UNMET LONGINGS, HOPE AND CHRISTMASTIME

UNMET LONGINGS, HOPE AND CHRISTMASTIME

Most of us enter Christmastime with anticipation and dread, hope and jadedness, excitement and I’m-already-over-this.

Perhaps for most of us, it’s a blend of all of these and more. You may not be able to tell where one emotion ends and the other begins, or even why. I’m personally entering this season with some real gratefulness along with some unmet longings, and the holidays accentuate both for me. I imagine the same is true for you. While the Hallmark movies, nostalgic Christmas carols, and commercials that emphasize more stuff and romance and flawless families call forth in us an ache for more, I’m especially grateful for the way Luke begins his account of the very first Christmas.

The curtain opens on Zechariah and Elizabeth, a married and childless couple, who are longing to be parents. In a Jewish culture where having a son to carry on your family name and legacy was paramount, life hadn’t worked out the way Zechariah and Elizabeth had hoped. And we simply can’t miss that up to this point in their lives God had been silent for 400 years. No prophets, angels, signs, wonders—not a peep from heaven. It was with dashed hopes in the thick of God’s silence that Zechariah and Elizabeth move toward the very first Christmas. 

HURTING BUT FAITHFUL

“Both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord. But they had no children because Elizabeth could not conceive, and both of them were well along in years.” Luke 1:6-7

 It’s Elizabeth and Zechariah’s faithful obedience that makes the tiny conjunction but appear so starkly here, “But they had no children”. You can be following the commands of Jesus this Christmas season and seeking Him the best way you know how, and still there can be aches and gaps and even silence. You’re in good company with these two. My simple encouragement is to keep doing what Jesus has told you to do from His Word. Don’t complicate the way forward by turning to consumerism, numbing the pain with busyness or throwing your hands up when God seems quiet. He sees you, He knows your longings and even when He’s silent He’s moving. He had never forgotten Zechariah or Elizabeth for a single moment.

He sees you, He knows your longings and even when He’s silent He’s moving.Click To Tweet

DOUBTFUL BUT PRAYERFUL

“But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John’.” Luke 1:13

When the angel Gabrielle shattered the 400 years of silence, he did so by letting Zechariah know that his prayer had been heard. The impossibility of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s situation didn’t stop them from praying about it. The angel is almost certainly referencing all those prayers for a son that they had been praying for decades. What prayers have you given up praying? What or who have you stopped praying for because it’s been too long or too quiet? Follow the lead of these two and keep praying because God hears your prayers. Like Zechariah, even when you don’t feel it, keep serving in your houses of worship this season, expectant to encounter the Lord. He may show up in a way you least expect.

GLOBAL BUT PERSONAL

“The Lord has done this for me. He has looked with favor in these days to take away my disgrace among the people.” Luke 1:25

I have a lot of favorite Bible verses but this has to be one of my favorites of the favorites (plus, it has the word favor in it, so this works out splendidly.) The child that Elizabeth would give birth to, John the Baptist, was no doubt a gift to the world. He was appointed the forerunner of Christ who would prepare the people for the coming Savior. But notice what Elizabeth proclaims: He’s done this for me. Yes, John the Baptist would help prepare the world for the Messiah, but God is very good at doing global things while also intersecting the lives of individuals and blessing them along the way.

This Christmas while we should certainly turn our eyes to Christ and rejoice in what He has done for the world; don’t miss what He’s done for you.

This Christmas while we should certainly turn our eyes to Christ and rejoice in what He has done for the world; don’t miss what He’s done for you.Click To Tweet After years of longing, God removed Elizabeth’s disgrace and gave her a son who would be a joy and delight to his parents. He invited these two faithful yet flawed humans (Zechariah wasn’t able to speak for 9 months because of his unbelief at Gabriel’s promise) into His story and blessed them with the longing of their hearts. Most importantly, they were blessed by encountering their Savior (Lk 1:43).

