May the Greatest Gift be yours this Christmas. Merry Christmas to all!
The Innkeeper often gets vilified during the Christmas season as we challenge each other not to be like the innkeeper. I myself have done it many times over. This riveting story is a paradigm shift that caused my heart to ache. A picture of the cost of housing the Savior; it made me stop and remember again that we never know the struggles and baggage that someone else carries with them. A beautiful, heart-wrenching take on what might have been and a reminder that this season is about so much more than red and green packages placed under a tree. This season is prophecy fulfilled, for our sake He became poor, and because of that the road to Calvary must begin with a “No Vacancy” sign in Bethlehem.
Sitting in the glow of the Christmas lights with my coffee this morning my brain felt all warm and sleepy and completely devoid of any coherent thought. As the sun rose outside my windows though and I was reading through some Christmas devotionals my thoughts began assembling themselves into two streams of consciousness that stem from this question. What kind of Christmas are you preparing for?
A holly-jolly Christmas, it’s the best time of the year…
This year we have been checking off one holiday tradition after another and making some new ones up along the way in the building of our Christmas. It isn’t just one day, but an entire season in our home. The gingerbread houses have been constructed. The children’s Christmas pageant at church was sweet and full of angels and shepherds and songs to lift your spirits. We have been to two band concerts, a piano recital, played the Christmas light game (an entertaining but competitive way to pass the time in the car at night.) We have seen Santa and already enjoyed lots and lots of good food and plenty of delicious desserts with more on the horizon as this week unfolds. Christmas seasons like this make it easy to feel wrapped up in God’s love, to see His blessings surrounding you, to stand in church and belt out Joy to the World and mean it. Your soul is “amening” the beautifully written bible verses of the season and you have grabbed a hold of each and every promise that was made and kept by God. This is Christmas, a time to celebrate!
Maybe you are bracing for a tough Christmas. The promise of Great Joy that the angels made to the shepherds feels like it passed you over and there isn’t much joy in sight this Christmas. The fact is it’s been a rough year for many and there’s not much joy in sight this Christmas. Sadness and hurt are all we see. I understand that.There have been years when these same songs and promises of peace and love and joy felt like an assault on my senses. I have stood with empty arms on Christmas morning, missing the baby that was supposed to be cradled there. The year that my grandfather passed away just weeks before Christmas made each tradition, song, church service, painful reminders of the hole that was left in his absence. The shadow of disease, and the absence of a diagnosis, overshadowed one season with a cloud of fear. In these seasons of life it felt like joy had given up on me. No matter how hard I tried, and pretended for the sake of those around me I just couldn’t convince myself deep down. Two sides to every coin right? I get it if you are barely holding it together, swallowing the tears, suppressing the pain because those things do not a Merry Christmas make. But they are in fact a reality.
The miracle of Christmas is that your story isn’t over. God is not indifferent to our pain. In fact, He left eternity and came to earth to show how much he cares. He came to live with us and die for us. Your story of mistakes, sadness, shame, and hurt, my story of grief and fear, are erased and re-written by God’s unmerited love. This Christmas, if you are looking for peace, for joy, for love, you’ll find it in Jesus because He is the promise. When you take God at His word, when you reach out and grab a hold of His promises, believing it even when you aren’t feeling it, a beautiful change of heart will begin to happen. The facade of pain and hurt will begin to crack and fade away in the glory of the love of The One they call Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Immanuel – God with us. There is hope and I would love nothing more than for you to grab a hold of that gift this Christmas.
A tale of two Christmases, a testament to the seasons of life. No matter where you find yourself this season, this story, This Gift is for you. I bring you good news of great joy. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you, straight from Jesus himself. For God so loved you and me that He sent His son to be born and die in our broken world for our brokenness as the Ultimate Gift.
