Most of you have probably heard me tell the story of how my brother Kenneth was preaching about the incarnation (God becoming a man) one Sunday and began to tell the story of a man who went to live in a leper colony. The only problem was he said he went to live in a leprechaun colony. I believe it was nothing less than the favor of God that allowed me to be present, that morning so I could hear it with my own ears. That misspeak on his part has given me lots of opportunities to tease him as well as provide me with a funny story to tell in all kinds of settings. All that aside, the story he was trying to tell is a powerful one. The man’s name was Father Damien. He moved to Kalawao, a village on the island of Molokai, in Hawaii, that had been quarantined to serve as a leper colony. For 16 years, he lived in their midst. He learned to speak their language. He bandaged their wounds, embraced the bodies no one else would touch and preached to the hearts that would have otherwise have been left alone. He organized schools, bands and choirs. He built homes so that the lepers could have shelter. He built 2,000 coffins by hand so that, when they died, they could be buried with dignity. Slowly, it was said, Kalawao became a place to live rather than a place to die, for Father Damien offered hope.
Father Damien was not careful about keeping his distance. He did nothing to separate himself from his people. He dipped his fingers in the “poi” bowl along with the patients. He shared his pipe. He did not always wash his hands after bandaging open sores. He got close. For this the people loved him.
Then one day he stood up and began his sermon with two words: “We lepers…”
Now he wasn’t just helping them. Now he was one of them. From this day forward, he wasn’t just on the island; he was in their skin. First he had chosen to live as they lived; now he would die as they died. Now they were in it together.
There’s a sense in which the Christmas story could be told like this: One day God came to earth and began his message: “We lepers…” God didn’t come to into the world in the person of Jesus just to help us…he came into the world to become one of us. When Jesus was born God was in our skin. That’s the miracle of Christmas.
Story taken from John Ortberg’s book, God Is Closer Than You Think