No matter the ache, the years, the quietness, the Savior has come and I know He wants you to encounter Him this season. In the midst of our culture’s holiday ideals, hold fast to Him, choose obedience, commit to serving and worshiping with other believers, and who knows what the Lord might just do this Christmas for you. Encountering Him will be greater than any gift we can hope for.

 

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Jesus, Our Brother

Jesus, Our Brother

Every week leading up to Easter, I’m sending out devotions on the Person of Jesus. If you’d like to receive the rest of these devotions in your inbox, you can sign up here.

Key Verses for Lent

Hebrews 2:10-18 “For in bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was entirely appropriate that God—for whom and through whom all things exist—should make the source of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying: I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters; I will sing hymns to you in the congregation. Again, I will trust in him. And again, Here I am with the children God gave me. Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through his death he might destroy the one holding the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. For it is clear that he does not reach out to help angels, but to help Abraham’s offspring. Therefore, he had to be like his brothers and sisters in every way, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in matters pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. For since he himself has suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.”

Jesus, Our Brother

As we enter the third week of Lent and turn our attention specifically to the Person of Jesus, I want to dwell on Christ as our Brother. Isn’t that an interesting term for Him? We often think of Jesus as Savior, Redeemer, Ruler, or King, but when’s the last time we really thought about Him as our Brother? The more I reflect on Hebrews chapter 2, the more I realize how meaningful this is—not just from a theological standpoint, but also from a deeply personal one. The fact that Jesus is our Brother brings Him right to our doorstep, meets us right where we’re at, in the middle of our heartache and joy.

Jesus as Brother comes right to our doorstep, meets us where we're at, in our heartache & joy.Click To Tweet

I have a brother. The last few weeks I’ve helped my brother coach my nephew’s 7 year-old basketball practice. If you’ve never had the distinct privilege of wrangling second grade boys who are attempting to play basketball while employing limbs they can’t yet control, I highly recommend it. It’s the most exhausting 60 minutes you’ll ever spend, meaning you’ll have a fresh appreciation for all other activities in your day (like scrubbing the mildew from your shower tiles). You only do this kind of stuff for a brother you love. For a brother who loves you.

Jesus is the Brother Who Gives Us Our Father

My brother is my brother because we share the same parents. Similarly, the author of Hebrews explains that Jesus is our Brother because we share the same Father, who is God. But how can this be possible? We weren’t born having God as our Father. Only Jesus can call God “Father.”

The author continues to explain. Jesus is the only one who can sanctify us (cleanse us from our sin), and once we’re sanctified by Jesus we then have the same Father He has. If we have the same Father as Jesus, that makes Jesus our Brother. From a human perspective, children are related to one another because of the parents they share. From a spiritual perspective, God is our Father because of the Brother we share—Jesus. We have access to the Father because of our Brother, who is Christ.

The term brother here can also mean someone who has deep affection for us, someone who’s a friend—not just someone who loves us because they have to, because we’re related.

Jesus is Not Ashamed to Call Us His Brothers and Sisters

Shame is nothing new, but in recent years it’s stolen the spotlight. Shame is everywhere you turn. We carry around shame because we don’t feel like we measure up, because of past abuse, wounding words spoken over us, rejection from someone we loved or looked up to. We also bear it as a result of our own doing—the actions we’ve taken, or didn’t take, that have caused us shame are more than we can bear.

The people during the time of Hebrews also understood shame. Their society put a premium on honor and status for oneself and one’s family. Shame was to be avoided at all costs. The people to whom Hebrews was addressed in particular were being persecuted and shamed in their society. (We find this out later in Hebrews.) Even though they were being mocked, Jesus wasn’t ashamed of them. On the contrary, He testified about God to them and proclaimed praise to the Lord in the congregation with His brothers and sisters.

Can you see the solidarity this shows between Jesus and us? This is intimate, family unity here. Though you may have suffered or even caused shame, He’s not ashamed of you. He identifies with you before God and in the community of the saints! You have access to the Father because you’re with Him, your Brother, who loves you and gave His life for you.

