“Christ Visible”. I can’t get that phrase off my mind lately. I think about the soon coming Christmas day and it strikes me that we are celebrating the beginning of Christ’s visibility in the world. I think about how his visibility changed absolutely everything.
He manifested. He showed up. He became in a way that allowed us to become aware of his existence. On December 21, 2015 he did it again, right on the street where I live.
As many of you know from facebook and my previous post here, in hopes of making Christ visible, I’ve been raising money to turn the water back on at the flop house across the street. It’s a dark place, a sad place. I hate it that it’s there and have often wished that those people would just go away.
However, it’s becoming more and more apparent to me that there is no ‘away’ anymore. Those people aren’t going anywhere. The world is full of ‘those people’ and their numbers are growing. The only way to deal with it is head on, and yelling at them doesn’t work. I’ve tried it.
So, I’ve begun instead to listen to the voice of Jesus inside me, and, in an incredible show of grace and generosity, the money was raised to pay the water bill for the house across the street. Monday was the day to execute the plan. I knew that and Sunday night I felt really nervous about the prospect of going over and knocking on that door.
I asked God for help and was directed to Psalm 29. Reading, I was reminded of the power and magnificence in who God is. I knew that what I was about to do was in God’s wheelhouse, not mine. In particular, Psalm 29:4 was highlighted for me as I read:
“The voice of the Lord is powerful”
This idea was God…Christ making himself visible. There were too many confirming events along the way for it to be otherwise. My anxiety dissolved and I felt grateful.
Monday morning rolled around. Sitting at my table at home, I took communion. I was ready to go.
Two trips to the City, a meeting with the utilities manager, and a new, but workable plan later, I found myself standing on the front porch of that house with the paid water bill in hand. I looked at the dirty baby gate across the threshold and wondered why it was there. I knew their week old baby had been removed by Child Services a few months before.
Sitting on the railing toward the side was a stamped metal relief of the face of Christ. It had an old lighter laying next to it. I thought to myself,
“There ain’t nothin to it but to do it.”
My heart beating fast, I knocked on the door. Moments later I was greeted by a young man in a baseball cap. He asked me if I was looking for J***, the tenant on the lease of the house. I said I was, and he told me he wasn’t available; still sleeping. It was 1:00PM. Not to be daunted, I said I’d run a few errands and be back.
Two hours later I was back on the porch. They had until 4:30 to get to the City with their paperwork filled out to get their water turned back on that day. I asked for J*** again and he came out and stood on the porch with me. I asked if I could come in and speak with all the people that were there. He asked me if this was about something that had been stolen. I said no.
Relieved, he launched into a story of how he’d shot heroin for twenty years (but not anymore?) and now his only solace in life is “making rice for needy people” as way of explanation for the way the house is. He said I wasn’t going to be able to come in because the people “in his care” were, for the most part, “very paranoid” and “don’t really deal with normal people well”.
Thinking that just getting to the porch wasn’t really in line with what I felt I’d been asked to do, I pondered my options as I stood and listened to him talk. He went on. I just listened, not really saying anything.
Out of the blue, his face changed and he said, “I don’t know why I’m doing this, but I’m going to let you come in and speak to my people.” It was a moment of Christ visible to me, a signal that I wasn’t really standing there alone on that porch. I said a silent, “Thank you, Jesus.” and followed J*** in through the door.
Inside, the house was dark. The windows were papered to keep the light out and there were dirty frayed curtains hanging between the living room and the dining room and hall so you couldn’t see what was beyond. There were two tattered couches and a coffee table. Two young dogs were loudly playing tug o’war with a rag and there was a small fire in the fire place made from scavenged wood. It looked exactly like a haunted house that you would tour during Halloween, except it was real.
“Come out everyone!”, J*** said, “Come out and meet our neighbor lady!” Though I suspect there were many more in the house, six of them came out and gathered round. They were polite, each shaking my hand and introducing themselves.
One, a young man named D*****, introduced himself and immediately began apologizing to me for his face. He had large sores on his forehead and cheeks, a common sign of drug abuse I guess. I smiled at him and said not to worry. I could feel my heart being filled with the love of Christ for that boy and for all of them, so shaky and gaunt, their eyes darting and unsure.
