Christmas: Celebrating With Wonder

One of the things I love about nativities is that all the figures are focused on Jesus.

It seems that in the flurry of preparations, Christmas can often go by with all but barely a glance at Jesus.   Sadly, Jesus gets buried behind the pressing demands instead of staying front and center in our hearts.  Not unlike the first Christmas night, we must all choose what room we will make for Jesus.

Sunday night I celebrated Christmas with our Children’s Ministry Team from church.   We set aside some time to ponder Jesus, because if we miss His magnificence and worth–we miss Christmas.  To help keep us focused on Jesus, I pulled out an exercise from Christmas Past.  Everyone completed an A, B, C of Jesus–listing a characteristic or name of of Jesus for each letter of the alphabet.  It moved my heart listening to each of the tables talking so highly of Jesus.  In the middle of the worship, my friend Barry stood to read his A, B, C’s of Jesus–His list read like a beautiful poem.  It was then that it occurred to me:  When you really stop to gaze upon Jesus–whether He is in a manger, on a cross, or coming forth from a tomb–He can’t help but be beautiful!

I’ll share my list with you…and encourage you to make one of your own…and celebrate in worship.

A-Almighty

B-Beautiful

C-Compassionate

D-Deliverer

E-Eternal

F-Faithful

G-Gentle

H-Healer

I-Incarnate One

J-Just

K-Kind

L-Lover of My Heart

M-Miracle Worker

N-Near to the Broken-hearted

O-One and Only

P-Perfect Sacrifice

Q-Quieter of My Heart

R-Reigning Redeemer

S-Suffering Savior

T-True

U-Unlimited Power

V-Victorious

W-Wise

X-eXtravagant

Y-Yielded Servant

Z-Zachaeus’ Friend…and mine!

What makes Jesus beautiful to you?

Advent: Glad Tidings

“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks”

While shepherds watch their flocks by night,  All seated on the ground,

The angel of the Lord came down

And glory shone around, And glory shone around.

“Fear not,” said he, for mighty dread, had seized their troubled mind,

“Glad tidings of great joy I bring

To you and all mankind, to you and all mankind.”

“To you in, in David’s town this day, is born of David’s line,

The Savior, who is Christ the Lord;

And this shall be the sign, and this shall be the sign.”

“All glory be to God on high, and to the earth be peace.

Goodwill henceforth from heav’n to men

Begin and never cease, begin and never cease.

Nahum Tate, 1562

News that makes the heart falter and faint. 

It probably seemed like every other night of waiting and guarding against potential badness.  The shepherds had certainly sat in those hills many a night listening for the sound of an endangered lamb to rescue, a rustle from a stealthy predator, or the cough of a fellow watchman subcumbing to the harsh elements.  The promise of a Messiah–a rescuer–buried undered the recurring nag of bad news.    If there was news to be had, it would no doubt be bad news. 

Like the shepherds, there are promises of old that we cease to anticipate.  We get stuck in a cynical rut, presuming that all news is bad news.  We fret.  We fear.  We fail to hear the messages of hope. 

I’ve been stuck in a cluster of bad news.  Instead of counting sheep, I find myself counting disappointments and discouragements.  The long night of my discouragement seems to pass slowly through the darkness of the circumstances.

And yet, I hear the message of hope that Christmas speaks. 

The good news of Christmas is that God keeps His promises.  The good news He promises is the good news He fulfills.   The bad news that we are alone in our disappointment and despair is replaced with the good news that we have a Savior who enters our world to give us a future and a hope.  The apostle Paul declared that the good news of Jesus is that God is always true to His word and this is our hope (Col. 1:5)!

Glad tidings, indeed!  Can your heart hear the candance of the angel’s song? 

In whatever news you’re facing today, do not forget that there are glad tidings for you!  Christ has come–that ought to make all the difference in the world.  Sit under the stars and marvel at the message of the angels of old, ““Fear not,” said he, for mighty dread had seized their troubled mind, “Glad tidings of great joy I bring!”

Advent: The Glory of His Birth

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” Luke 2:7.

It seems that at Christmas more than any other time we do all the “right” things for many of the wrong reasons.

I discovered this today as I surveyed my house, taking note that it is not donned with one, single Christmas decoration.  Even the wreath sits on the front porch waiting to be hung.  And my heart feels heavy with disappointment that I am not externally commemorating a holiday that is so spiritually rich for our family…for our faith.

I could make some really good excuses as to why my house sits naked of its Christmas attire:  If I decorated, my dog would probably eat and destroy it.  If bottle caps and remotes are interesting victims for him, one can only imagine what he would do with tinsel, evergreen, and ornaments.  I could also add that my heart is in a hurry to get home to Seattle to be with family.  My mom’s cancer has warped the lens of the “place” I call home.