Though you may have suffered or even caused shame, He’s not ashamed of you.Click To Tweet

Jesus is the Brother Who Shares in Our Suffering

The Christian faith is truly unique in that God descended to us in the form of human flesh and blood. And not only did He descend, but He also suffered on our behalf. He tasted death for us, His brothers and sisters. He suffered beyond the farthest stretches of our imaginations and the farthest reaches of our own suffering.

What I find particularly meaningful is that His suffering has made Him merciful toward us. He sympathizes with our weakness and heartache. He’s lived the gamut of the human experience, or as the great hymn Crown Him With Many Crowns puts it, “Who every grief hath known that wrings the human breast.” When He suffered He was also temped, so He’s able to help those in the throes of temptation. He’s able to help you exactly where you are.

As we continue to set our sights on Easter and the different aspects of Jesus and His character, be encouraged today. You have a Savior. You have a Redeemer, Ruler, and King. But did you know that you also have a Brother?

You have a Redeemer, Ruler, and King. But did you know that you also have a Brother?Click To Tweet

Questions for Reflection or Discussion

1. What means the most to you about having Jesus as your Brother?

2. What specifically did you learn about Jesus through this passage that you never knew or thought of before?

3. How does Jesus as Your Brother cause you to think about Him in a different light? In other words, Brother is different—but not mutually exclusive—from Redeemer, Savior, King, or Ruler.

4. Why do you think it is important that Jesus is a Brother who suffered with and for us?

 5. Explain how the reality that Jesus is not ashamed of you is healing, encouraging, and empowering. How can this truth change the way you live?

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Lent Devotion: Jesus, Our Brother

Lent Devotion: Jesus, Our Brother

Every week leading up to Easter, I’m sending out devotions on the Person of Jesus. If you’d like to receive the rest of these devotions in your inbox, you can sign up here.

Key Verses

Hebrews 2:10-18 “For in bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was entirely appropriate that God—for whom and through whom all things exist—should make the source of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying: I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters; I will sing hymns to you in the congregation. Again, I will trust in him. And again, Here I am with the children God gave me. Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through his death he might destroy the one holding the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. For it is clear that he does not reach out to help angels, but to help Abraham’s offspring. Therefore, he had to be like his brothers and sisters in every way, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in matters pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. For since he himself has suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.”

Jesus, Our Brother

As we enter the third week of Lent and turn our attention specifically to the Person of Jesus, I want to dwell on Christ as our Brother. Isn’t that an interesting term for Him? We often think of Jesus as Savior, Redeemer, Ruler, or King, but when’s the last time we really thought about Him as our Brother? The more I reflect on Hebrews chapter 2, the more I realize how meaningful this is—not just from a theological standpoint, but also from a deeply personal one. The fact that Jesus is our Brother brings Him right to our doorstep, meets us right where we’re at, in the middle of our heartache and joy.

Jesus as Brother comes right to our doorstep, meets us where we're at, in our heartache & joy.Click To Tweet

I have a brother. The last few weeks I’ve helped my brother coach my nephew’s 7 year-old basketball practice. If you’ve never had the distinct privilege of wrangling second grade boys who are attempting to play basketball while employing limbs they can’t yet control, I highly recommend it. It’s the most exhausting 60 minutes you’ll ever spend, meaning you’ll have a fresh appreciation for all other activities in your day (like scrubbing the mildew from your shower tiles). You only do this kind of stuff for a brother you love. For a brother who loves you.

Jesus is the Brother Who Gives Us Our Father

My brother is my brother because we share the same parents. Similarly, the author of Hebrews explains that Jesus is our Brother because we share the same Father, who is God. But how can this be possible? We weren’t born having God as our Father. Only Jesus can call God “Father.”

The author continues to explain. Jesus is the only one who can sanctify us (cleanse us from our sin), and once we’re sanctified by Jesus we then have the same Father He has. If we have the same Father as Jesus, that makes Jesus our Brother. From a human perspective, children are related to one another because of the parents they share. From a spiritual perspective, God is our Father because of the Brother we share—Jesus. We have access to the Father because of our Brother, who is Christ.

