Karibuni: Coming close in 2016

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God’s people worship in rural Benin (West Africa)

There’s a wonderful tradition I learned in Nairobi, Kenya. When visiting someone at home, instead of knocking on the door, the visitor calls out in Swahili: “Hodi.” If the host answers “Karibu!” (or to a group, “Karibuni”), then you are welcome to enter. In both singular and plural forms, the greeting means the same the thing: Come close.

God put on flesh; his name was Jesus, “the LORD saves.” We celebrate Advent as a Karibu moment, as the time when God in Christ came close.

It’s difficult to know someone at a distance. A Skype call can keep a relationship going, but it works best as an interlude between in-person encounters. Even in a world drawn closer together by technology, there’s no substitute for incarnation.

The well-known question is appropriate: If God seems far away from you, then who moved? (Hint: It wasn’t God). Following the Advent season – a time when we reflect upon Jesus coming close to us – I sense in return God’s call for me to individually draw closer. It’s God saying to me: Karibu. Yet we live in community and work out our faith corporately. So Jesus also says to us as a group, as the church: Karibuni.

One reason I advocate for frequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper is that it dramatizes the divine Karibuni. Communion symbolizes our Lord Jesus with strong arms outstretched in welcome to us. He says:

You are welcome! Come close.

In partaking of the bread and the wine, we experience the presence of the Holy Spirit, the drawing grace of God that woos us away from our sin toward something better, a life of holy love. At the Table, we are transformed, we are one and we are at home.

In Philippians 3:10a, Paul expresses his deepest desire in life: “I want to know Christ…” Only surface knowledge can be gained at a distance. Deeper understanding comes with close proximity. This year, I’m saying to God with all my heart: “Hodi.” I’m sensing his loving response: Karibu! Will you join me and together draw closer to Christ than we ever have before?

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