7:30 on the evening of Christmas Eve and we’ re dropping off Christmas biscuits at a local church’s homeless shelter. It’s a cold and blustery night, winter weather, but despite this, the volunteers we briefly speak to on the door are friendly, welcoming, smiling; the sort of people you’d want looking after a shelter on Christmas Eve.
Maybe those volunteers, men and women giving up their nights to play their part in mitigating the effects of poverty and austerity, in a time when being poor is characterised by those in power as a moral failing, maybe these people offer us a way of seeing God this Christmas.
In many ways, this is what Christmas is all about – God’s incarnation as a human being, tiny and vulnerable for those moments in Bethlehem, challenging and gracious and world-changing thirty years later. Spirit becomes flesh and moves into the neighbourhood. Human beings – friends, family, enemies, neighbours – get to see God.
This is the controversy of Christmas. God – holy, majestic, ineffable, awe-inspiring – becomes a baby. Later we can talk about what happened when that baby grew up, but for now look at the scene. A child born in poverty becomes the centre of a story that relegates kings and emperors to the fringes of the narrative. God with us, a God that can be seen by shepherds and wise men.
And, of course, if God can be seen, that means he’s present. “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father,” Jesus once said, and that’s a huge claim. In Jesus, God cries, burps and bleeds. This isn’t a God who keeps us at a distance. Instead he becomes a part of our lives.
So maybe what we saw when delivering biscuits was a reflection of that, a glimpse of glory bouncing off those who follow him. Christmas is a good time to look out for that sort of thing, the divine making itself present in the midst of concrete and streetlights. Because it’s there if you’re willing to look for it.
Going into Advent this year, I wanted to see if there were ways in which I could see God’s presence more clearly. I’m not sure how successful I was – it’s a busy season, and busyness is often the enemy of the spiritual – but I think I’m more aware of how I need to be open to seeing Jesus day-to-day. Because that’s the beauty of a God who joins with humanity – his fingerprints are visible and his light still shines.