The Unexpectedness of God | Advent

I bought the gift online and the box arrived on my porch yesterday.

It was quite a large box , much larger than I expected.  I couldn’t imagine what could possibly be inside since nothing I’d ordered would be that bulky.

I dropped the load I had in my hands inside the front door and hauled the package inside,  cutting it open quickly with scissors.  That’s when I found the surprise.

My son has two things topping his Christmas wish list:  Lego sets and dinosaur toys.  So, when this particular T-Rex toy went on super-sale on Black Friday online, I snatched  it up, knowing he’d love it.  The T-Rex is  his favorite  dinosaur and he always loves this brand o f toys.  I expected it to be a few inches tall like all the other toys we have by this same toymaker.

But this was beyond all expectation.  This T-Rex stands at least 5 times larger than all  the other action figures and is so big that he can “eat” the other toys and swallow them down into his expansive belly.

My son is going to love this.

I would never, ever have bought this toy knowingly, but this accident and this surprise will  probably be the hit of his Christmas morning.  I can’t wait.

Sometimes it can be so hard to “work up” anticipation, expectation and joy during the Advent season.  Calendars bog us down.  “Must-do’s”  and “have-to’s” can stifle our spirit.  Grief and even just disappointment at how the year turned out can weary us.

I need the reminder (maybe others do also?) about the unexpectedness of God.  How He breaks down the boxes we cram Him into.   We package Him up,  and He surprises us.   He is bigger and grander and far more unexpected than our wildest expectations.

I think I know how situations will unfold and sometimes I settle into thinking that “this will never change.” I see the problem.  I see the complications.  I see the mess.

But God.

I want to  see Him, who is able to do more and to do it in the most wildly creative way.  I cannot trust in my plans or my solutions and fixes, but I can trust in our Mighty God.

I remember Paul’s song of praise in Ephesians:

Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us—  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.  (Ephesians 3:20-21 CSB).

God is the defier expectations.  He is our Above-and-Beyond God.

In my Advent devotional this week, the readings began in Genesis, telling why we need a Savior, how because of our sin we needed a Rescuer and Deliverer who could restore our relationship with God.

And Adam and Eve knew this.  They heard God’s curse on the serpent:

I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel (Genesis 3:15 CSB).  

They knew that Another—a Deliverer—would come to defeat the serpent once and for all.

But what would this look like?  How would the Deliverer come?   How long would they have to wait?

Surely they could not have imagined as they headed out of the Garden of Eden how Jesus would come, how He would be born, how His rescue would come through His perfect life and sacrificial death.  Surely they could not have known the long line of generations who would wait for the coming of the Messiah.

My devotional reading says this:

“Scholar James Boice says Adam and Eve likely thought Cain was the deliverer who would defeat the serpent that God  promised in Genesis 3:15.  It’s even reflected in the name they gave him…In view of the promise of a  deliverer, [Cain’s] name probably means, ‘Here he is’ or ‘I’ve gotten him.’ Eve called her son ‘Here he is’ because she thought the deliverer had been sent by God.” (Advent, Lifeway Women, p. 14)

In Genesis 3, God says there will be a Deliverer.  In Genesis 4, Eve is pregnant and gives birth to Cain, the first human baby ever.

Maybe Adam and Eve truly thought this baby was the one who would rescue and restore them.  Cain would be the promised one.

But God.

They could have grown disappointed and discouraged with Cain’s failure and how nothing turned out the way they expected.

Still, God had a plan they could never have imagined, the perfect Savior who would come at the perfect time:

When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4-5 CSB).

 

Raise Your Hand if You’re So Excited

“Raise your hand if you’re so excited about Christmas!”

That was my five-year-old son on repeat in the weeks before Christmas day.  He asked us often and he expected a response every time.  Everyone in the vicinity had to raise a hand quickly and high enough to  be seen. Either that, or the offending non-responder would be quizzed stringently.

Aren’t you excited for Christmas?  Why didn’t you raise hand?  Are you not really excited?

During our Christmas Eve service,  he started to fall asleep a bit ( so much excitement can wear a fellow out), so I picked him up and cradled him in my lap during the pastor’s message.  We made it almost to the end when my son sat straight up, no longer tired, and said in not quite a whisper: “Raise your hand if you’re so excited about Christmas!”

Every one of us in the pew raised our hands just a teeny bit, not high enough for anyone else in the church to see, but enough so he wouldn’t launch into the full-scale interrogation.

After Christmas, he kept the excitement going.  He enjoyed every bit of Christmas break.  Then I explained our New Year’s Eve plans and how our family usually has family game night, eats special snacks and watches funny videos on TV.

