Rushing Christmas

So I put up my Christmas tree yesterday. Yep, Veterans’ Day…November 11th, and the Christmas tree is up. I have seen alot of ill-will and shade thrown this year about the Christmas décor and music coming too early.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Thanksgiving. I have done multiple years of thankfulness projects right here on this blog. Thanksgiving morning I have a tradition, and this year I’ll be running a 5K to add to it. Me and Macy’s parade are bffs and I watch it all while I begin prep work.

But there’s something about the spirit of Christmas that I want to pull in close. The hope. The joy. The peace. Especially this year. I yearned for that sense of awe in a year that has seen change and hurt and worry sweep across everyone’s hearts and lives. I want to wrap up in the holidays this year. Last year I said no to so much to slow it down and create space for my heart. This year I wanted to usher it in fully and be known and to know the season deeply. To rejoice and be filled with gladness.

I may be wrong but I feel as if the world is groaning for the holiday season, for the Christmas season. The anticipation of drawing into the birth of Christ, to remember the thrill of Hope, our weary world rejoicing at Him coming to be with us. I have this sense of pulling in close to His with-ness and seeing the hope abounding. To celebrating His desire to be with us, and our response of awe and wonder. Our coming to give Him the gifts that can never match the Gift of Him.

So I have my tree up on November 11th, and the filling of a heart drawing into the Christmas season knowing His with-ness is reason to rejoice. A reason to push the season a little earlier and usher in joy, peace, and Christ Himself a bit closer to this world-weary heart.

Gifts and Memories

I had a coworker recently ask me what my favorite Christmas gift of all time was and I had to stop and really think. What easily came to mind was a gift I got on my birthday instead. I was eight and it was a life-size Alf doll. My birthday party was in the park that summer, hi Southern summer birthday baby, and I had a Snow White cake. The cake was terrible-the bakery had decided to get the river effect on the cake they’d use gel toothpaste instead of food coloring in the frosting.

At 35 I still won’t use gel toothpaste, especially blue gel toothpaste.

Bur more than that, I remember getting that Alf doll. I carried that sucker everywhere. He was my dude. (and probably between he and MacGyver, my start of loving aliens and crime shows) If I am not mistaken, my mom has actually kept him tucked away in case he decides to make a comeback.

The longer I thought on my coworker’s question though, I had a hard time recalling these standout toys or gifts with the exception of Minnie Pearl, my gorgeous pearl Kitchen Aid mixer I received. When we are honest with ourselves, I’d say we all have a hard time remembering what we received when we were 10 that we begged to get…or at 23. We may be able to pick out a handful of things but more importantly I think we remember the people we were with, the feelings we shared, and the moments.

I remember the Christmas when my dad started getting sick and what would lead to six months of unknown and questions of his survival, hope for a liver transplant. I remember the first Christmas with a cute little 9 month old nephew, and subsequent Christmas with a three week old second nephew. Christmas spent mourning the loss of a beloved grandfather, and some spent dodging the awkward family interactions.

We wrap up gifts in pretty paper and ribbons, with expectation that this is something the receiver has wanted or didn’t know they wanted. The expectation of joy on their face and delight in their hearts. I do that too y’all, especially as the nephews get older.It’s about the memories and moments, some joyous and some difficult. But all woven into our Christmas story.


What’s a gift or story you remember at Christmas? What was a favorite gift you received or that you gave?

The Manger

You know the song we sing around this time of year, “Away in a Manger”? Well that song has been on my mind for weeks now. Odd, I know. Of all the Christmas carols, hymns, songs to have, that one isn’t one that truly sticks out as a mind-grabber. But alas, here I am this morning humming it while I clean up breakfast and look at the tree partially lit up (half the lights at the top went out, it’s a thing I just don’t have the will to drag out new lights for).

The line “the little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head” is what keeps popping into mind and I am having a hard time here with it. Here’s why…

I think we like to look at Christ as this babe in a feeding trough there in a stable-structure. We like to see Him as this babe that shepherds came to marvel and wise men sought to honor with gifts, but we keep Him there in this context throughout our lives.

jesus-in-the-mangerWe have this concept that Christ is infant-to wonder and lavish love upon, but we don’t like the reality that His Presence commands of our lives. We don’t like that when He came with us, our selves got a bit too uncomfortable, our lives got rocked by Emmanuel. God with us.

