed of 4 acts. It was a perfect way to engage someone who had never heard of Christ, as well as someone who had heard the Christmas story a thousand times.
He began with the tale of the time before time when God fellowshipped as the Trinity and in the company of angels. Right away the little retirement center was no longer a place filled with shuffling old men and forgotten people with crippling disabilities. It was a sanctuary. The Story of God captured every ear and all eyes were on Chris as he told of not just Chris’s love for us and the Father’s love for us. These fatherless men, widowed women, and crippled souls began to hear the truth. Their ears were filled with the message of a Father so in love with them that he chose to give his only Son so that they could live forever in His presence. A group even larger than the one listening to the talk had gathered right outside the hall. You could feel the veil between the two groups. One, even when invited said, “no thank you.” God’s gift is not dependant on anyone’s acceptance or attention. It just is. And those that seek it will find it. And He will continue to openly offer it.
It will one day come to an end though. Chris brought the talk to a close speaking of what eternity will be like for those who choose God’s love. They needed to hear that. I needed to hear that. While all of these people in the retirement center may be closer to eternities door than me, they are really just like you and I. The only difference is that all of their poses, those things that they put on to hide how broken their lives are, have mostly fallen away with age. Many of us can still hide behind youth, money, and status (or at least the allusion of these) as a way to put a face on our lives to others. God sees it all though. In a way, I think they are closer to understanding the story of the Gospel than those who are able to hide behind such constructs. They know they are poor. They know they are powerless. They know they are alone. The world knows it too.
Something dawned on me as Chris wrapped up his talk. This message IS contagious. These few souls in their walkers and wheelchairs, their awkward talk and chit-chat, all took something of the Gospel back with them to their small rooms. All of them took with them the seed. The Truth never goes out into the world unfruitful. We need to remember that. It is why we can never stay silent if we already know God. It doesn’t matter dignified or uninfluential those listening are.
As Chris closed, he asked if anyone needed prayer. One man said he did. Chris went to pray with him and realized the man only wanted Chris to pray for Trump. No one got out of their wheelchair that night. No one had hearing restored or blurred vision healed. They did hear of an eternity in the presence of a loving Father where they could rule the universe with him. They got to hear that they could get EVERYTHING back, including health, friends, and riches beyond measure. And in hearing that they had the possibility to choose hope, a hope we all need to hear daily.
Bernard of Clairvaux said, “Only He who has experienced it can believe what the love of Jesus Christ is.”And to experience it we first have to know it exists.
In the final peace and calm of Christmas, now that the mad rush is over, may you, now hearing of it, experience that love.