It had been a rugged December day at church. We were writing the 2016 budget. A charter member had died unexpectedly. And, in the span of 15 minutes, two of our very strong leaders each shared with me that their oncologist had given them a dreaded diagnosis—cancer.

Work-weary and ground down by grief and long hours, I found myself running on fumes. Empty.

My holiday spirit was none-too-buoyant as I rang the doorbell of Betty Jean, a homebound member of my congregation. But, as is my custom, when I visit I always try to take a little something from the church as a treat. This time it was a goodie bag with our congregation’s new logo on it. It was filled with small things: an olive-wood cross, a journal, a bookmark, a refrigerator magnet.

Trifles, really. Modest day-brighteners, at best. Or so I thought.

“Oh my!” she exclaimed as she pulled each trinket out. “Oh my! Oh my! Oh my!” over and over again.

Then she looked at me and said, “Pastor Twila, this bag alone is so pretty,” as she carefully folded it. “You could have just brought me this empty bag and I would have been so happy. But all of this! Oh my!”

As if her overflowing gratitude for this wasn’t enough, she handed me some cards from the Christmas card flurry my congregation sends to our homebound members. “Would you read these to me?” she asked. “My eyes aren’t so good.”

As I read one after another, many with vignettes of the Christmas story or the verse of a carol, she sighed, shook her head and repeated, “Oh my! People are so kind. God is good! Oh my! I feel full.”

I marveled. I marveled at how such humble fare—an empty bag, even—could bring such fullness of heart to a woman trapped in a failing body.

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior … he has filled the hungry with good things ….” 

(Luke 1:46-53)

It has been mere weeks since congregations across this church sang Mary’s Song of Praise in our Advent worship. Now, as we find ourselves entering Epiphany, we realize and celebrate its fulfillment once again.

Christ was born into a world hungry for justice. It is no coincidence that he was delivered in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread.”

It is no coincidence that an empty stable became the birthplace of the one we would call “Bread of Life.”

It is no coincidence that Christ, coming to fill the hungry with good things, would someday offer his life for us, saying, “Take and eat. This is my body broken for you.”

“Oh my! People are so kind. God is good! Oh my! I feel full!”

Walking to my car, tears in my eyes, all I could say was, “Oh my! How could this happen?” I marveled at how Betty Jean’s fullness of heart replenished the empty spirit of her world-weary pastor.

Christ comes to us where we least expect it—in a feed grotto in Bethlehem. In bread, broken. In an aging saint with Parkinson’s disease.

In these days of Epiphany, as we celebrate the one who has come as bread for the world, may Christ find you. May you be fed.

And, together with Mary, Betty Jean and the angels of Bethlehem, may we lift our voices in praise: “Oh my! Oh my! Oh my!”

Twila Schock
Twila Schock is pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, Belvidere, Ill.

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