Because that meant we couldn’t point to His absence, His silence, as excuse. He physically laid out His life, relinquishing the glories of heaven and His right in order that we might be in relationship with Him. In a few months we’ll look to Him on the cross, but I think we often upgrade the image of Christ as a babe in order to downplay our need for Him.

When we put Christ only in the image of the manger, born in a stable as a helpless babe, it appeases our self to think He can’t do it all, He can’t be relied upon and maybe He needs our help instead of the other way around. We don’t greet Him with welcoming in our lives often, but instead stare in wonder at this humanness of God Incarnate instead.

In reading Luke’s account of Christ’s life, I love the honesty of Mary with Gabriel. Just yesterday  we talked about Zechariah’s response to him as he hears the news of an impending birth. Then just a few verses later, we see Mary greeted by this angel (y’all he wasn’t some little cherub all cute and fluffy, this was Gabriel, mighty angel come to bring the news). Same truth of a birth coming, only this one is the Savior of the world, God Himself. Mary’s initial response is one of confusion, not doubt. But how can she get pregnant as a virgin, unwed? She wasn’t doubting his news, she just couldn’t see the possibility of it with her.

But her response to Emmanuel coming to her, coming to us?

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.

“May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Is that how we respond to Christ the King? Is that how we address Him even now, knowing His redemption of our souls was purposed through this very season we celebrate? Do we look to Him as the authority of our lives even in the context of the manger? Because y’all, He didn’t stay in the manger. He didn’t stay in the tomb. He reigns, rules and intercedes for us…

He’s not away in some manger, helpless and in need of us. It’s us that needs Him. We needed Him thousands of years ago, in that manger, to herald a new hope, to rejoice as our weary souls cried out for a Savior. We needed the new morning, new mercies, redemption and grace. There it all came, in the form a baby, heralded by an angel and under all authority given by God Himself, so that we may say “I am the Lord’s servant.”

Silent Nights

We are six days from celebrating the birth of Christ. This time of year is most often characterized by the hustle and bustle, songs of cheer and laughter in the air. It’s running from one party or program to another, squeezing in those last minute gifts and errands in order to have this perfect holiday scene you know never makes it to reality.

For me, in this season, I truly enjoy sitting in the quiet of my home with the lights of the tree sparkling in the dark. I love the stillness of it and the peaceful calm that seems to emanate from corners of the season. The world gets loud, it gets rather busy and hectic with so many people vying for my ears and often my eyes. It becomes overwhelming to this heart of mine and sometimes I just need to pull back to pull on peace and quiet.

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But I think I get a bit fidgety if the quiet goes too long when it comes to God. That’s when doubt seeps in rather than peace pervading. I tend to worry that He’s forgotten me, or that He doesn’t love me as much as He has said countless times in countless ways. I question His work ethic and His ability to hear my prayers.

I don’t often read about Zechariah outside of the Christmas season. I don’t dig into his story much in the beginning of Luke except as the precursor to the story of Mary, Joseph, and the Coming Messiah. If we’ve heard the story of the birth of Christ, we can probably give a brief synopsis of his precursor, John the Baptist.

Dad was a priest in the temple, mom was a lovely woman of God but both were without a child and advanced in age. Dad gets called to the temple as part of his rotation, an angel  tells him that “Hey, you’re going to have a kid. He’s going to be the forerunner for the coming Lord. He’ll lead Israel back to prepare their hearts.” (my interpretation, obviously) Zechariah doubted, he wanted confirmation…and so he got silence, for nine months. In one interpretation it says he was mute, meaning he could not speak, nor could he hear.

For nine months.

Silence inwardly and outwardly for that long probably led to some real moments of fidgeting in Zechariah’s life. But then he could see the visual confirmation of the promise from God-growth of human life in his wife, the fulfillment of a long prayed desire. Hope confirmed. Yet God allowed him to be silent until his son came into the world. His first words once he arrived? Praises to God.

For nine months he had time with God alone. Silent nights filled with discerning and relationship building. Discipline lived out, and doubt rooted out. This wasn’t punishment for him, but discipline from God to bring the doubt out of Zechariah and draw him in closer to Him.

How often do I forsake the silence for doubt? How many times do I take the silent nights for granted and turn to God in mistrust and accusation? What if the silence-no matter the longevity-is for my good and His promise to come to full birth? To wait expectantly in the hope of Him who gives good gifts to those that love Him? To root out even the slightest sliver of doubt that may pierce deep within and allow God to have the only voice in my life?