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” (Luke 2:8-11)
My day…5:15am the alarm goes off and I make breakfast and lunch for kid one and then take said child to basketball practice before school. Back home by 6:15am to prepare kid two for school, assemble teacher Christmas gifts, and gather items that need returned to the store. As we walk out the door (for my second 20 min trip to school) I stare in wonderment at my kitchen which had been scrubbed and scoured the day before and now looks like a hot chocolate bomb went off (Mae’s Marvelous Molten Chocolate – homemade with love for her teachers.) I needed an oil change, had a Christmas “variety” show at the school to attend, an English Lit book that needed returned on this, the last day of school before break, and was sitting safely at home (we realized after we arrived at school.) I needed gas and a few random items from the grocery store and kid one and two were finished with school at 1pm and needed picked up (with forgotten book in tow.) Then, this evening, deep breath and off to the first in a string of Christmas events running now through Dec 27th. Fa-la-la-la-la and a partridge in a pear tree.
I read the following description of the first Christmas by Annie Dieselberg, CEO and Founder of NightLight, and feel that many of us can probably relate, at least in part. It’s messy, and stressful, filled with disappointment and discomfort and chaos. But then the most beautiful thing happens. Hope shows up right in the middle of it! God with us, in the flesh. In the mess, in the hurt, in the uncertainty, in the chaos of trying to manage the everyday and the holidays rolled up together…God with us! Hope showed up!
I realized long ago that few Christmases are actually idyllic. In fact the first Christmas was anything but picture perfect. Mary and Joseph did not stop at a midnight mass to ponder the coming of their Savior. The political climate was chaotic and oppressive. People were forced to return to their city of birth for the census and the dirt roads would have been crowded, dusty, and noisy. Personal transportation was a donkey not a car with air conditioning and there were no noise-reduction headphones. There was no fast food and no convenient rest areas with picnic tables and clean bathrooms. On top of all this, Mary was experiencing the discomfort of riding on a donkey with a huge belly while experiencing labor pains.
Arriving in Bethlehem was only a temporary relief to the weary travelers, as the inns were full. Since in those days people didn’t hide out in their hotel rooms watching TV and ordering pizza to eat in seclusion, they would have been gathering around fires to cook their food in community. Children would have been running around and parents would have been yelling after the children to behave. In the midst of this chaos, Joseph was under pressure to find a place immediately for his wife to give birth. Joseph is usually portrayed as calm through it all, but from my own experience and stories of others, few men are actually that calm when their wife is about to deliver their first child. Sure they were given a stable but that’s kind of like finally getting a hotel room only to find the bed uncomfortable, the carpet stained, mold on the walls, and the odor of the previous tenant still lingering – not even a 2 star hotel. Somehow we have spiritualized everything to look so idyllic. I can’t think of anything idyllic about going through labor in a stable surrounded by animals. Mary and Joseph’s moment for reflection and wonder probably only came after an intensive labor and after a visit by the Shepherds. There was little in this first Christmas that was quiet, beautiful, or private by worldly standards.
Jesus came in the midst of chaos and he came into community accessible to all. He didn’t come to bring us a picture perfect Christmas. He came in the flesh, bringing hope to a chaotic world desperately in need. He came to a world in political upheaval because hope of peace is needed in these moments. He came to broken communities because He is the hope for better relationships. He came in the dark night because He is the hope that light will shine and overcome the darkness. He came to our stressed and burdened lives because he is Christ in us, the hope of glory.
I love this real look at the first Christmas and I love that the Hope of the world is born into the Bethlehem version of our present day situation. God gets it and He sent His son right into the middle of it to shine a light that says, “This isn’t it. It may be harried and hurtful right now, but I promise you that if you trust in me, if you accept the gift of My Son, it will be better one day. This is not the end.”
The miracle of Christmas is in new life, new beginnings, right in the middle of real life.
Happy seventh (and sixth) day of Christmas!
Are you finished with your Christmas shopping yet? That seems to be the lead in question to any conversation these days. Today, in light of the mounting pressure we are facing I wanted to share a little bit of laughter (it’s like a release valve for the tension) and a reminder to not let the pressures of the season rule over your holiday.
