Sheldon said, "It has not been my purpose to describe what is called the second coming of Christ, but to picture another appearance of Jesus and describe His action in a modern world. The world today is far different from the world in which the historical Jesus was born."
Jesus Is Here is a challenging reminder that our world needs to know Jesus as a real person who truly is here with us throughout the activities and events of our daily lives.
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It was fifteen years after the First Church in Raymond had adopted the motto, "What Would Jesus Do?"
The pledge, as carried out by the members who had taken it, had revolutionized the church. Henry Maxwell still continued as the pastor. Many of the members of the church had been much disturbed by the rule which Mr. Maxwell had introduced into the lives of the members, but a majority had agreed, and he had continued to grow in the respect and affection of his large and growing congregation and in the respect of the business people and citizens of Raymond.
Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell were talking early one Friday evening about a gathering of old friends who were coming to the parsonage that night. It was the anniversary of the day when the First Church had taken the pledge to try to do as Jesus would do, and following a custom of several years, a dozen or more of the original company that had taken the pledge then were coming in after supper to talk over the old and new phases of their discipleship.
This evening Mr. Maxwell seemed strangely restless. He had gone over the list of those who were expected and had commented on different ones as his wife was asking questions. All the time he was talking, Mr. Maxwell paced back and forth between the large west window of the sitting room and the library, several times pausing to look with deepening curiosity out of the window into the waning twilight.
"Will Rollin be able to come tonight?" Mrs. Maxwell had asked.
"I'm afraid not. He has been asked to go to Chicago and consult with the Commercial Club in regard to social evils, and to take part in the eugenics congress. I think he planned to start this afternoon. But Rachel will come with Virginia."
"Doesn't it seem like a miracle to think of Rollin Page becoming an authority on these great social service questions?" Mrs. Maxwell said after another pause, during which Mr. Maxwell had again stopped to gaze with a look of intensity through the big west window.
"It is a miracle, Mary. Why should we take for granted that miracles are unnatural or uncommon? Or that they belong to any special age of the world? Why should we not expect miracles in our time? We need them. And Rollin is such a miracle. Nothing but a miraculous influence changed Rollin Page from a careless, selfish, worldly club man into a devout, earnest lover of men, a new man all over, no more like the old Rollin than white compares to black."
"Of course, if a change in a life like that is really a miracle, we have plenty of evidence that miracles still occur. But we don't generally call that a miracle, do we?"
"But what else can we call it? And did not the Master himself say that his disciples would do even greater works than he himself did? And do you know, Mary, I find myself of late longing, with a feeling I cannot explain, for a superhuman vision, for a real manifestation of the divine presence that somehow I cannot avoid feeling will be given to Christian disciples of this age. I long for a real, actual, flesh-and-blood glimpse of Jesus. I feel at times as if I must see him face-to-face. He said to his disciples, 'I am with you always, to the very end of the age.' If he is really spiritually in the world, why may we not see him, really see him sometime? My heart cries out for him. Not necessarily to strengthen my faith, but to give him in person some expression of my love for him. And of late I keep wondering what Jesus would do and say in the world where we live. It is so different from the world in which he lived. I would give anything if I could see him and hear him and ask him questions. And I have wondered so often of late" — Henry Maxwell paused and looked over at his wife with deep thoughtfulness — "if it might be possible somehow for him to live on this earth again. It has been so long since he was here. And the world needs him to return again. It has fought and sinned and suffered and loved and endured all through these centuries, doing wondrous things in his name and for his sake. Ordinary men in one age of the world saw and felt and heard Jesus. Why should it not be possible for men of another age to have the same glory shine around them? Why should not God give his son to the world again and refresh its courage and strengthen its faith by a glimpse of him who once came so long ago?"
Mrs. Maxwell was startled by the deep and passionate outburst of her husband. During all the years of their married life and during his entire ministry, she had never heard anything like this. He had moved along the track of discipleship apparently satisfied with his devotion to the Master whose example he was trying to imitate. And his wife had not suspected this deep need to see him now, in person.
She rose and came over to him. He had paused again in front of the big window, and together husband and wife stood there, Mrs. Maxwell's hand on his arm, with an anxious, troubled look on her face, wondering at these thoughts that seemed to be troubling her husband. But before she could speak, he had started forward and pointed eagerly out towards the farthest distance.
"There! It is out there again! That strange light! See, Mary? How it fills the sky! It cannot be twilight, for it is too late. And we have seen it now for more than a month. What is it?"
Mrs. Maxwell could feel her husband tremble. She was more disturbed at the sight of his unusual agitation than she allowed him to notice, and she answered quietly.
"We have spoken of it before, and you remember we agreed it might easily be caused by a number of things. You remember the peculiar light that flooded the sky several years ago when volcanic dust wafted around the world from the earthquake disturbances in the Pacific islands?"