Yet, in all honesty, the boxes of decorations have stayed safely stowed away because my heart has been content remembering Jesus without all the pomp and circumstance.   This came into focus as  I listened tonight to my boy read family devotions from Dietrich Boehoeffer’s Christmas writing.  From prison he wrote,

“I think we’re going to have an exceptionally good Christmas.  The very fact that every outward circumstance precludes our making provision for it will show whether we can be content with what is truly essential.  I used to be very fond of thinking up and buying presents, but that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious; the emptier our hands, the better we understand what Luther meant by his dying words:  “We’re beggars; it’s true.”  The poorer our quarters, the more clearly we perceive that our hearts should be Christ’s home on earth.”  (December 1, 1943)

That’s it!  The house is bare because the heart is full of celebration.  It doesn’t need the reminders.  (Not that there is anything wrong with them!  Any other year, I would be the first to hit the switch on the twinkling lights.)  By no means am I in prison, like Boenhoeffer, but the truth of his words resonate with me.  This year the birth of Christ is glorious and my heart is content and preoccupied with this truth alone.  A tree, or lights, or stockings cannot make the glory of His birth more beautiful.

It seems that at Christmas more than any other time we do all the “right” things for many of the wrong reasons.  In years past I have decked the house with all things red, green, and manger, but never has my heart prepared a welcome for Christ like it has this year.  And so it may well be said that sometimes we do things “wrong”–like forgoing the decorations–for all the right reasons–like cherishing the simplicity of the Babe born in a manger.

How about you?  Do you ever find that Christmas has you doing the right things for the wrong reasons?  May the Lord settle your heart to cherish Him.

Advent: The Things of Which We are Helpless

There are some things in life of which we are helpless.

My baby turns 16 years old today.  I’ve been looking forward to celebrating him in a special way since the calendar rolled into December.  But the common cold I thought I had turned on a bitter heel last night and declared itself the flu.  I missed the staff Christmas party I had been looking forward to and it’s looking very likely I will also miss the boy’s birthday party.  And I am completely helpless to change it.

I’m laying here between violent reminders of this sickness trying to think about Advent, but finding the two realities incongruent.  One would not think to put “ravaged flu-wrecked body” and “sweet, baby Jesus” in the same sentence.  (But, alas! I just did.)

It doesn’t take much reflection to see how Advent is about acknowledging the wrecked places that Jesus chose to enter. He saw our helplessness and came to our rescue.  With the sweetness of His mercy, He came to minister to our disappointment and to restore our devastated places.

“But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!”  Romans 5:15

This truth will not change my immediate physical condition, but it has lifted my heart to a place of gratitude.  We have a Savior who sees our helpless condition and doesn’t leave us alone in it.  Christ continues to enter our helpless places–the flu, cancer, broken marriages, Afghanistan.  In all these places, He is present and His presence makes all the difference; for to be helpless does not mean that we must be hopeless.

Where is your helpless place?  Not only does Christ enter this place, He understands it.  The One who was once the helpless babe in a manger sees and understands.  He became helpless so that you and I could have hope!  As you continue to prepare your heart in this advent season, give thanks today that Christ is present in the things of which we are helpless.

Advent: The Time Foretold

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”

It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old,

From angels bending near the earth, to touch their harps of gold:

“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,  from heav’n’s all gracious King!”

The world in solemn stillness lay, to hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low,

Who toil along the climbing way, with painful steps and slow,

Look now! for glad and golden hours, come swiftly on the wing:

O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing.

For lo, the days are hast’ning on, by prophets seen of old,

When with the ever-circling years, shall come the time foretold,

When peace shall over all the earth, its ancient splendors fling,

And the whole world send back the song, which now the angels sing.

Edmund Sears

Hope arrived the first Christmas night.  Peace came to earth. 

And yet, today hope sank and peace was squeezed to small and nearly unidentifiable places. 

Our hearts live in divided territory.  We sing “Peace on earth, goodwill to men,” while we war in our hearts and minds.   We affirm that Christ is our “gracious King,” as we pass judgment on one another. 

Why is it that the precious gift we received that first Christmas is so hard for us to pass along to one another in word, deed, and thought? 

I’m resting this evening beside the weary road and straining my ears to hear the song of peace and goodwill that continues to float.  For I know there will be another glorious night “when peace over all the earth, its ancient splendors fling.” 

Are your steps painful and slow today?  Listen for the song of hope.  The time foretold will appear yet again!

Advent: The God Who Keeps His Word

Today was a frustrating day.

Something I had invested a lot of time and prayer into was blown out of the water.  The plans and the hopes I had for it crushed under the weight of disappointment.   How quickly dreams can slip away from us. 

It made me think of Mary.  Life was on a pretty good track until all was interrupted by the angel’s news. How quickly everything changed for her.  Instead of enjoying her preparations for marriage, she would harbor an unplanned child and the judgmental scorn of her people. 

Yet Scripture tells us that Mary surrendered herself to God’s interruption.  “I am the Lord’s slave,” said Mary.  “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).   Mary accepted that there would be more to the story than what would be visible to the eye.   

Advent reminds us to take God at His word.  When things don’t go as we planned.  When hope needs to pick itself up off the floor and begin again.  When frustration and disappointment mix up a nasty cocktail of “what could have been.”  Take God at His word:  “For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). 

I’m needing my heart to cling to this truth.  Something tells me I’m not the only one.