The term brother here can also mean someone who has deep affection for us, someone who’s a friend—not just someone who loves us because they have to, because we’re related.

Jesus is Not Ashamed to Call Us His Brothers and Sisters

Shame is nothing new, but in recent years it’s stolen the spotlight. Shame is everywhere you turn. We carry around shame because we don’t feel like we measure up, because of past abuse, wounding words spoken over us, rejection from someone we loved or looked up to. We also bear it as a result of our own doing—the actions we’ve taken, or didn’t take, that have caused us shame are more than we can bear.

The people during the time of Hebrews also understood shame. Their society put a premium on honor and status for oneself and one’s family. Shame was to be avoided at all costs. The people to whom Hebrews was addressed in particular were being persecuted and shamed in their society. (We find this out later in Hebrews.) Even though they were being mocked, Jesus wasn’t ashamed of them. On the contrary, He testified about God to them and proclaimed praise to the Lord in the congregation with His brothers and sisters.

Can you see the solidarity this shows between Jesus and us? This is intimate, family unity here. Though you may have suffered or even caused shame, He’s not ashamed of you. He identifies with you before God and in the community of the saints! You have access to the Father because you’re with Him, your Brother, who loves you and gave His life for you.

Though you may have suffered or even caused shame, He’s not ashamed of you.Click To Tweet

Jesus is the Brother Who Shares in Our Suffering

The Christian faith is truly unique in that God descended to us in the form of human flesh and blood. And not only did He descend, but He also suffered on our behalf. He tasted death for us, His brothers and sisters. He suffered beyond the farthest stretches of our imaginations and the farthest reaches of our own suffering.

What I find particularly meaningful is that His suffering has made Him merciful toward us. He sympathizes with our weakness and heartache. He’s lived the gamut of the human experience, or as the great hymn Crown Him With Many Crowns puts it, “Who every grief hath known that wrings the human breast.” When He suffered He was also temped, so He’s able to help those in the throes of temptation. He’s able to help you exactly where you are.

As we continue to set our sights on Easter and the different aspects of Jesus and His character, be encouraged today. You have a Savior. You have a Redeemer, Ruler, and King. But did you know that you also have a Brother?

You have a Redeemer, Ruler, and King. But did you know that you also have a Brother?Click To Tweet

Questions for Reflection or Discussion

1. What means the most to you about having Jesus as your Brother?

2. What specifically did you learn about Jesus through this passage that you never knew or thought of before?

3. How does Jesus as Your Brother cause you to think about Him in a different light? In other words, Brother is different—but not mutually exclusive—from Redeemer, Savior, King, or Ruler.

4. Why do you think it is important that Jesus is a Brother who suffered with and for us?

 5. Explain how the reality that Jesus is not ashamed of you is healing, encouraging, and empowering. How can this truth change the way you live?

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The Beautiful Irony of Fasting – Lent Devotion

The Beautiful Irony of Fasting – Lent Devotion

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sending devotions out to guide you through the Lenten season. Each Lent devotion will provide a brief analysis of Scripture and reflection questions. I pray these will be a source of encouragement and inspiration as you walk through the season leading up to Easter. Sign up on the form at the bottom of this post to receive weekly Lenten devotions delivered straight to your inbox. 

Introduction

A couple of years ago, I did the Daniel Fast by Susan Gregory. I drank only water and ate essentially lettuce and rice for 30 days. (I checked the rules and coffee didn’t count as water, so I almost died.) During that fast, I needed some direction and had pressing aches in my life that I wanted the Lord to address and fix. But during that time, I sensed Jesus saying, “Don’t seek the fix; seek My face.”

