I had been running hard for months and needed a break. I had barely finished my third message at the Media Theater one Sunday when I called my wife and said, "Book us a hotel at the shore."
If I had had time to plan myself, I would have chosen a Marriott or something like that. My wife, being frugal and more realistic about our financial situation, selected a motel off the beaten track. It wasn't the Bates, but it was close: folks using the trunks of their cars as suitcases, no net on the basketball hoop, and a pool that was eight-by-eight. The six of us jammed into one room and fit right in with the crowd.
We decided to go for a dip in the pool to cool off before heading to the ocean. While poolside we chatted with a woman and her son and then left for the beach. My family was ahead of me since I had returned to the room to get a cooler.
Waiting for the light to turn green I felt a tap on my back. It was the woman from the pool. She said, "Mister, are you a Christian?" I affirmed that I was. Then she asked if I was a pastor. Wondering where this was headed, I listened as she plunged head-on into her story.
She had married a man twelve years prior. They were both Christians but, slowly over time, he had begun to backslide. He began drinking and was home infrequently. During the last six months he had begun to beat her. She said she had planned this long weekend the beach with her son as a last-ditch effort to hear from God. Otherwise, she was ready to give up: though she and her son had been seeing a therapist, she was beginning to have suicidal thoughts.
For the next half-hour the two of us stood on that street corner talking about God's love, grace, and ability to sustain us in times of need. I shared a verse out of Isaiah – "For your Maker is your husband, The LORD of hosts is His name" (Isa. 54:5) --— and then we prayed and I departed.
Why am I sharing this encounter with you? Because two thousand years ago God came to Earth as a man. Theologically this is called the Incarnation: culturally it is celebrated as Christmas.
The stark reality is that, except for an unknowable number of Magi from Persia and, later, twelve hand-picked male followers plus a handful of women, most people missed this miraculous occurrence.
Here, secure in the in the twenty-first century, we think, "Shame on them!" Had God chosen for Jesus to come to earth in our day surely we would have recognized Him. We couldn't possibly be like those blind, stuck-up religious leaders called Pharisees.
Or could we?
Crossing that street I felt as if the Lord impressed upon me that we do indeed miss Jesus much of the time. The main reason is that we are not in contact with "the least of these," those who need Him most:
Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'
Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.' (Matthew 25:34-40)
So often we avoid the uncomfortable places He wants us to be. We inoculate ourselves from those whom we consider to be the dregs of society. And like the priest who passed by the man in need in the story of the Good Samaritan, we feel as if we have already done our religious duty and need a break. (How ironic that, though I had spoken at three church services that morning, it was later on a street corner that I would hear God's voice and be used of Him.)
This Christmas season, let's keep a look-out for Jesus – in the overwhelmed sales clerk at the mall, in the bathroom attendant at the highway rest stop, in the flight attendant working the red-eye, in your least-favorite neighbor – wherever we are, whomever we're with.
Let's not miss Jesus.