I sat on one of the couches and began. I reminded them about my car being broken into a few weeks prior and how angry I had been about it. I let them know that I am becoming a Pastor. They shifted uncomfortably when I told them that, obviously surprised to be in that sort of company. I told them it was them most exciting thing that had ever happened to me and shared some of my own story to put them at ease.
Getting back to the reason for my visit, I told them that after I had been so angry about the car I had prayed and asked God about it, and that Jesus had put his love for them in my heart. Then, I relayed to them the message I’d been sent there to deliver.
“OK Jesus, so you love them. How do you want me to show them that?” I asked.
And Jesus said, “Give them water.”
“So, I started a Gofundme campaign to raise some money to help you guys out. And Jesus put his love for you on a lot of other people’s hearts too, and we raised $440 to put toward your water bill. I have been to the City. Here is your paperwork and the receipt. All you need to do is take this and your rental agreement and photo ID down to the City today before 4:30 and your water will be turned back on.”
I cannot explain to you the look in their eyes as I was speaking…the relief, the amazement, the wonder, were all deeply touching. Their mouths were agape.
As I continued, tears welled up and began to glide down their cheeks. They looked at each other. They looked down at their hands. On their faces was the kind of gratitude and astonishment that only come about when one sees Christ visible. I went on,
“Jesus has paid your water bill (SMILE!). And He has sent me here today because He wants you to know how much He loves you. Jesus wants you to know that you are His children. He sent me to tell you that He has claimed you for His own. You are children of God. Do you understand? You are God’s children. And your lives matter very much to Jesus.
Your lives are not an accident. Each one of your lives has a plan and a purpose in God and you matter. And that’s what is true about you. You matter. You matter. You matter.”
And I went around the room and looked each one of them in the eyes and said,
“You matter. Jesus Christ loves you. He sees you. He has claimed you as His own, and He loves you.”
As I spoke, they listened, and they trembled, and they took in those words, and they cried.
“Now, every time you take a drink of water, or shower, or do the dishes, or clean, I want you to remember that Jesus Christ loves you, and you are so very special to Him.”
I spoke to them about the beauty and glory of the Lord and about how God has given me a life now that is actually bearing fruit. Instead of just wanting to help people, because Jesus is with me, today I can do things that actually make a difference, like delivering a paid water bill.
I didn’t say anything about what they needed to do to change. I just delivered the message that Christ loves them, and that there is hope and grace to be found in Jesus.
I asked them if they would like to receive prayer and they all said yes. I prayed. I asked God to cover them with grace, and healing, and mercy. I claimed those young people and that house for the Kingdom of God. I asked God to break the chains of their addictions, and generational dysfunction, and poverty, and lack of spiritual esteem. I prayed that God would restore them and redeem all that they had lost and to lead them into lives that would bear fruit, real fruit, the kind of fruit that only grows in the Kingdom of God.
It was one of the most profound moments of my life.
As I got ready to go, all of them thanked me profusely. I told them to thank Jesus. One came over and asked for a hug. We embraced, and as I held him I told him to keep in touch with me. I told them all that I am happy to talk to them about recovery and about Jesus and about what is true about them any time. On my way out I said,
“Your water is back on! It’s because Christ loves you. Merry Christmas to you! Merry Christmas!”,
And I left.
Looking at it all, I see that the paid water bill, built by the generosity of so many, was the trojan horse that got me into the camp of the enemy; a camp filled with darkness and hopelessness and despair. Christ drove that trojan horse straight into the middle of that camp and exploded a bomb of Light, and Truth, and Hope. And the explosion was undeniable. The power and mercy and grace in that action were beyond question. It was an action that can never be undone, and, to this minute, is at work within that place.
It was the most meaningful ‘Merry Christmas’ I’ve ever spoken. I walked out of that place with such a sharpened understanding of what the phrase actually means.
‘Merry Christmas’ means ‘Christ has come’. It means He is with us, yesterday, today and forever. It means we are seen, that there is hope for us even in the darkest of places. It means there is a way to deal with even the most vexing challenges in our lives. It means we don’t have to harden our hearts and turn a blind eye. Instead, there is someone who calls us to be and see.
Christ visible is the most beautiful ‘sight’ any of us; rich or poor, healthy or sick, good or bad can ever possibly aspire to envision. Christ visible is the greatest gift of all.
Merry Christmas to all of you. May there be peace on earth, and good will. – Amen