The small congregation was devoid of the trappings of wealth or social status. I was preaching in a ‘church plant’ in the heart of the poverty pocket in Eastern Kentucky. Alcohol, drugs, and unemployment had decimated the community. The only church in the area had been deliberately set on fire nearly thirty years before. Now, we have rebuilt the small structure and are laboring to bring the light of the gospel to a spiritually dark place.
Christmas was approaching, and I was attempting to relate Matthew’s account of the visit of the Wise Men. I had just finished reading the Biblical narrative and was emphasizing the gifts the Wise Men presented to the Christ Child. I noticed one rough-appearing man whose thoughts seemed to waiver between what I was sharing and his own life circumstances. Attempting to bring him back in, I asked, “What do you think the Wise Men brought to baby Jesus?” He had apparently missed the part about the gold, frankincense and myrrh. Aroused to consciousness, he blurted out, “They probably brought him bread.”
Moments of silence followed as I tried to incorporate this man’s response into the message and not embarrass him. Fumbling for words, I was finally able to say something along the lines of, “That’s an interesting thought. The Wise Men brought treasures for a King that would later undoubtedly help finance the family’s flight from the murderous Herod. Perhaps one of them also thought of an immediate and practical need of something to eat”. I thanked him for his perspective. I realized this man’s world was often one of cold and hunger. I thought in that very moment of the scripture in which Jesus said of himself, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20, ESV).
In a Christmas hymn, C. Alexander pinned the words, “His cradle was a stall: With the poor, and mean, and lowly; Lived on earth, our savior holy.” Poor, mean, and lowly seemed to describe the world my mountain friend lived in. What an amazing insight this man provided! Jesus meets us right where we are. He comes into our personal world to bring us hope and salvation. My brother, gripped by poverty and lacking an adequate home, thought that ‘bread’ would be a really good gift.
That day my sermon about the Wise Men had taken a different route than had I intended. The message became more of a conversation than a monologue. We talked about Jesus, the Son of God, being born in a stable, not a palace. We shared how he took on the life of a poor man and lived in this troubled world. He was called Immanuel, meaning “God with us”. We reasoned how He could understand the life of people like us who gathered in this little church. I asked the congregation what gifts we could give to the King of Glory. We decided we should give Him the best we have to offer. Some could give a little money to support the struggling church. In the name Jesus, others could give ‘bread’ to someone who was hungry. We decided all of us could share the message of hope because Jesus came to be with us in our world that first Christmas.
Like the Wise Men of old, we returned home that day “a different way” (Matthew 2:12).
~ Brother Roy