This little bit of wisdom came from Sticky Notes for the Soul. This was December 15th’s note…
I will not bow down to pressures this Advent. I will only bow down before you, Lord. It’s the wavering between gods that has me sinking. It’s the wavering between the gods of things and the God of everything – that’s what has me flailing and drowning soundless in it all. Jesus, the gift, comes to give me freely through His passion what every other god forces me to get through performance.
I think this is a worthy reminder for anytime of the year. Replace “Advent” with any day of the week and make this your mantra for the new year because it is so easy to get caught up in the pressures of performance that it overshadows everything else and robs your life of joy.
And finally, because shopping is truly a reality of the season, and laughter is good for the soul, I wanted to share this clip of the quest for the perfect gift. Can you relate?
The third day of Christmas brought a mild stomach bug so here we are on the fourth day of Christmas. In our countdown that means that there are 8 days until Christmas. Does that make you excited in a “how-much-longer-do-I-have-to-wait” kind of way or sick in a “I-still-have-way-too-much-to-do” kind of way.
No matter which camp you find yourself in on this subject we can all agree that waiting is hard! However, waiting is what is at the core of Advent. Not waiting for a pile of gifts on Christmas morning but waiting, and preparing, for The Gift.
If you find yourself waiting on God for answers this season, if you are waiting for Him to show up, then you are in good company. Many of us find ourselves torn this season by the agony of “the wait.” I read this recently in the devotional Waiting Here For You, An Advent Journey of Hope and wanted to share it’s encouragement with those who may find themselves in the waiting room this season.
A Savior had been promised to God’s people for centuries. They longed and prayed for rescue. And then on the right day, in the right place, at the right time, Jesus was born. While God rarely comes at our appointed time, He always comes at the right time.
All of us are waiting on something, often wondering if God has forgotten us. In your waiting, let the birth of Christ encourage you. Just because God hasn’t come through (as far as you can see), it doesn’t mean He has abandoned you. To Him a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day. This very minute He’s working for His glory and for your good. Though circumstances say otherwise, God is going to come through, on schedule, fulfilling His long-appointed plans for you. Don’t give up before the time is right.
Take hope in the manger and know that you are loved and prized by the God who stepped down from heaven and arrived at the perfect time for you.
Father, meet me in the waiting, the place where I long for what is not fully in view. Still my heart and give me the ability to know that You are near. I believe Your plans are good. I see it in the birth of Your only Son.
But sometimes I struggle to see beyond the haze that surrounds me. Renew my confidence as I lift my eyes to You. Be glorified in my life during this season of expectation. Amen.
Of all the things we want, what we want most is meaning.
Because in the midst of this season — you need Christmas for you too.
Because you’re tired of asking — Where did the wonder go?
Because this year, you’re desperate to hush the hurry & find the holy. To feel the reason to rejoice!
Because you don’t want to wake up Christmas morning — and feel like you somehow missed Him.
Come. This year can be different. That’s a gift you want — & He wants for you.
When I first read this, written by Ann VosKamp, my entire soul was crying out “YES!” Yes, I want more meaning! Yes, I want the wonderment of Christmas back! I don’t want to just consume Christmas, I want to experience it.
Can you believe there are just 12 days until Christmas? (I can’t! How has the month of December slipped by so quickly?!) Let’s count down these next 12 days together in encouragement and laughter and continue to be sensitive to Him in all of our moments leading up to “the big day” so that we don’t wake Christmas morning and wonder how we missed Him in all of it.
So, on this first day of Christmas, I am going to invite you to open up an early gift. (Those are always great, right?) This particular gift can begin to color your Christmas in an entirely different light.
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:8-14)
A baby is born, but not just any baby, a baby who injects peace and joy and love into a broken and hurting world. When the angels sang about peace on earth that first Christmas night I have to wonder if they had any idea what kind of promise they were making.