Advent: Of True Greatness

“Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”

Infant holy, Infant lowly,

For His bed–a cattle stall;

Oxen lowing, little knowing

Christ the Babe, is Lord of all.

Swift are winging angels singing,

Noels ringing, tidings bringing:

Christ, the Babe, is Lord of all!

Christ, the Babe, is Lord of all!

Flocks were sleeping; shepherds keeping

Vigil till the morning new

Saw the glory, heard the story–

Tidings of a gospel true.

Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow,

Praises voicing greet the morrow:

Christ, the Babe, was born for you!

Christ, the Babe, was born for you!

Polish Carol, paraphrase by Edith E.M. Reed

Do you ever find yourself frustrated that you are not receiving what you believe you deserve?  Or relieved that you have not received what you know you deserve?  The human condition is bent toward self-exaltation.

The Babe in the manger confronts our self-idolatry.  We tell stories about ourselves to make us look better than we know we are.  We dress up vice to make it appear as virtue.   We jockey and canjole for esteem–in our own eyes and the eyes of others.

“Christ, the Babe, is Lord of all.”   He entered poor.  Lowly.  Humbled.  

As you meditate on the manger today, let the paradox of the most Holy One wrapped in swaddling recalibrate your idea of of true greatness.  Bend your knee to peer closely at the strength, majesty, and glory tucked amongst the hay of His makeshift bed.  Let the sounds of the first breaths and sighs of the Incarnate One woo your heart to humility. 

Is there some task or responsibility you feel is beneath you?  Is there a relationship in which you feel you are undervalued or disrespected?  Remember Jesus.

Advent: The Comfort of Hope

In 1742 George Frederic Handel’s Messiah played for the first time.  Although created to be an Easter reflection, it has become a Christmas fixture sweeping us up in the melody of hope. 

While Handel’s music was original, his words were not.  He borrowed them from the prophets of old. 

Comfort, comfort my people,
   says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
   and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
   that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
   double for all her sins.  Isaiah 40:2

When our hearts are troubled, we must speak hope to them.  If we were not anxious, burdened, grieved, and broken, we’d have no need for hope.  In needing hope, we recognize our true condition–we long for something that is not yet.  In Advent we do best what we ought to do always–anticipate with hope. 

Hope comforts us.  It relieves the heaviness.  It breathes breath to the weary.  It strengthens the weak.  Restores the fallen.  Binds up the broken.  Hope helps us to see beyond the immediate to the future’s possibilities. 

There can be waiting without hope, but there will never be hope without waiting.  Where are you waiting?  For what?  In whom? 

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.  Romans 8:23-25

Listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah and let hope speak comfort to your heart.

Advent: The Least of These

Ann Voskamp wrote this incredibly moving piece this morning about Christmas.  (You can read it here.) At the end she included this video..and everyone must watch it.

Christmas reminds of us God’s heart for the least of these.  Does your heart beat with His?  Will you continue to slumber in your indifference?

Advent: Of the Father’s Love Begotten

“Of the Father’s Love Begotten”

Of the Father’s love begotten,

Ere the worlds began to be,

He is Alpha and Omega,

He is the Source, the Ending He

Of the things that are, that have been,

And that future years shalle see,

Evermore and evemore.

O ye heights of heav’n, adore Him;

Angel hosts, His praises sing;

Powers, dominion, bow before Him

And extol our God and King;

Let no tongue on earth be silent;

Every voice in concert ring,

Evermore and evermore.

Christ to Thee with God the Father,

And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,

Hymn and chant and thanksgiving,

And unwearied praises be:

Honor, glory, and dominion

And eternal victory,

Evermore and evermore.

Amen.

Auerelius C. Prudentius, 4th Century

A King is born to us.  The Scriptures call Jesus the King of Israel (John 1:49), the King of the Jews (Matthew 27:11), the King of Ages (I Timothy 6:15), and the King Eternal (I Timothy 1:17).   Is He reigning in your heart and mind?

Jews, longing for their Messiah knew only the rule of earthly tyrants.  For centuries the burden of the government had rested heavily on their backs.   Yet, they knew the promise of their God–a liberator would come!  They waited for the Messiah to release them from carrots and sticks of little men ruling from over-sized thrones.

“Look, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah–not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors on the day I took them out of Egypt. I disregarded them, says the Lord, because they did not continue in My covenant.   But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord:  I will put My laws into their minds and write them on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be My people.  And each person will not teach his fellow citizen, each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them.  For I will be merciful to their wrongdoing, and I will never again remember their sins.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

A King of Love was born to them…and to you and me.   We have tyrants of our own.  Sin–our own and others–is seeking a throne somewhere in your life from where to taunt, tempt, and oppress you.  Your King has come to set you free!  Christ was born to give you mercy.

Yes, at Christmas we draw our attention to a baby in a manger–cute, cuddly and sweet.  But don’t forget:  The child is a King–strong and mighty!  Today, allow the anticipation of Advent to draw you into the wonder of the Father’s love for you expressed through Christ.  Let the new covenant of completed mercy school you in His rule and reign.  Long for Christ.  Live by His decree of grace.