I sensed Jesus saying, 'Don’t seek the fix; seek My face.'Click To Tweet

This was a bit of a new angle for me because having grown up in the church, I’m actually pretty skilled at seeking Christian fixes, ideals, and disciplines. In other words, I’ve learned how to seek Christianity. But seeking only Jesus? I wasn’t quite sure what to do with that. Seeking Him simply for who He is—not necessarily what He could do for me or give to me—was somewhat new territory. It turned out to be exactly what I needed.

As we step toward spring and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ over the next 46 days of Lent, my prayer is that we’ll seek Jesus. Simply Jesus. In an effort to help you on that journey, I’ll be sending out a devotion on the Person of Jesus every Wednesday between now and Easter.

Over the next 46 days of Lent, my prayer is that we’ll seek Jesus. Simply Jesus.Click To Tweet

I know many of you are coming through the thick of an icy winter desperate for a fix, a healing, a spotlight of direction, a miracle, a green bud on the branch. In seeking the face of Jesus you won’t be ignoring or abandoning those longings, rather you’ll be affirming that Jesus is the greatest need of your life.

In preparation for seeking His face with a more intent focus, I encourage you to fast in some form. A true fast would be to abstain from certain types of food or food altogether for an allotted time each week during Lent (as your doctor determines is good for your health). You may instead choose to give up television, social media, streaming movies, etc. Whatever you decide, the irony and beauty of fasting is that when you set aside something that brings you comfort, pleasure, or sustenance, God is faithful to grow something new in its place.

Lent Devotion 1: A Speaking Savior

 Hebrews 1:1-3 “Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son. God has appointed him heir of all things and made the universe through him. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word…”

One of the very first things the author tells us is that God is a speaking God. And not only a God who speaks but One who speaks to us. Look back at verse 1:1 with me. We discover that a really long time ago, back when the Old Testament prophets were alive, God spoke!  Who did He speak to? The people of God under the old covenant (fathers). How did He speak? By the prophets. But now, in “these last days” that we’re living in—during the date on your calendar, in your city, on the street you live in, within your church community—God has spoken. He’s no longer speaking through the prophets; rather, He’s spoken through His Son Jesus.

I’m a communicator by nature. I like to communicate to others and like to be communicated to. This is sometimes to the dismay of my closest friends who occasionally like to not discuss every single thing under the sun. Sometimes they want to just be with me—something I do not understand when we could be conversing and figuring things out! So I find it particularly meaningful that the God I serve is a speaking God and that He’s chosen to speak specifically through Jesus.

Hebrews 1:1-2 tells us that Jesus has something to say, and He has something to say to us. Both through His actual words as recorded in Scripture and through the statement He made by His death on the cross and resurrection for our forgiveness and salvation. We know from other portions of Scripture He also speaks to us through His Holy Spirit.

What do you need to hear today? What do you need communicated to you? What if I reframed the question slightly: Who do you most need to hear from today? Is it not Jesus?

In verse 3, we find out another revelation about the speaking voice of Jesus: The whole world is sustained by “his powerful word.” This can be hard to understand when we think about the pain and chaos in our world right now and in our own country. Most of us don’t even have to look that broadly—we have unsolvable problems and divisiveness in our own communities, families, friendships and marriages. In the midst of what feels so tumultuous, Hebrews tells us that Jesus is personally involved and sustaining all things.

Take some time to reflect on this.

The word “sustaining” here means to uphold and gives the sense that Jesus is personally carrying things forward to their “appointed end or goal.” As unruly as things are, until He returns to set everything right, He’s still ruling and reigning. He has not left you. One scholar put it like this: The author of Hebrews “is not referring to the passive support of a burden like the Greek god Atlas bearing the dead weight of the world on his shoulders. Rather, the language implies a ‘bearing’ that includes movement and progress towards an objective.”[1] In other words, the person of Jesus has not lost control of our world or your world. He is intimately involved by the power of His word.

As we begin this season of Lent by reflecting on Jesus, I’m grateful that God has spoken through Jesus. That He’s spoken to us. And that the spoken word of Jesus is personally carrying and sustaining all the things. That He has not left us on our own and tells us so.

