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I saw recently an Associated Press report detailing this year’s Christmas plans for the British royal family. According to what I read, this year they’ll be joined by Prince Harry’s American fiancée, Meghan Markle, at what was described as “their sprawling estate” outside London for a “gala lunch, and later a stroll through the grounds.”

All of that sounded great, and I don’t begrudge them any of it. But the report did remind me of a story I once read by author Philip Yancey. He wrote about a time when Queen Elizabeth II came for state visit to this country around Christmastime.

Though planned as a short visit, Yancey was struck by the size of the entourage that accompanied her. It was huge. There were teams of security guards, two valets, a personal hairdresser, a medical staff with 40 pints of plasma in tow just in case of emergency. There were 4,000 pounds of luggage.

Yancey compared that visit to the Christian story of the visit of God into the world at Christmas. God comes into life, not with fanfare and valets, but in a small backwater town in an animal shelter. There were no banner headlines, no bed but a feeding trough, no attendants except a few farm animals, and later in the evening some impoverished shepherds. And then Yancey quotes the old Christmas carol: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.”

To me that’s a very good summary of the significance of Christmas. It’s sometimes true that we miss the arrival of God into life because we’re looking for the big splash intervention — the lightning bolt and trumpet sounding.

But every year Christmas provides us a helpful reminder: God prefers to come quietly. So expect him anywhere; in the simple act of being outdoors, free; in the face of a neighbor, a stranger, a child, a friend. May the season find you awake and alert to the wonder that will be quietly but surely unfolding out ahead of you.

Merry Christmas.

Hoffman is senior minister, Wesley United Methodist Church, Bloomington. He can be reached at