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.