The first thing he asked as he rubbed sleep out of his eyes at 7:30 a.m. on December 31st was  if it was time yet for the game playing and  the snack eating and the funny video watching.

He was ready. Ready all day.  He quizzed me at 10  a.m. and again at noon and then afternoon right up until we (finally) started celebrating.

During the Christmas season, I felt a continual nudging as I read each part of the story: am I living with expectation?

The wise men were searching the night sky.  They were actively looking, digging deep into ancient Scriptures,  studying promises,  watching for their fulfillment.  Then, at the first sign of God on the move, they chose active obedience and pursuit.  They left behind the familiar, they traveled far from  home, because they wanted to see what God was doing.

Simeon and Anna both knew the Messiah was coming.  They had been promised  and assured of  his imminence.  With profound expectation, they lingered in the temple courts, hoping for the day they would  see the Savior with their own eyes.  And they did.  God did what He said He would do.

Am I this excited?  Am I expectant?

I’m not really. Not as excited as my son, and not as expectant as the wise men, or Simeon, or Anna.  I’m not watchful or hopeful of seeing the goodness God is doing.

Maybe you’ve started this new year with just that high level of expectation and excitement.  Or, maybe you’re more like me, limping in slowly, timidly, a little worn out from the hard season you’ve just walked through–hoping (but not certain) that the most difficult steps are finally in the past.

Maybe you’ve been waiting and there’s more waiting to be done.

I read this today:

Now the people were waiting expectantly, and all of them were questioning in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah  (Luke 3:6 CSB).

Can we all be expectant?

It wasn’t just the Christmas characters who lived with anticipation of the Messiah; it was a general buzz of anticipation.  Crowds lined the riverfront to see John the Baptist because they “were waiting expectantly,” on the lookout for a Savior.

And one day, they stood along that riverbank  and watched as Jesus Himself stepped out of the crowd and into the water to be baptized.

They were seeking and because they were seeking, they found the Lord Himself.

So,  what am I seeking?

I’m not seeking answers or direction.  I’m not seeking next steps or a Promised Land or a bright future.

This is what Scripture says:

You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13)

and

 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you (Matthew 6:33).

I can raise my hand because I’m so excited to see Jesus. Even the worn-out me who is tempted to hide away can instead be stirred up with eager expectation because I want to see the Lord and to see God’s kingdom at work in the here and now.  I’m so excited to catch glimpses of His glory this year,  knowing that He is present and He is powerful.

He is a Good God.  And He is doing Good things.

 

 

Bible Verses and a Prayer for Christmas

Every Christmas Eve, my dad read us the Christmas story, Luke chapters 1 and 2, from the big golden family Bible in the original King James.  I still hear his voice…I still hear the words.

If you’d like to read the full Christmas story, you can find two famous passages in the Gospels: Luke 1-2  and Matthew 1-2.

Here, though, are 20 of my favorite Christmas Bible verses from the Old and New Testaments, reminding us of the Savior, the season, the gift…

  • Isaiah 7:14 NIV
    Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
  • Isaiah 9:2 ESV
    The people who walked in darkness
        have seen a great light;
    those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
        on them has light shone.
  • Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV
    For to us a child is born,
        to us a son is given,
        and the government will be on his shoulders.
    And he will be called
        Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    Of the greatness of his government and peace
        there will be no end.
    He will reign on David’s throne
        and over his kingdom,
    establishing and upholding it
        with justice and righteousness
        from that time on and forever.
    The zeal of the Lord Almighty
        will accomplish this.
  • Isaiah 11:1-5 NIV

    A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
        from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
    The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
        the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
        the Spirit of counsel and of might,
        the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
    and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

    He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
        or decide by what he hears with his ears;
    but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
        with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
    He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
        with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
    Righteousness will be his belt
        and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

  • Micah 5:2 NIV
    “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
        though you are small among the clans of Judah,
    out of you will come for me
        one who will be ruler over Israel,
    whose origins are from of old,
        from ancient times.”
  • Matthew 1:21 NIV
    She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
  • Matthew 1:23 NIV
    “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 
  • Luke 1:30-31 NIV
    But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.
  • Luke 1:37 ESV
     For nothing will be impossible with God.
  • Luke 1:45 NIV
     Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!
  • Luke 2:10-14 NIV
    But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
  • John 1:14 ESV
    And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
  • For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

  • 2 Corinthians 9:15 NIV
     Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
  • Galatians 4:4-5 NIV
    But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.
  • Philippians 2:5-7 ESV
    Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
  • Colossians 1:15-20 ESV
     He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by[a] him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
  • 1 Timothy 1:15-16 ESV
    The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
  • Titus 3:4-5 NLT
    But—When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.
  • 1 John 4:9 ESV
    In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.

christmasprayer

Christmas Stories On Days Like Today

Today was the most ordinary of ordinary days  with a hint of drab and dreary thrown in.