The Christmas expectation bar…it gets raised every year. The unique, one-of-a-kind, thoughtful gift that not only rivals, but tops last year’s. (And if you have to fight someone else for it, that makes it that much better.) Christmas dinner that looks like a banquet spread for royalty complete with a starched linen tablecloth and 263 piece table setting. Packages wrapped with paper and bows that coordinate not only with the tree (fresh cut and strung with 15,000 lights, of course) but the rest of the meticulously placed decorations. Baked goods (in bulk quantities) that look like they could be decorations themselves and disappear quickly at the hands of the kids while you wonder if they even tasted them. This time of year our thoughts tend to get set into fast-forward as do our feet and we have lists for our lists. (At least I do, I love lists!) This is why when I read VosKamp’s words I was ready to slam on the brakes.
Christmas has become a watered down holiday that starts at Halloween and ends for so many people anti-climatically in an exhausted heap on Christmas morning. The world today is a fast-paced, immediate gratification, need, need, need, bigger, newer, shinier place. But at Christmas, with a soundtrack featuring Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, I can close my eyes and picture my Norman Rockwell painting of Christmas. But the reality is more often a fighting, noisy, grouchy, too-much-to-do-not-enough-time production that stretches our patience and our bank accounts, accompanied to the tune of Dominic the Christmas Donkey. (How is that even a Christmas song by the way?) So how can we break through the chaos and the noise of this season and rediscover the wonder?
CF Richardson said, “If peace be in the heart, the wildest winter storm is full of solemn beauty.” Christmas is kind of like that wild winter storm but if we have peace in our hearts, Christmas, even in all of its demanding chaos, with the baking, and the wrapping, and the Santa line, and the kids all hopped up on Christmas spirit and sugar, and the out-of-town-family can be beautiful. The key is peace. And peace is found on this night, wrapped in swaddling cloths, surrounded by farm animals, lying in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. Is that what we do sometimes? Have we hung a no vacancy sign on our lives, whether or not we even realize it in our busyness and self-sufficiency? Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the obligatory visit to the manger, most often it happens on Christmas eve, but is it just a short layover between dinner and Santa or is it something more?
I love Christmas, I love the traditions, the baking, the decorations, the pretty packages and presents, I love Santa. (I may even love the chaos at little bit.) I am not suggesting that we remove those things from our celebrations. If anything think about how much more beautiful they would be when infused with peace and a deeper purpose to the season. Peace on earth, come to us. If you find yourself stressed out, and in search of the ever elusive peace we sing about, then I would venture to say that you have hung that no vacancy sign. It is so easy to get caught up in doing Christmas the way the world tells us Christmas should be done and lost in the expectations that we put on ourselves to create the perfect holiday, that we don’t spend time kneeling at the manager, allowing ourselves the gifts of peace.
We desperately need the wonder of Christmas again — and the miracle of real change. And it can start right here in the midst of the crazy with peace. Peace that extends beyond Christmas day into our families, our marriages, our jobs. Sometimes it feels like we are engaged in a great battle and all we want is a break, an opportunity to say “Time out!” so that we can catch our breath before re-engaging, especially during craziness of the holidays.
Max Lucado says, “We cannot have the peace of God until we have peace with God.” Looking for peace without God is like trying to swim upstream, it is exhausting, a constant battle. We can’t fight our way to peace; it’s not something you “do.” This peace, a lasting heartfelt peace, is a gift from God.
“For unto us a Child is born. Unto us a Son is given. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
On the first day of Christmas my True Love gave to me, Peace…
This Christmas take on the classic Hallelujah is hauntingly beautiful and I wanted to share it in case you hadn’t yet seen it. (It is making its rounds rapidly on social media.) I think I may have a new favorite Christmas song and I am absolutely in love with the band Cloverton!
