Never was there a clearer display of the manifest presence of God than in the One whose birth we celebrate at this time of year. What an amazing reality for the shepherds, for Simeon and Anna, for the wise men, to see God manifest in the flesh of a newborn baby named Jesus.
In later years, He made it clear that to see Him was to see the Father. He was that manifest presence. But I didn’t live in those times. I wasn’t one of those privileged to see Christ – to hear Him preach, to watch His miracles.
I have, however, been privileged to experience that presence – that sense of the reality of God’s manifest presence. There was a time when a group of us teens were praying in the Prayer Chapel at Delta Lake and God came and met with us. I was at Asbury during the great revival that began there and spread to so many other colleges and churches. You could sense the presence of the Almighty as soon as you walked into Hughes Auditorium, and I remember that I didn’t want to ever leave. There have also been precious times of personal prayer and worship when God made His presence known and felt.
But the manifest presence of God isn’t our usual experience. Often we pray, sometimes even worship, without a sense of God’s presence. What then?
God reminded me this morning that the only difference between those times is my awareness of Him – not the reality of His presence. He is just as surely there when I don’t “sense” Him as in those wonderful moments when I do. That’s faith – the confidence in what isn’t seen or felt. God has promised to be with us. God has promised never, never, never to leave us. And God’s presence isn’t measured by my sense of His presence, but by the promise of His presence.
I didn’t see the baby Jesus. I didn’t hear the words of Christ as He taught or healed. Nor do I feel His manifest presence every time I read His Word or pray. But He is no less real. And that truth brings me great “comfort and joy” at this Christmas season and all year long.