"But there is something about this sighting wholly unlike all that. It is not an earthly light. It has a color and a radiance and a movement all its own. We have never in all our lives seen anything like it."
"You are overly excited about it," said Mrs. Maxwell, again placing her hand soothingly on her husband's arm. "It cannot be anything but a natural light caused by some cosmic disturbance that we do not understand." But even as she spoke, she could not resist an exclamation of wonder as she continued to gaze with her husband out through the window.
The softest suffusion of pale blue swept up from the horizon and was met by what seemed an answering wave of deep crimson. And as the two waves mingled, the colors were softly blended into a shade of pure white that could not be compared for one moment with the sun or moon or star light. It pulsated like a wave backward and forward, and filled not only the entire expanse of sky, but seemed as well to fill up all open spaces of the firmament. It fell over the earth like an immeasurable billow of radiance, the glittering spray thrown up against the stars, and then it subsided with a majestic slowness that spoke of all the world's accumulated forces somewhere lying latent and unspent, ready at any future time to repeat its glory for the pleasure of those who had the spirit to understand it.
Henry Maxwell turned to his wife as the light softly disappeared.
"Mary, do you mean to tell me that such a light as that is caused by volcanic dust? Or an earthquake disturbance? It is the very glory of heaven. It could be the harbinger of his coming to earth again!" He was so excited and agitated that Mrs. Maxwell felt alarmed as she looked at him.
"It is not possible, Henry. You have allowed your imagination and your longing to get the better of your usual sound judgment. It is not like you to talk and act like this."
Mrs. Maxwell drew down the shade of the window and Mr. Maxwell made a strong effort to regain his usual calm manner as he walked back into the library and sat down.
"I suspect you are right," he said with a sigh. "But it is a very unusual sight and I cannot account for it. I wonder why the papers have not had more to say about it."
"Mr. Norman mentioned it in the News yesterday."
"True. He did. But the Gazette has not had a line on it. Do you suppose — no, it is all improbable. But we will ask Virginia and Rachel when they come. And Felicia. She and Stephen will be here. They are visiting Rachel this week. It will be good to see them. And Alexander Powers and Dr. West. They must have seen the light. And the Bishop. How I wish the Bishop were alive. I am sure he would have seen it. I told them all to come early, Mary. And there is someone now."
Answering a ring at the door, Mr. Maxwell went himself and ushered in Virginia, Rachel, and Felicia. The moment they came in, Mr. Maxwell noted the look of deep excitement on their faces.
Rachel was the first to speak. "Have you seen it, Mr. Maxwell?"
"The same that has been in the sky several times lately?"
"But it was more wonderful tonight than ever before. We all noticed it on our way here."
"All of you?"
"Yes. We all saw it"
"Where is Stephen?"
"He is coming. He stopped to see Dr. West about the typhoid vaccinations at the Rectangle."
"What do you think of the light?" Mr. Maxwell spoke to both Rachel and Virginia.
The friends looked at each other very seriously, and Virginia said, "We have never seen anything like it in all our lives. There is something so unusual about it that we feel afraid. It seemed to us as if we were being enveloped in fire."
"Yes!" Rachel broke in eagerly but with a low voice. "But did you notice, Virginia, that the people we passed did not seem to notice what seemed so strange to us?"
"How was that?" Mr. Maxwell said.
"Why, it seemed to us, to Virginia and me, as if we were enveloped in a most astonishing glory of light that would be felt by everyone, but we passed very many persons who did not seem to notice anything unusual."
"Only," Virginia broke in eagerly, "don't you remember, Rachel, once in a while someone would stop and exclaim, and point up into the sky?"
"Yes, I remember that."
"Do you know who they were? I mean the persons who noticed the light?" Mr. Maxwell asked, still leaning forward.
"No, we couldn't see them, could we, Rachel?"
"I thought I heard Martha's voice," replied Rachel.
"Our Martha?" Mrs. Maxwell asked. "Probably it was. She just started a little while ago to the Rectangle church service. You know they have their meeting tonight instead of Thursday, and Martha is very faithful since she joined it."
"It was Martha, I am sure," said Virginia. "We passed her at the corner of Main and Third, and I remember I was going to stop and speak to her. Mrs. Maxwell, doesn't it seem like a miracle to think of Loreen's sister coming to us as she did, only one year after Loreen's death? And to think of Mr. Maxwell baptizing her on the day the Rectangle Church was dedicated. Every time I look at Martha, I see Loreen. Poor Loreen!"
