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Emmanuel, God with Us
Messiah has come to live among us. This age-old secret changed the lives of monks at a failing monastery, and it can change our lives too.

Retired Mennonite Mutual Aid stewardship theologian Lynn Miller tells the following story in his book Firstfruits Living. Here is a shortened version.

Photo by Br. David Klecker, The Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Spring Bank.

There was once a monastery that had fallen on hard times. Fewer people came to visit. A handful of old monks carried out their tasks with heavy hearts. The abbot spent many hours in prayer, asking God to send renewal.

At the edge of the property, an old Jewish rabbi had built a little hut and came sometimes to fast and pray. One day, the abbot decided to visit the rabbi and open his heart to him. As he approached the hut, the abbot saw the rabbi standing in the doorway, his arms outstretched in welcome.

The two embraced like long-lost brothers. The rabbi invited the abbot into the hut. In the middle of the one room was a table with the Scriptures open on it. Then, to the astonishment of the abbot, the rabbi began to cry. The abbot found himself crying, too. For the first time in his life, he cried his heart out in the presence of another man.

After the tears ceased, the rabbi said, “You and your brothers are serving God with heavy hearts. You have come to ask a teaching of me. I will give you a teaching, but you must not repeat it to anyone. For if you do, on that day you will die.”

The rabbi looked straight at the abbot and then said in a quiet hushed voice, “The Messiah is among you.”

For a while, all was silent. Then the rabbi said, “Now you must go.” The abbot left without a word and no one saw the rabbi again after that day.

The next morning, the abbot called his monks together. He told them he had received a teaching from the rabbi. He was forbidden to repeat it, but he was sure it was from God and would change their situation.

Change things it certainly did. Each time the abbot saw one of the monks he thought, “Is Brother John the Messiah? Or Father Matthew? Or me? What does this mean, ‘The Messiah is among you’?”

The other monks noticed a change in the abbot. He began to treat them all with a special reverence. It was as if he had seen something special in each of them.

After a while, the monks began to change. There was a gentle, wholehearted quality that was hard to describe, but easy to notice. Occasional visitors found themselves deeply moved by the lives of these monks. Before long, people were coming from far and wide to be nourished by the prayer life of the monks. Young men were again asking to be become part of this holy community.

In time, the abbot grew old and fell ill. Fearful that the teaching that had brought such spiritual renewal would be lost, the monks gathered around his bed and pled with him to reveal the secret of their renewed faith.

In the whisper of a man about to meet God, he said for the first time those supremely powerful words, “The Messiah is among you.”

Jesus told us that if we wanted to show love for Him, the way to do that was to show love to the people around us in the same way we would for Him. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me,” He said in Matthew 25.

In this time of celebrating Christmas, there are many ways to honour Christ’s example in our daily lives. We bring out things of beauty into our lives and homes. We seek out special ways of showing love to other people. We encourage ourselves to exercise the spiritual gifts of generosity and charity by giving more. We spend time with people we otherwise might not see very often. We try to spend our money in ways that help those with less gain financial resources, so that more will have enough.

All these things are important. But our highest calling is simply to worship Jesus, the one who came for us. Out of this come all the others. This is the most important part of Christmas for me. It is the celebration of Christ the Messiah coming to us and living among us: God in His fullness, present, teaching us by example how to live in his grace and truth.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. . . . From His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1).

Tim Dyke is the editor and publisher of Canadian Mennonite.

Originally published in Canadian Mennonite, December 2008.




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