We heard the rain strengthen as my girls grabbed their backpacks to leave for school, so I drove them to the bus stop and we sat in the minivan where it was dry (but not quite warm).  I told one daughter to pray about her missing retainer  and hoped this is a way God would draw her close.  (May He teach her how to turn to Him for everything?)  Then I wished them well on the last day of school before Christmas break as we saw the bus lights through the fog.

I ran errands, including a visit to the post office where the employee helped me figure out the least expensive way to ship a Christmas package.  I met with a piano tuner, folded laundry, packed lunches, and made meals.  At some point today, I answered emails and made some  phone calls.

I avoided puddles (which my son stepped in) and slipped around mud throughout the day. At the end of the afternoon, I comforted a daughter whose day ended with some disappointments and hurt feelings.

Mostly I searched for the missing  retainer (in the trash, under the furniture, around town, in the cabinets, down the sofa cushions) and prayed about the missing retainer, then made a bunch of plans to replace it only to have my prayer  answered 10 minutes before I left to pick up my daughter and head to the orthodontist.  I found the elusive retainer where  it had fallen down from the shelf where she had safely placed it.

But that was the day.  Finding it took nearly the whole day.

We baked cupcakes for my daughter’s birthday, and watched a movie while I cleaned the kitchen and worked on getting a stain out of another daughter’s sweatshirt.

A day like today, completely saturated in so much ordinary–missing dental appliances, messes, errands, and chores–doesn’t feel very much like “Christmas.”  It wasn’t all flashing lights, beauty, extraordinary worship, or holy feelings . There wasn’t snow or “magic”  or warm and fuzzy, jolly or joyful fun.

Somewhere in the middle of the afternoon, I had a moment of feeling disappointed in myself really.  The pile of  clean and folded laundry and the found retainer seemed like all I had really accomplished today.

Not exactly the kind of success that makes headlines.

But then I remembered that Christmas means something deeply and powerfully true:

God came down into the ordinary.

He came down into MY ordinary.  And He inhabits my ordinary days in the here and now of my waking-and-sleeping life.

He didn’t come extravagant, grand, wealthy, and powerful.  He came plain and simple . He came small: A tiny, insignificant town called Bethlehem.  A poor couple, a young girl and her husband, a laborer.  A bed of hay and a makeshift outfit.  Shepherds called out of their nightly vigil on the hillsides to “come and see”  this tiny, unexpected Savior.

What if he had come differently?  What if all the pomp and circumstance had been there, making the first Christmas a grand event of royal magnitude: Red carpets, crowns, robes, a palace, power, wealth, and position?

What if Jesus had come untouchable, unapproachable, and inaccessible?

An out-of-reach Messiah couldn’t have saved anyone.

Jesus came on an oh-so-ordinary day to an oh-so-ordinary town and reached oh-so-ordinary people.

That’s where I live, too–in ordinary places, on ordinary days, doing ordinary things with ordinary people.

Max Lucado  wrote:

“Jesus did not separate himself from his creation; he pitched his tent in the neighborhood”  (God’s Story, Your Story)

John said it this way:

 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14 NASB).

That means our story can be a Christmas story of its own, how the Savior dwells in the simplest of places and uses simple people like us.  How he is so extraordinary but He meets me right here in the middle of all my ordinary.   How God impacts the world as we run errands, clean messes, make phone calls, and pray for our kids.

This is what Max Lucado said:

“…you live an everyday life.  You have bills to pay, beds to make, and grass to cut.  Your face won’t grace any magazine covers, and you aren’t expecting a call from the White House.  Congratulations.  You qualify for a modern-day Christmas story.  God enters the world through folks like you and comes on days like today” (God’s Story, Your Story).

So today, this ordinary day, is part of my Christmas story:  “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”  We need your presence here among us even now.

.

Bible Verses on Giving and Helping Others

  • Proverbs 11:25 ESV
    Whoever brings blessing will be enriched,
        and one who waters will himself be watered.
  • Proverbs 19:17 ESV
    Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord,
        and he will repay him for his deed.
  • Matthew 6:1-4 ESV

    Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

    “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

  • Matthew 25:35-40 ESV
    For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me.’
  • Luke 6:38 ESV
    give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
  • 2 Corinthians 9:7 ESV
    Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
  • 2 Corinthians 9:11 ESV
    You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.
  • Philippians 2:4 ESV
    Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
  • Hebrews 13:16 ESV
    Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
  • James 1:27 ESV
     Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
  • James 2:14-17 ESV
    What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good[a] is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
  • 1 John 3:17 ESV
    But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?

