The other question raised by last Friday's post is how, if not in smoke, God's presence among His people is known any more. The most relevant answer for us comes not from the days of Hezekiah and Josiah, but from the days of Jesus Himself.
And here, we must say His presence is made known in footprints and whispers.
Here's what I mean: Jesus had to leave footprints. No, I'm not talking about the motivational poster where the two sets of prints fade into one as Jesus carries us all across the sands of life. I'm talking about the dirt roads of Jerusalem, about the sands of Galilee. I'm talking about every step He took in His ministry, from one place to another, from the houses to the Temples to the seashores and back again. His feet got dirty and where those feet picked up dirt, they left footprints.
The footprints of Jesus are so often subtle. We may not see them right away. We may have to fix our eyes on the ground on which we're walking, but then all of a sudden - we catch it. The tiniest little indentation that tells us Someone has been here. That mark this as holy ground.
It's pretty cool, though, when it happens. When you see the footprint of Jesus, it's usually when you can't raise your head. You're staring at the ground anyway because this is hard ground. It's a tough place to be. Life is difficult. You're not sure how you're going to make it. You're not sure how you're ever going to find God. And then, there He is. In just the smallest disturbance of the dust, in the slightest shifting of the sands, there's this footprint and you know, you just know, that Jesus has walked this ground. And it's going to be okay.
The other way we know where God is among us is by the whispers. Have you ever noticed in the Gospels how crowds just show up wherever Jesus is, wherever He's going? That's not because someone hung posters or sold tickets; it's because His story spread through the people by whispers. They talked about Him in the marketplaces. They talked about Him in their homes. They talked about Him as they gathered water or hunted or tended the sheep. Word of His miracles, we're often told, spread through the people...and then the crowds came out to hear Him for themselves.
We can't even say that it was the sight or the spectacle of Jesus that drew people in, that brought them to where He was, that announced His presence. We can't say that because at the betrayal of Judas, the disciple had to give a sign to the mob as to which of these men they were supposed to arrest. Jesus was public enemy #1 for these guys, and they still needed someone to show them which one He was. Are we to assume any less of the crowds?
No, it wasn't the sight of Jesus that drew people; it was the story of Him. And the same is true today. The stories of God that we share with each other reveal the presence of God. They tell us where He's been, where He's going, what He's done. They tell us where He is and give us the opportunity to follow Him. That's why it's so important that we tell our stories - this is how people today know that God is near.
It's all just one way of looking at it, of course. Who am I to say? It could still be smoke; it could still be fire. But it doesn't seem it's been those things in quite a long time. These days, it's more footprints and whispers. And you know? That's okay.