You may not agree with the President of the USA in many things, but in this he is right - the gift of Christmas is offered to each one of us.
The captain of Pharaoh’s guard, was a person who benefitted from the blessing of God on his household through the presence of a believer.
Think of your office; your university department; your school; your gym; the place where you regularly do your shopping; or the cafe where you like to go for a coffee. Is there a difference in the atmosphere in these places because of your presence there?
It took me many years to realise that, as a Christian, I make a difference wherever I go in this world, because I take the presence of Christ with me. 40 years ago, when I was a young Christian, the prevailing evangelical theology was that interaction with the world was a necessary evil and the nasty, horrible world should be kept at arm’s length; the objective of our lives must be to get as many people as possible through the doors of our church and converted – not a bad objective at all, but rather limited.
Gradually many Western evangelicals have come to see that we are called to be salt and light in the society where we live; and over the past 40 years the question has shifted from, ‘Can you be a faithful Christian and yet engage in social action?’ to, ‘Can you be a faithful Christian and not engage in social action?’ - a very healthy shift.
On a personal level, I began to see the importance of praying for my colleagues at work and praying for the presence of Christ to be experienced in my office. So each day I set aside time to pray individually for each person in my hierarchy (following the Biblical exhortation to pray for leaders) and for each person in my unit. Sometimes I just mentioned their names before God, sometimes there was something more specific to pray.
Then one day somebody remarked, ‘I’d love to work in your unit. It’s the happiest unit in the whole Directorate-General.’ I realised that they had recognised the presence of the Spirit of Christ in my unit, which is what I had been praying for; and this was the way in which they expressed it, in the language that was available to them.
Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard, was a person who benefitted from the blessing of God on his household through the presence of a believer. You can read about him in Genesis 39. One day this Egyptian high official bought a slave from some Ishmaelites, and this slave was Joseph, the son of Jacob, who had been sold by his brothers to the slave traders. Potiphar saw that “the Lord was with Joseph and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did”, so “he entrusted to his care everything he owned”.
Then something remarkable happened to the household of this pagan Egyptian, who probably viewed the Lord as a peculiarly Hebrew god, one among many in the world: “From the time Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field.”
After this one chapter of the Bible we never read about Potiphar again. Did the blessing of the Lord stop when Joseph left his household? Did Potiphar regret getting rid of Joseph when his wife falsely accused him? Did he look back for the rest of his life on a golden age for his household while Joseph was with him? We do not know; but what we do know is that for a time the presence of Joseph in his household made a radical difference to his fortunes.
It is the same under the new covenant. In Luke 10, when Jesus sent out 72 of his followers, he told them that, wherever they went, they were to look for “a man of peace”, and when they found him they were to stay with him and let their peace rest on him – and peace in the Hebrew mindset signifies what we would today call wellbeing, which can also include prosperity. In every place that the 72 were received, they would make a difference.
I was so excited to see these words of Jesus being put into action in a discipleship movement in Sierra Leone which I visited a few years ago. This movement is planting several churches a day among Moslem-background believers; and their strategy is simple: when they go to a new place they look for a man or woman of peace who will receive them. They stay with him or her and ask how they can serve him and the community. As they serve, they begin to tell stories from the Bible, beginning with the Old Testament (many of whose characters Moslems are familiar with) and leading on ultimately to Jesus. I recall one village where the village head told us, ‘We are mostly Moslems, but we want a church here, because since the Christians came the quality of life in this village has improved so much.’
Every one of us Christians has the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9), so every one of us brings the presence of Christ into every place we go – whether we are aware of it or not. How can we make a difference?
Firstly by being aware of the resources of heaven that we carry with us.
Secondly, by praying, so that we bring these resources into play.
Thirdly, by looking for people of peace, with whom we find favour, and engaging with them.
Fourthly, by serving.
And fifthly, by taking the opportunity when it arises to tell stories about what Jesus is doing, maybe from the Bible, maybe from our own lives.
Then, many people will, like Potiphar, experience the blessing of the Lord in their lives; and some will turn to the Lord as a result of this blessing.