TITLE: Epiphany For All Seasons
By Janice Cartwright
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The ladies were a small group, but deeply affected. Word had reached them that yet another famine was rampaging in East Africa. And though the wretchedness raged far away, yet it seemed to the women right there in front of their faces every hour. How they yearned to go there and minister to the people! But the little band had few resources and they knew there wasn’t much time. These people were starving. They needed immediate help.
I don’t remember myriad details; I do know the ladies set themselves to pray. And I know that God answered their prayers in part by providing travel arrangements, possibly free passage on a multi-purpose cargo steamer or other type ship. However, the primary goal to provide food and medicine to make available to the sufferers failed of its consequence in the time allotted.
In spite of this the ladies made their decision to move forward, leaning upon the Lord’s will. Why He chose to send them empty-handed they didn’t understand just yet, but certain they were that He would reveal all in His good time. If not in this life, in the next. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and look not to your own understanding.” Nevertheless their hearts remained burdened throughout their voyage.
At last the day came for de-boarding at a foreign port and the travel-worn company made their way to the appointed meeting place. That they were months late and supplies short weighed heavy upon them. How they dreaded the blow that was bound to cloud their reception! After all, these folk had been through so many hardships already. How could they stand up to one more disappointment?
As the mission group had feared, famine and disease devoured too many. The signs of this lay all around. Still, a hopeful, small flock gathered to the pilgrims that day. When the would-be benefactors mingled tears with their apologies, “Chakula, dawa! La! we’ve no food to offer you, no medicine!” the tentative thrust in Swahili hit its aim. And when black arms enfolded their more pallid counterparts, it seemed weeping must reach universal mass.
But it was not as one might suppose. African tears had a wholly different source. Theirs had erupted not from grief, but from gratitude, "You came! You gladdened us with your presence! It is of most importance. Because you come to us, so far! Just to see us, to be with us! We know your heart is truly in love with us!”
For weeks afterwards, the ladies were stunned at such generosity of spirit! But were they not, after all, His handmaidens, and as such given to much contemplation upon His mysterious ways? Could it be the Lord was here revealing a vault of wisdom? Hard though the lesson might be in terms of human suffering, had the Master sensed a need for honing in the tools at His workbench?
Like Mary and Martha of Bethany losing then regaining their brother, the women eventually came to see they had needed to lose something, in order that a better something might be gained. While the westerners were grieving empty hands, their African neighbors had already, instinctively, apprehended a greater excellence. What more unfathomable love was described for these than that someone was willing to come so far, expend so much just to be with them, to participate in their predicament!
What I see here is a solid match for the heavenly pattern. But before we go there, I would like to preface by restating something said in an earlier paragraph. We may not fully understand in our lifetime the reason for human suffering or why God allows certain tragedies to take place in our world. But we can know what Abraham knew, "Will not the Lord of all the earth do right?" Yes, He will! With all my heart I believe that all will come clear when we see Him face to face.
And now for the heavenly epiphany we can glean thus far. When the Lord came to us that first Christmas, His journey tapped so much more than mere furlongs in space. With His coming alone He taught us so many things: about heart, about stooping, about bridging, and about His Presence. Though it was with all the elements of salvation encapsulated in one tiny frame that He arrived, Jesus employed a mighty leap to do it. What a descent He took from glory, power, and majesty - into human flesh!
And so it is with this in mind, that I offer a Christmas 2006 prayer to share,
“Lord, enlighten me as you did those missionary ladies; gladden my heart as you did my dear African brothers and sisters. With the central and elemental goodness of Your coming, consume me in every season! For yes, I know You came a man of sorrows and to suffer. And yes, I know You came to die. I know You came that my sin might blister Your sinless being! I know that for a thousand reasons, You came; and for those thousand reasons, I love You! But please, before I hymn of nails piercing tiny feet, allow me to stand here and gaze awhile at You, this little baby Jesus in the manger, who came so far."
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
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