Questions for Reflection or Discussion

  1. What is particularly meaningful to you about God having spoken to you through Jesus?
  2. Why do we often find it hard to silence the noise around us for the voice of Jesus? How can this season of Lent be different?
  3. What do you think is different about God having spoken through the prophets versus now having spoken to us through Jesus?
  4. In what specific ways are you encouraged to know that Jesus is sustaining all things by the power of His Word?
  5. Spend some quiet time in prayer and praise God that He’s not silent but speaks to us through Jesus.

[1] O’Brien, P. T. (2010). The Letter to the Hebrews (pp. 56–57). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

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Letting Go of the Christmas Ideal for Christ Himself

Letting Go of the Christmas Ideal for Christ Himself

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The Christmas season is upon us, often meaning our joys and sorrows are increasingly magnified. If our lives are brimming with joy and loved ones near, well, the strings of bulb lights and wintery wreaths energize that happiness like cinnamon to steaming cider. But if we’re treading a path of loss or suffering or unmet longings, our pain is only increased by the continual reminder of what could be, or should be—A soul mate to call your own, a home of bustling children and grandchildren, vibrant health, full stockings and bank accounts, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

Longing for the Christmas Ideal

The Christmas ideal that accompanies our passage through December is a companion that reflects what we deeply hope to be our reality while exposing the parts of our lives that fall quite shy of the image it upholds. As a single woman with no children, Christmastime is both exceptionally sweet and a reminder of what is not. I will not be arm in arm with a husband through the malls, nor will I be buying my own children matching pajamas. I’ll be torn between deeply enjoying my parents and family in Virginia on Christmas day while simultaneously missing my community in Tennessee, the friends who make-up my daily life.

To be absolutely certain these are trifle voids compared to some of the unspeakable upheaval and tragedies some of the people I know are currently in the throes of. Regardless of how we’re walking through this Christmas season, every point at which life does not measure up to loved ones around crackling fires and picturesque table settings will be exposed.

So what do we do with a Christmas ideal that shows us what we all long to be true but is perpetually out of reach?

We do what Elizabeth did when Mary came to visit. We rejoice in our Savior instead of dwelling on who’s got it better or where our lives aren’t living up to our Christmas expectations.

A Tale of Two Relatives

Consider Elizabeth’s story leading up to the encounter with Mary who came to visit her newly pregnant with Jesus. Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah had pleaded with the Lord for children but with nothing but seeming silence in return. For a woman of Jewish culture to be barren was the ultimate social shame, a devastating loss of legacy and meaning in one’s society. After years of what Elizabeth would refer to as her “disgrace among the people”, the angel Gabriel visited her husband in the temple proclaiming that Elizabeth would soon become pregnant with a son. And while any son would have done just perfectly for Elizabeth, this child would be the forerunner of the Messiah. After all her suffering, Elizabeth would bring into the world one of the most important figures in Christendom.

Mere months before the very first Christmas, we find Elizabeth’s life shaping up more divinely than she could have ever imagined. Her disgrace has been removed, her womb is inhabited with child, her status in society has been exalted. Soon she will place in her husband’s arms what she’d always longed to give him but never could. Elizabeth, well along in years and having been faithful to the Lord through decades of unanswered prayer has finally reached her moment. The shaft of God’s favor is finally beaming down upon this most faithful and deserving woman.

Nothing like six short months for someone to threaten a Christmas ideal; Enter, teenage relative Mary.

In those days Mary set out and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judah where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. (Luke 1:39)

Essentially the only woman in all of space, time and history who could have possibly outdone Elizabeth, shown her up, beat her out, crashed her party, would have been Mary the mother of Jesus (of course this was not Mary’s heart or intent). At the peak of Elizabeth’s glory a much younger and arguably less deserving woman steps through the front door bearing a child greater than her own. And if we’re looking at all of this strictly from a human perspective, Elizabeth’s Christmas ideal fractures before Christmas has even come.

