A Stranger on the Way to Church

I have a fairly rigid Sunday morning routine.  My alarms goes off at 5AM.  I usually get out of bed about 5:15AM.  I shower, get dressed, eat a bowl of cereal, and enjoy the peaceful silence of an empty living room before the kids awake from the nighttime slumber.

img_7956I walk across the street to the church somewhere between 6:15AM and 6:30AM.  I turn on the lights and unlock the doors.  I make a pot of coffee and set up a few chairs.  I scribble a few things on the white board to prepare for my Sunday School class.  I walk into the sanctuary and turn on the necessary audio/visual equipment.

Eventually I find a spot in the sanctuary and imagine it filled with people. Then I pray.  I pray that our service would bring honor and glory to God.  I pray that people would experience God and follow in obedience.  I pray that I would be faithful to God in my responsibilities.  At this point I usually pull out my sermon manuscript.  I’ve given it countless hours all week.  It’s far too long.  I make the final decisions.  This will stay.  This will get cut.

If I’ve timed everything correctly – it’s now 8AM.  It’s time to walk back across the street to my house.  On the typical Sunday I pick up my daughter to allow my wife the opportunity to get ready for church with just the responsibility of our son.  My daughter then joins me for rehearsal with the praise team.

Yet, this week wasn’t the typically Sunday …

mangerAs I opened the double doors exiting the sanctuary I noticed someone in the street.  He made no eye contact and he didn’t appear ready to talk.  He briskly continued his walk in the opposite direction.  I offered a “Good morning!” that was kindly reciprocated.  I then decided to take it a step further.   I engaged him in conversation.  It didn’t take long for his brokenness to rise to the surface and overflow.  I heard about the recent marital trouble and the recent death of his father.  I heard his desperation.  Prior to parting ways, this stranger turned new acquaintance asked me to pray for him.  I was blessed to do so.

Afterwards I picked up my daughter, participated in the Sunday morning rehearsal, taught a Sunday School class, welcomed our congregation to worship, taught the kids about the Hope candle, and preached the first sermon of Advent.  Yet, this encounter with a stranger is what seemed like church on the first Sunday of Advent.

I’m a big fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Here are a few profound thoughts on Advent that he offered from a prison cell.  Blessings, my friends.

“Jesus stands at the door knocking (Rev 3:20).  In total reality, he comes in the form of the beggar, of the dissolute human child in ragged clothes, asking for help.  He confronts you in every person that you meet.  As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbor, as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, makes demands on you.  That is the great seriousness and great blessedness of the Advent message.  Christ is standing at the door; he lives in the form of a human being among us.  Do you want to close the door or open it.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer written from Tegel prison camp on November 29, 1943

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