“This is a statement you can trust, and you should make note of it: Jesus Christ came here to save sinners, and I am the most notorious sinner of all. But that’s exactly why he showed me grace, so that in me, the Notorious Sinner, Jesus might display his love.”
Sometimes I am quite certain that God has a sense of humor that is infinitely funnier than ours.
And other times I think His actions are intentionally poignant and purposeful. Like tonight.
I started going to church when I was 8 years old and have been there ever since. I graduated from the world’s foremost evangelical university with a bachelor’s degree in religion. I’m in Seminary right now. In those 42 years of Faith, there have been questions that have occasionally been asked and asked and asked again. Each time, no answer is found but that only fuels the fire curiosity even more.
One of those questions –innocuous as it seems- is “What kind of body do we have in Heaven? If we die as an elderly person, are we elderly? Are we children again?”
I don’t know why this mattered but it has been asked forever. Maybe it’s because we wonder if we’ll recognize those we love when we get where they are.
Tonight, I got my answer, at least in part.
About 1 a.m, as I peeled back another leather door on the mystical Advent Calendar Wick Radcliffe had given me, another visitor has arrived. I recognize him ...by his snow-white eyebrows.
He is a new arrival this Christmas. He left the bonds of Earth only this past April, and the world is sadder for his leaving. But we are infinitely better for his having been here in the first place. He touched countless lives with words of Grace and Love. He is the original Ragamuffin.
Brennan Manning has come to see His friend, the Baby Jesus.
Of all the visitors on this long, wondrous night, it is this man I most wish I could interact with. I wish I could speak to him. I wish I could throw my arms around his neck and tell him how I love him and how his battles and his honesty saved my life. Somehow, I think he knows.
Brennan is not bent, broken and crippled. His eyes are clear. The effects of the alcoholism he hid from millions is buried in the grave. The Brennan who lives in Christ is all that remains. His smile is bright, his hands free from the tremors. His hair is the dark brown it was when he was a young priest with the Little Brothers of Jesus in France. But his eyebrows...his eyebrows are the same snowy white they were for half his life.
I chuckle at this. I think it’s just God winking at me. “This is so you understand once and for all that you will recognize each other.” I imagine Him saying.
Brennan crawls to the side of the manger. Where others hesitate or halter, Brennan wastes not a moment. He scoops Jesus into his arms and kisses his sweet, precious face over and over. Jesus smiles and drools on Brennan, but the beloved old Ragamuffin never notices. He is living what he believed for all those years. For the first time in his life, he is experiencing Jesus without a twinge of guilt or the ghost of a drinking binge pricking at his soul. He is free of the bonds of humanity. “Those who would worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth...” the Bible says. And tonight, Brennan is a free spirit. Free from the limits of flesh. Free from the lies we all tell to cover what we do.
Watching this man who I love so dearly, I am reminded of a story he told in one of his books. Brennan was waiting for a flight in the busiest airport in America: Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. It was late, it was cold, it was snowing a blizzard outside. It was a mere two days until Christmas and O’Hare was a madhouse of people trying to get home and growing more aggravated each minute at the weather and the delays. Right in the middle of the hustle and bustle, Brennan noticed a black woman holding her infant son and making funny faces at him. She was blowing on his face and making little “motorboat” noises and running her fingers on her lips and making her son laugh and laugh...and in return he made her laugh as well. Brennan walked over to the woman and asked her how she could be so silly and carefree in the middle of a blizzard in Chicago, two days before Christmas. Her response is really what Christmas is about. She looked up at Brennan and said: “It’s Christmas, and dat baby Jesus he sho’ makes me laugh”
I think of that story as I watch Brennan, because he is essentially doing the same thing with Jesus.
Brennan Manning is laughing. He is making funny noises and making Jesus smile. And the smile of his baby-savior makes Brennan laugh. Brennan is finally resting in the truth of something he so frequently said: “The Father of Jesus is very fond of me.”
Merry Christmas, Ragamuffin. And welcome home.
“Though we’re strangers, still I love you. I love you more than your mask. And I know you’ll have to trust this to be true....and I know that’s much to ask”