I had a visitor yesterday…a very mobile visitor who had my living room floor scattered with toys and still found the Christmas tree and fireplace more interesting. We played peek-a-boo and patty cake. We danced and sang Christmas songs, dined on bananas and squash (she did anyway) and had a wonderful time together. I marveled in the normalcy. This little visitor’s smile can light up a room and dimple will melt your heart. I was overwhelmed as I watched her sleep to think of where she was just one year ago and I held her a little closer and hugged her a little tighter as the reality of what could have been hit me like a ton of bricks and I thanked God for miracles. My visitor, sweet Hannah, celebrated her 1st birthday this week after being born at only 26 weeks and weighing a mere 2lbs 6 oz. (Read last year’s introduction to Hannah in We Interrupt This Christmas Celebration To Bring You Back To Reality.)
What a difference a year can make…Heartache and the holidays go together about as well as a maltov cocktail. Exploding into flames as the ingredients are mixed, maltov cocktails aren’t designed to destroy on contact, only to set things ablaze. Heartache will do the same thing to a holiday…slowly, and methodically, in the same way as a fire spreads, it can consume us and all of our “merry and bright.”
One year ago, our holiday became consumed with fear and uncertainty, and love and Hannah. Over the last year there have been moments of panic, days that never ended, and weeks that bled one into the next. There were bleak predictions given by doctors and terrified parents. There were uncontrollable tears and unspoken fears. There have been blood transfusions, collapsed lungs, pneumonia, oxygen cords stretched through the house, alarm bells ringing, countless doctors appointments, sleepless nights, and prayers whispered in desperation.
But there has been one constant and certainty through it all, the love, comfort, and hope of an all-powerful God. Emmanuel, God with us….
His name will be ‘Emmanuel,’ said the angel, which means ‘God with us.’ That God with us promise, that heaven-on-earth assurance, came true in Jesus. It’s why we celebrate Christmas. This is the majesty of the miracle, God sending his Son, a baby, into our messed up, pain-fraught world, to be with us. Jesus, growing up, knowing and feeling and facing every single thing we ever have or ever will and then dying with the weight of our sin. God with us.
Jesus is the reason for the season. That’s what we spout at this time of year but what does it really mean? It means that when you are sitting beside your baby’s bed in the neonatal unit you are not alone. It means when there is a knock on the door, when you get the diagnosis, when you get “the call,” when tragedy, death, or fear come knocking, you are not alone. And it’s not just for this season. The holidays can be some of the most difficult times to embrace this though because we are expected to “leave all of our troubles behind” and in real life that just doesn’t work and we feel the most alone because we just can’t “make merry” like everyone else. Every breath, every tear, every struggle, everyday of the year you are not alone.
Emmanuel, God with us.
Sometimes His answers don’t look like our prayers and the heartache doesn’t feel like it will ever subside. Sometimes our holidays, or Tuesdays, or Saturdays, or any day will explode into flames when fueled by our heartache.
But this is a season for celebration, even in the midst of our heartache, because of the promises fulfilled on that very first Christmas when, for Mary and Joseph, things must have seemed all wrong. This was not their plan, this was not the time, this was the the place for the Messiah to be born. A stable surrounded by farm animals? Surely God would have had a grander plan for the entrance of His Son into our world. But no, He came to be God with us. God with us, as were are, in heartache and in celebration. God with us when everything goes our way and when everything falls apart. God with us to fulfill the promise of peace and hope, comfort and joy. God with us, delivered in the midst of real life, into a manager on that first Christmas.
God with us, one year ago, when a baby was born and our heartache exploded into flames. God with us today as our heartache has been replaced by baby girl giggles and we celebrate and thank God for answered prayer and miraculous life. Hannah has continued to defy the odds, predictions, and expectations set forth in a great testament to God’s goodness and power. He is bigger than anything we face and is using Hannah, this sweet baby, to teach all of us His lessons in such a beautiful way.
As we celebrate Hannah’s first birthday and look forward to celebrating The Miracle of the coming season, from our family to yours we want to say Thank You! Thank you for your kind words of encouragement, your support, and most importantly your prayers! Have a blessed Christmas and may you know that whatever you are facing God is with you…