Posted by: Philip Rushton | December 10, 2013

Giving Presence This Christmas

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
John 1:14 The Message

Our deacon board has a beautiful Advent tradition of delivering poinsettias to people who are home-bound or who have lost a loved one in the past year. I had the privilege of being a part of some of these visits this week. It has afforded me the opportunity to touch base with some of our members who are struggling or feeling cut off from the community.

I have to admit that I usually feel a bit unsure of myself in pastoral care situations. Yesterday, I found myself struggling to find the right words to say. How do you respond to someone who tragically lost a 7 month old baby a few weeks ago? How do you offer hope to someone who is slowly and painfully dying from an incurable neurological disease? It is a humbling experience to walk alongside those who are suffering.

Even if we think that we have a helpful word to share, there is no guarantee that others will receive it or believe it. To experience healing or arrive at peace, people need to come to their own conclusions. They need to discover answers to life’s big questions for themselves. This means that a caregiver does not have a lot of control over the situation. Most of the time a caregiver will feel somewhat uncertain as to the kind of impact they are having on a person. The best thing we can do is listen to people as they try and sort out how they are feeling and how they are making sense of God in the midst of hardship. In these moments, ears are probably our most powerful tool.

Yet, while caregivers may feel uncertain about what impact they can have, I do believe that there is something very healing about simply being present with people. In his book The Power of Presence, Doug Manning says, “I have never understood how counseling works, even though I have been involved in counseling for most of my life. I still have no idea how I can sit with my chin in my hand and grunt every once in a while and then people get better.” Manning goes on to suggest that when people are able to talk and feel as though they are understood, they develop insights that help them grow. The role of the skilled helper is not to impart info; rather, it is to be present with people in such a way that they can feel safe enough to figure out how they can heal.

The Christmas story focuses on the gift of God’s presence. As Eugene Peterson, articulates, “the word became flesh, and moved into the neighborhood.” While we often focus on giving material gifts this time or year, the Christmas season is really about “incarnational” giving. We retell the story of a God who stepped into the messiness and brokenness of our world. It is a story about God coming close to us – to teach, heal, suffer alongside, and stand in solidarity with the poor and brokenhearted. While I did not have a lot to say to my friends who are suffering this Christmas, I could point to the scriptures that speak of a God who is acquainted with our grief and has come to dwell with us.

Julie explained to me that she has taken full responsibility for buying gifts for the last 7 years and declared that this year it is my responsibility! I never know what to get people for Christmas. Lets just say this is not my “love language” (if I may appeal to the popular psychology of Gary Chapman.) So sorry, any family members who might be reading this post, do not expect thoughtful, creative, organic, fair-trade, home-made gifts, wrapped in homemade stationary this year – Julie needs a breather!

Perhaps, though, one of the best gifts we can give people is the gift of presence. We do not have to look far to find people who are in need of a supportive presence. I was humbled to discover that one of the people on our poinsettia delivery list lived on my street, and I had never met her. There are people in our families, our neighborhoods, and our workplaces that probably need of a listening ear this Christmas.

If you are like me and are struggling to know what to get people for Christmas, perhaps you might get some ideas from the biblical story. The gift of presence, I believe, is what the first Christmas was really about!


  1. Hi Pastor Phil, If I’m on your list – I always appreciate a gift card.

  2. Yes, presence is the best , next is an age appropiate book. James may not read yet but he will ‘read’ the pictures and develop a tactile feeling for something of value……………………Paz en Cristo……………………….

    • Yes – i ended up going with books for all my Christmas presents. James is already a fan of books!

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