Peace and the heart of Christmas

This Christmas, we are celebrating with not just one, but two new kittens in our family.

Every  morning I check to see what they got into during the night.  Which ornament, which light strand, which bit of garland, which wise man have  they pulled down or knocked down.

I have stopped one kitten from climbing up the middle of our Christmas tree on several occasions and rescued this same kitten when his claws got stuck to the garland and lights strung over a door.  He was hanging from them like a mountain climber repelling off a mountain.

Wrapping paper is their favorite closely followed by empty boxes and ornament hooks that they’ve detached from the ornaments they’ve knocked to the ground.

Oh, Christmas is a wonder of excitement to these two little guys and they are certainly keeping me on my toes.

They are also prodding my heart about something:

The purpose of Christmas, the very heart of God’s heart in sending His Son, is peace.  It is RECONCILIATION.

We adopted our new kittens from the Humane Society.  They apparently had been dropped off at the shelter together.  They spent time in a cage together there before spending the next several weeks of their lives on display at a pet store in a different cage—still together.

We kept going to the pet store for supplies for our other animals and seeing these two playful kittens.  Why weren’t they getting adopted?

Finally, we decided we needed to be their family only to learn as we signed our name to the adoption papers that others had been interested in taking one of the kittens, but never both of them.  Until us.

That was what the Humane Society had been looking for the whole time, a family who wanted to keep the kittens together since they’d never been apart.

And we see this at work in these little guys.  The very first week we brought them home, they were getting bolder, adventuring into new places around our house.

Then we heard the crying.  It was the saddest, quickest succession of meows we had ever heard, not  a hurt cry, but a deeply sad cry.  One lone kitten walked by, meowing as he searched from room to room for the other kitten.

Even now, after almost four months with us, if one kitten can’t find the other kitten, we hear the crying and we watch the searching.

I’ve been meditating this Christmas season on God’s heart for Christmas, the lengths He went through to reach us and bring us back to Him.  His divine plan initiated in the Garden of Eden was this:  the moment we chose sin, He made provision for grace.  He began preparing the world for its Savior, Jesus Christ, to bring reconciliation.

Then the appointed time came, after waiting and waiting, after anticipation and heartbreak, after God’s faithfulness despite His people’s unfaithfulness.

Jesus was born, a tiny helpless baby born to a poor,  seemingly insignificant couple in the lowest of circumstances—surrounded by animals, hay, and the scent of a barn.

The angels rang out the Good News:

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14 NASB)

The prophet Isaiah had promised that He would be the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Peace.

Jesus brought peace, and Jesus is still bringing that yet-to-be-attained peace.  

He brought us peace with God.  Paul says Jesus was God’s gift of reconciliation to the world:

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation ( 2 Corinthians 5:18-29 NLT)

We were divided from God, cut off from His presence.  Sin disrupted our relationship with Him, but grace bridged the gap.   Through Jesus, we can be at peace with God.

So He sends us to bring that peace to others:

Paul tells us that God brought us peace, so we now bring peace.  We are ambassadors to the world, carrying the message and ministry of reconciliation so that others can be made right with God.

And He commissions us as peacemakers:

Jesus’s heart is for peace:  Peace between us and God, peace between us and others.  He says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9 NASB).

Peace is the heart of our Prince of Peace.
Is it mine? 

Peace is the fruit I bear when the Spirit is at work within me. 
Am I bearing this fruit?

Peace-making is a sure sign that I am His Child.
Can others see His heart for peace in me?

Bible Verses for when you need God’s Light

  • Psalm 27:1 ESV
    The Lord is my light and my salvation;
        whom shall I fear?
    The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
        of whom shall I be afraid?
  • Psalm 119:105 ESV
    Your word is a lamp to my feet
        and a light to my path.
  • Psalm 119:130 ESV
    The unfolding of your words gives light;
        it imparts understanding to the simple.
  • Ecclesiastes 2:13 ESV
    Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.
  • Isaiah 60:1 ESV
    Arise, shine, for your light has come,
        and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
  • Matthew 4:16 ESV
    the people dwelling in darkness
        have seen a great light,
    and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
        on them a light has dawned.”
  • Matthew 5:14 ESV
    You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.
  • Matthew 5:16 ESV
    In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that[a] they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
  • Luke 11:34-35 ESV
    Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.35 Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.
  • John 1:5 ESV
    The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
  • John 8:12 ESV
    Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
  • John 9:5 ESV
    As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
  • John 12:35
    So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer.Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.
  • Romans 13:12 ESV
    The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 ESV
    And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
  • Ephesians 5:13-14 ESV
    But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible,14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
    “Awake, O sleeper,
        and arise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.”
  • James 1:7 ESV
    Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
  • 1 Peter 2:9 ESV
    But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
  • 1 John 1:7 ESV
    But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
  • Revelation 21:23 ESV
    And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

This is why we don’t have to be afraid

My son listened this year as I told the Christmas story to  a gathering of prechoolers and he reviewed it for me over the next few days.

