A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What If You Were in a Small Group with Mary, the Mother of Jesus?

Our church is in the process of preparing to launch new small groups in early February. These small groups, each consisting of 3 to 12 people will be "sharing groups" where people take turns sharing their "closest to God" moments with each other. "Closest to God" moments refer to those times when we experienced God's presence in a very real way in the course of our day to day living.

As we prepare to launch these new share groups in our church and as we approach the Christmas season, I began to wonder what it would be like if Mary, the mother of Jesus was in one of these groups. Maybe the conversation would go like this:

Small Group Facilitator: Welcome everyone to our small group meeting this evening. Help yourself to the cookies and punch that are on the coffee table. Like we've been doing each time we meet, let's go around the room so everyone will have an opportunity to share where they felt closest to God since we last met. Who wants to begin? Mary, let's begin with you. What was your closest to God moment since we last met? And by the way, congratulations on the birth of your child!

Mary: Thank you for keeping Joseph and me in your prayers. My "closest to God" moment was when I gave birth to Jesus who is God in flesh. He is the long awaited Messiah and the one who Isaiah prophesied would be known as "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. This is why we named him, "Emmanuel" which means "God with us."

Small Group Facilitator: Wow, that certainly was a "closest to God" moment, Mary. Thank you for sharing. So who wants to go next? Bill, what was your "closest to God" moment since we last met?

Bill: Uh, I think I'll pass.

This fun little small group simulation shows how unique and incredible the Christmas story is. You can't get any closer to God than Mary did when she carried Jesus in her womb and gave birth to the savior of the world. That literally was a "closest to God" moment!

Even though Bill couldn't top what Mary had to share since the whole "God incarnate story" is really amazing, the truth is that we all have "closest to God" moments to share with each other. Think about the events of your life this past week. Where was God present in your day to day routine?

Was God present in the voice of the person who called you out of the blue one day and offered an encouraging word just when you needed it? Was God present with you when you said "hi" to a young mother and her little girl as you were getting on the elevator and the little girl surprised you when she responded with the words, "I love you?" Or how about the time when you were having breakfast with some friends at a restaurant and after someone shared a troubling situation, everybody got quiet, and somebody in the group offered to say a prayer for that person?

These just aren't hypothetical examples! They all happened to me!

I know, I know. None of these are nearly as dramatic as a young lady giving birth to the savior of the world. Who would want to follow what Mary shared in that small group. I think I would have passed on that one, too! 

God isn't just present in a burning bush, a lowly manger, and an empty tomb. God is also present in more subtle ways throughout our day to day living.

The story of Christmas isn't just a story about a miraculous virgin birth. It's a story that reminds us that "closest to God" moments happen all around us, if only we open our hearts to see them.

Having said that, here's a little word of advice. The next time you attend a small group meeting at church, don't sit next to a guy named, Moses. He might bring up something about parting the Red Sea. You might want to pass on that one, too.

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