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“Ministry of presence” is a favorite phrase of chaplains to describe how they work — with or without words — to be the vehicle of God’s love when they enter the room of a dying patient, the cell of a prisoner, the cubicle of an employee, or the foxhole of a frightened soldier. Francis of Assisi expressed it well when he said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

Some speak of this as “incarnational ministry.” It is exemplified by the life of Christ who willingly “became flesh” (the literal meaning of incarnation) and chose to dwell (“tabernacle” — pitch his tent) among us. Moses Chung and the Home Missions staff brought this concept to mind again as they lead the program for our annual denominational staff Christmas gathering in Grand Rapids, using the theme of “neighborhood.”

I have several times over the past year used John 4 and the story of Jesus with the Samaritan woman as an example of this kind of presence — going where she would be, asking her for water before offering “living water,” and letting her bring up questions of how and who to worship before acknowledging that he was the awaited Messiah.

Moses Chung in his Christmas devotional gave us another example — Christ’s instructions to the first evangelists in Luke 10 to go out to the neighboring towns, take no supplies (no baggage), pronounce a blessing on the house that welcomes you (positive perception of value before God = respect), accept what they give you to eat and drink (humility to receive as well as give), and “do not move around from house to house” (vs. 7 — prolonged presence to build relationship). Then! heal the sick and pronounce the kingdom coming (vs. 9).

As we celebrate this Christmas season most of us will enjoy the blessing of visiting with family and friends. May we also make time to approach, bless, benefit from, and build relationships with the stranger and “the least of these” whom God puts in our path every day. We are all in the end evangelists, ministers, chaplains, and ambassadors for the Christ child who came into our neighborhood and sent us into his.

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