But Elizabeth was not caught up in comparisons or jealousy. Instead, Elizabeth stuns with her gracious response.

How could this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Luke 1:43.)

Her words reveal a secret we desperately need at this time of year: Elizabeth’s hope was not in an ideal but in a person, the person of Jesus Christ. When the blessed mother of her Lord entered her home, the farthest thoughts from Elizabeth’s mind were the ways in which her esteem, happiness or place in society would be threatened. All that mattered to her was the Lord, and because this was foremost true she could delight in Mary’s blessing as well.

Resist the Christmas Comparison Game

As I venture into this Christmas season I will be deeply disappointed if I compare myself to those whose lives are living up to the Christmas ideal in ways I wish were true of my own. I will ache unnecessarily if I set my hopes on Christmas-y images of magical settings that inspire a longing they are powerless to fulfill. If my focus is solely on the movies and malls and mulling spices, I will miss out on intimacy with my Savior, the only one able to commune with me in the deepest places of my heart. I will look to Him to do what only He can do in me, what no idealistic fantasy can.

As unmet longings and desires are awakened this season, I will spend quiet hours in God’s Word being reminded of the ways that the Desire of Nations meets our longings. When I feel alone, I will meditate on Immanuel, God with us. Like Elizabeth, I want to look beyond my own wants while delighting in and helping others in the context of Christ and community—that the mother of my Lord, should come unto me?

While I intend to hold nieces and nephews on the couch and watch Frosty and Rudolph, decorate a bang-up tree, make gingerbread houses, stroll leisurely through shops, sing with Amy Grant in the kitchen, splurge on Christmas-y cups of coffee, read by the fire, dine with friends at special gatherings, and perhaps let myself dream of the unlikely if not impossibly serendipitous love story through a Hallmark movie or two, my hope will not be in these trappings.

The Christmas ideal will not be mistaken for my Savior.

 

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Immanuel, God With Us

Immanuel, God With Us

Merry Christmas Friends,

I hope you all are having a meaningful Advent season. I’ve always felt that the holidays magnify whatever state we’re already in. If we’re in love, the season strings lights around our romances; If we’re lonely or hurting, those same lights seem to cast a glaring beam on our ache. And if we’re somewhere in the bell curve of general humanity, we probably have both excitement and longing that are simultaneously being magnified. It is perhaps for this reason that no other name means more to me at Christmas than the name Immanuel, God with us.

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This is where I’ve been sitting in the mornings and evenings, contemplating and communing with this God With Us. My tree looked more charming in the lot than it did when I finally steadied it upright next to my fireplace, which isn’t working right now by the way. My chimney is leaking among other problems like it being almost ninety years-old. But the tree and the leaking chimney with the stockings hanging from the mantle will do, because they remind me of Jesus having come.

Consider the significance of having come.

God did not wave a wand or sweep His right arm across the sky or condemn from afar when He could have. Instead, He sent His Son to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). I sat by this tree last night and this morning, recounting not just my sins but my sinfulness. (David, the Psalmist, the King on whose throne Jesus would eventually reign, claimed in Psalm 51 that he was sinful since birth.) I’m not talking about berating myself at Christmastime, rather I’m just a little more aware of what’s wrong with me, or what’s not right with me, and how much I need a Savior.

I’m aware that in this life we can be as excited and crackling with happiness as cranberries on a skillet, and in the very same day we can wound with our words, jealousy can tackle us from behind and we can be faint with longing. In either state we need a Savior. And so Jesus came. God with us. Not God far away, not God from a distance, not God as one of many. But Immanuel.

My prayer for you and me this Christmas is that we would relish His nearness. Our sins have been forgiven, joyful all ye nations rise. He mends the brokenhearted, O come let us adore Him. He brings His blessings into our broken relationships, far as the curse is found. He frees those in bondage, chains shall He break. Joy to the world, the Lord has come.

I am grateful for each one of you and look forward to seeing many of you on the road in 2016.

Merry Christmas,
Kelly

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