A tear fell from Virginia Page's eyes. Virginia had changed little in fifteen years. She was still unmarried. Beautiful in face and spirit, with no decrease of her old Christian enthusiasm as the years passed, she lavished her wealth and her consecrated knowledge on the welfare of the people of Raymond. She had seen the Rectangle completely transformed since that day when Loreen had been struck down in front of the saloon, where she had given her life in shielding Virginia. And through all the years that followed, Virginia had passionately devoted herself especially to the lives of women and girls in the city. Without a husband and children of her own, Virginia had nevertheless seemed to have complete understanding of the problems of the home life and needs of the women of Raymond, and she was known by them as the source of great reforms in their social and industrial conditions.
Rachel and Felicia would laughingly say that Virginia needed only a home of her own to be the most absolutely perfect woman of the world. Virginia would reply that she was fulfilled in helping to make other women have happy homes. It was the tragedy of women like Loreen that struck deepest into her heart, and when Mrs. Maxwell mentioned Martha, it brought up again the old vision of Loreen stumbling through the Rectangle that day Virginia had brought the girl to her own home and caused her grandmother to leave the house in anger.
"Imagine Martha as a member of the Rectangle Church! If Loreen could only have lived to see it. She told me while she was with me, after Grandmother went, about Martha and the fearful experiences she had gone through in the white slave traffic in Chicago. What a miracle! And what a joy to have her here with you of all women, Mrs. Maxwell." Virginia's eyes filled with tears as she laid her hand on Mrs. Maxwell's arm.
"You never saw a girl like Martha," Mrs. Maxwell replied. "The fearful things that girl suffered in Chicago are beyond belief. She endured unspeakable things. Twice she tried to kill herself, when she could not escape from the house where she had been imprisoned. But today she is the most devoted and enthusiastic disciple of Jesus you ever saw. I think I never saw a more complete love for Christ in anyone. And when it comes to loving her church, we all feel rebuked at the sight of her absolute passion. Mr. Grey has taken full charge there, and if he stays on the way he has begun, it won't be long before the members of the Rectangle Church will outnumber in membership its mother church. Martha herself has brought at least twenty new members into the communion since she joined. And she is the most thoughtful and helpful person about the kitchen I ever knew."
"Yes," said Mr. Maxwell, "all you need to do to get Mrs. Maxwell started on the 'hired-girl problem' is to mention Martha. We haven't any troubles since she came into the house."
"It's true," Mrs. Maxwell assented. "That girl's Christian enthusiasm shames me every day. She headed the subscriptions at the Rectangle with twenty-five dollars. We pay her all we can afford, five dollars a week, and she dedicates one-tenth of her income to church work. And she believes in Jesus just as if he were a real person living today, as if she might possibly meet him around the corner any time."
"And isn't he living today?" murmured Mr. Maxwell.
"But where?" Rachel, Felicia, and Virginia looked at him in astonishment.
The bell rang and Mr. Maxwell got up as from a daydream and went to the door to admit Dr. West, Alexander Powers, and Stephen Clyde.
They spoke together. "Have you seen it?"
"The light?" Mr. Maxwell exclaimed, and his voice was echoed by the others.
"It has not been so beautiful nor so enveloping as it has this evening," said Alexander Powers.
During the past fifteen years Powers had deep experiences. From that night when the sound of Rachel's voice in the Rectangle had decided his course after the discovery of the Railway's breaking of the law in the rebate cases, Alexander Powers had passed through a furnace of trials. Not for one moment had he turned back from following his Master, but his path had been rough and broken and his cross heavy. Yet the love light of the Redeemer shone steadily out of his great patient eyes.
"You all saw it?" asked Maxwell, his old excitement rising again.
"Yes, all of us."
"It was astonishing." Dr. West spoke in a subdued voice.
Stephen Clyde had walked over to Felicia. He and Felicia had had a blissful married life. They would always be lovers. Stephen stood now by her while Felicia proudly noted her husband's handsome strength. Both had given themselves heart and soul to social service in the Master's name.
"Stephen," said Felicia gently, "what do you think of the light?"
"I don't know. There was something about it tonight that made me strangely both glad and fearful. It filled me with the deepest longing and at the same time my heart beat with something like terror."
"It had the same effect on me. Isn't it strange?"
The bell rang again, and Mr. Maxwell welcomed into the room President Marsh and Mr. Norman. The moment they came into the room their faces revealed the same excitement.
Edward Norman could hardly speak. He panted as if he had been running. "Maxwell — this is a — most astounding thing — this — light. It is absolutely without parallel. How do — you — account for it? Marsh and I — tried to explain it as we came — along. It is not explainable."
"Unless ..." Mr. Maxwell's face was deathly pale. His wife looked at him as she had all evening, with the same anxious, troubled look, wondering at the unusual exhibition of feeling on her husband's part. "Norman it might be — do you regard it as entirely out of the range of human events that Jesus might live among men again?"
"Henry!" Mrs. Maxwell had come up to him as he stood in the middle of the room. The entire company was hushed into the most profound stillness. "Henry! What an impossibility! It is not —"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Jesus Is Here"
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