FIRST-PERSON: The gift of presence

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (BP) -- Not long ago, my wife Beth and I were discussing whether to attend a wedding to which we had been invited. It was a considerable distance from our home and required a couple of nights in a hotel, driving and meal expenses and at least one vacation day.

Though we both wanted to go, and felt we should, I found myself asking, I wonder if the couple would rather have the money that we would spend on travel as a wedding gift?

It's not the first time I've asked that kind of question, and it probably won't be the last. I remember international missionaries once telling me that a church had spent $50,000 to send a large mission team halfway around the world to serve with them for a few days.

They were grateful for the help and encouraged by the fellowship. But they also shared with me candidly, "We couldn't help but think how much more we could have accomplished here with $50,000 if they had stayed home and just sent the money."

Experiences like these underscore the sometimes difficult question, How much is someone's physical presence worth? Or, to state it more casually and commonly, Shall I go, or just send something?

And of course, when the question presents itself at the time of someone's death, it often has the additional pressure of urgency since there is often little advance notice and little time to make a good decision about going. I still remember fondly and with great appreciation the people who traveled distances to attend my dad's funeral. And I remember a funeral from almost 40 years ago that I still regret missing today.

How much is someone's physical presence worth? It's an excellent, spiritual question to ponder during this Advent season. Could Jesus have just "sent" the gift of salvation, without coming personally? Could He have dispatched someone else to the cross, or was it supremely, eternally important that He be there Himself?

I think we miss something incredibly important if we celebrate salvation without celebrating incarnation. On that holy night when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, He chose not just to be present with us, but to become one of us. Through Jesus, God entered into our condition not just with sympathy, but with immeasurable sacrifice.

At Christmas, we celebrate God's love and amazing grace in choosing to become human, in choosing to embrace mortality for the sake of our immortality. How much was the physical presence of Jesus worth? It was worth everything. It was worth our eternal lives.

By the way, eventually my wife and I did decide to attend that distant wedding. We decided to do so after remembering some of the older adults who traveled distances to attend our own wedding. We remembered wondering, at the time, why they went to such trouble. But now, decades later, we remember very few of their wedding gifts. But we still remember their presence.

There's a worship song that says in part, "I'll never know how much it cost, to see my sins upon that cross." That's certainly true. And yet I wonder if we don't reflect more on the gift of salvation than we do the very presence of "God with us" in the incarnation.

As great as the gift of salvation is, that gift is simply an expression of how much God loves us and is willing to sacrifice to be with us, both now on earth and throughout eternity in heaven. The value of His very presence eclipses even the value of His wonderful gift.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. This column first appeared in the Illinois Baptist newspaper, online at IBonline.IBSA.org.
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