This week with the news that America is indeed in a recession, added to the already rampant distress over the economic crisis, two bags of groceries mysteriously appeared on my in-laws’ porch. It was a pleasant surprise—an unexpected grace, but it was not an answer to prayer.
My in-laws have experienced plenty of difficulty from this recession, but they aren’t out of food. So when the groceries showed up on their porch, it was not a miracle in the way miracles are often characterized (divine interventions that supernaturally fix earthly calamities).
Miracles are those curious events that reveal God’s unmistakable presence in the world. They have little to do with the glorious discovery of missing car keys after we searched the twentieth time to no avail (as magnificent as those experiences can be). They have much more to do with the often-imperceptible instances of grace breaking into the world, often through very ordinary people.
Jonas Uribe, in his review of the movie Millions for Spectrum, describes Saint Peter’s wonderful, apocryphal retelling of the feeding of the five thousand. It goes something like this:
Jesus takes the loaves and the fishes from the little boy and begins passing them around. The first guy has a little food hidden under his cloak, looking out for Number One. But seeing the scarcity of food compared to the size of the crowd, he sneaks a piece of food onto the plate thinking nobody is looking, and passes it on. The next person, noticing what had happened, also sneaks some food onto the plate and on it goes like that. When the plate comes back around to Jesus, he seems a little taken aback and asks what happened.
“Miracle,” Peter says, thinking he’s fooled Jesus. But then he sees that it was a miracle and one of Jesus’ best.
My wife’s coworker got evicted recently, unable to make her rent payments. After losing the apartment, she also had to quit her job at the hospital to move with her three children to live with a friend. Her first husband died and the second was unfaithful. When my wife and her coworkers heard the story, they immediately began devising a plan to take Christmas to the family that probably does not expect much cheer this season.
That is a miracle. It is an instance of grace breaking into the world through very ordinary people, and evidence of God’s unmistakable presence amid the mundane. It’s the word becoming flesh again, a re-incarnation of the God of heaven in a feed trough.
Christmastime is a miraculous time of year, not because of sparkling strings of lights or people singing carols; not because of the holly and the ivy or the coziness of a crackling fire (though I enjoy all those things). Rather it is miraculous because during this chaotic season, with crazed crowds paying homage to Almighty Bargain, people prone to looking out for Number One enact grace instead. Bags of food on a porch, Christmas for a struggling family—ordinary events involving ordinary people doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly.
In those miraculous, mundane moments, for just a brief instant it seems as though the sky gets brighter and I can hear echoes of heavenly hosts singing, “Glory to God in the highest heights, and on the earth, Peace and Goodwill.” And even though the sky goes dark again, I am aware of Immanuel, and that is why I believe in miracles.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1261