As we enter the final week of expectancy of Christ’s arrival into our world thousands of years ago, may our hope and expectancy be rooted in the hope of a Promise Keeper, a Listener, and a Heralder of Good. May our doubt and fear of unanswered prayers be uprooted and the silence of a holy God take it’s place.

Royalty

As we enter the second week of Advent, the week of peace. I tend to look around and wonder where peace has gone. We don’t seem to have much in this season of wonder, hope and celebration. Instead we seem to be in chaos, turmoil and restlessness.

Even I found that I was searching for peace in the midst of this last week, as confusion and doubt draw in. Last year I took time to dig into Isaiah 9:6-7 and I find myself once again drawing near to those verses in a special way. Seeking to breathe His word into the season and see Him more than anything else.

I find myself seeking royalty. I search for the Prince of Peace, the author of peace that brought together Jew and Gentile. That writes the story of freedom from disturbance and a calmness among the earth. He is the reason the weary world rejoices. He authors peace between me as a sinner and God the sinless. He interceded on my behalf out of great love for me and obedience to His will. He wrote the peace between us that could come from no other source.

He is the giver of peace as He rules in His royal state. He gives it freely and willingly-not withholding from us in judgement. Paul points us to this peace which we cannot even comprehend (but have experienced as I have in so many circumstances) in Philippians 4:7:

Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (NLT)

It goes beyond what I can fathom and yet He rules it and reigns within it as the Prince of Peace. The kingdom which He reigns over, our holy family, looks to Him for peace in times of love and joy, and in times of confusion and doubt. We seek Him, just as the wise men did, following this star and finding a stable.

Maybe you’re like me this Christmas season, following along this bright shining star and finding yourself in a stable…not what we were searching for, but in it’s simplicity we find Royalty. We find a Prince among the sounds and smells we hadn’t bargained for. We see Peace brought low for us to behold, encounter and embrace.

Continuing His Story

By now the presents have been unwrapped, some returned, others already discarded. The gleam and shine of Christmas is slowly dimming. The spirit of joy and peace having been replaced with frustration and strain for many.

And here I am, still sitting in the manger, adoring His story in history. But it’s not history, as we live it and breathe it in daily. We bring back this story of His embodiment of both God and man each year. I still marvel at the manger. I still sing with joy “For yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn.” Today is new, tomorrow will be too.

Yet once the calendar moves beyond December 25th, we pack away His story, the joy of His being with us and we go on about our moments, our days and our weeks until we find ourselves back here in the manger in December once more.

We get back to distraction, to resolutions and work that we allow to define us. We replace the journey of a star with the drudgery of another project or to-do list. We begin anew the things we said would not matter to us during this season. Why does this have to be but a season for us? Why does the marveling at the wonder of God with us, Immanuel, have to end because of a day on a calendar?

The last two days I have come to the story of the wise men. The magi who journeyed across hundreds of miles, after visiting Herod to see this Child, born a Messiah. The same star which heralded the birth to the shepherds, I believe cast a light for the magi to follow for weeks to get to Him. That even the stars could not contain their praise of Him. I love that by the way…

The wise men didn’t arrive the night of His birth, as we often depict in manger scenes. No, their path was long and I imagine often daunting. Yet that star rose before and went ahead of them, much like Christ would do for us. It rested over where He could be found, a newborn of humble beginnings that would be the Savior of us all. Three gifts were brought before Him, gifts many of us could name them long before we ever had a Sunday School lesson. But do we look closely at what they laid before Him?

Gold…to signify His royalty. This Child born of a virgin and laid in a feeding trough at birth.

Frankincense…sweet aromas to please Him. A newborn with new lungs in which to breathe.

Myrrh…annointing oil at death.  A Child recently born and just beginning life.

I look at the lives of the magi on that journey…following a brightness which heralded good news through what was a long trip over terrain unknown to them. Guided by something going before them, laying down gifts before Him and bowing before Him in worship, with their treasures laid before Him. Gifts that mean He is royalty, laying their crowns and wealth before Him. Bringing sweet aromas of praise before Him. Knowing they must die to have life in Him.

I see that I too am a magi, a shepherd, the manger. I am all parts of this story of His entry into our lives, and yet I choose to enjoy it only up until December 25th. May His story bear repeating, living and rejoicing in throughout the next 363 days of my life just as He calls us to do through His birth.