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.