He told me about Mary and about Joseph and about the angels.  He told me how Jesus was God but a baby and how Christmas was Jesus’ birthday.

Then, he told me how Jesus ate a lot of food, got bigger and didn’t stay a baby anymore.

Got it.

But he also says this:  “The angels kept saying, “Don’t be afraid!”

They kept saying that.  Over and over.  Those angels had this resounding message of  joy and they prefaced it with the command to “fear not.”

As we finish one year, as we prepare for the next, as we look to the unknown and the new and the yet-to-come, how do we let this message change us and change our perspective?

How do we renew hope?   How do  we quiet fears ?

 

after all,  THE GOSPEL MESSAGE IS ALL ABOUT HOPE FOR THE HOPELESS, LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS, JOY IN SORROW AND PEACE IN TURMOIL.

It’s for those hopeless enough to feel like one more day alive is too much to bear.

It’s for those of us watching the clock at night, too worried about bills and our kids, our marriages, conflicts with family, or problems at work to sleep in peace.

It’s even for a worrier like me, anxious over the little things like birthday parties and church programs and a fresh calendar awaiting the activities of a new year.

It’s for the daily troubles that we turn into crises and for the life-and-death struggles we sometimes face.

IT’S THE REMINDER THAT GOD CAME HERE TO BE WITH US SO WE WOULDN’T BE ALONE, AND HE WILL NOT LEAVE OUR SIDE.

That’s the hope we have.  Not us alone in a crazy, mixed-up, broken world.  Not us alone facing bills and divorce, depression or stress.

Not us alone against any road-bumps ahead in the days to come.

Emmanuel.  God with us.

As it says in Isaiah:

“Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Fear not.

That’s the loudest message from the Christmas story.  The one grand announcement over and over: “Do not be afraid.”  That’s what my son reminds me.

That wasn’t just God’s plan for our past.  It’s been His passion from the beginning of Creation—to be with us.  It was His driving desire all those years of patiently planning for our salvation through Christ’s coming, His death, His resurrection.

It’s the great passion of God’s heart even now.  In the book of Revelation, we’re told that when the battle is over and Christ establishes His forever kingdom, God will say:

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

We close another Christmas season.  We stop playing the carols.  We pack up the decorations.

We make resolutions and plans for the new year.

But this is what we carry with us; this is the hope we have every single day:

HE CHOSE TO BE WITH US SO WE COULD CHOOSE TO BE WITH HIM.

So we do not need to be afraid of facing anything in this life alone.

God is with us.

Originally published December 28, 2015

Bible Verses about Worship at Christmas

  • Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV
    For to us a child is born,
        to us a son is given;
    and the government shall be upon[d] his shoulder,
        and his name shall be called[e]
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
        Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    Of the increase of his government and of peace
        there will be no end,
    on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
        to establish it and to uphold it
    with justice and with righteousness
        from this time forth and forevermore.
    The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
  • Matthew 2:10-11 ESV
    When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
  • Luke 1:44 ESV
     For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.
  • Luke 1:46-55 ESV
    Mary’s Song of Praise: The Magnificat
    46 And Mary said,
    “My soul magnifies the Lord,
    47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
    48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
    49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
    50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
    51 He has shown strength with his arm
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
    52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
    53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.-
    54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
    55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
  • Luke 2:13-14 ESV
    And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
    14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
  • Luke 2:20 ESV
    And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
  • Luke 2:38 ESV
     And coming up at that very hour she (Anna) began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The amazing, astonishing, startling, unexpected grace of Christmas

I pieced the shepherd back together yesterday.

One night while I was out this past week, apparently there was a crash, the kind that happens when child meets breakable object.  The shepherd in our nativity took a tumble and  was left in pieces.  His lamb was missing wool.  He was missing a hand and a foot and a corner of his robe.

So, I puzzled it out piece by piece with a bottle of super glue until he looked presentable again.

This isn’t the first brokenness in our nativity.

There’s a wise men who has had some patching up, as well.  A few years ago, he crashed and lost his head and a foot.  Super glue saved the day then, too.

I bought the set years and years ago for $6 at a church yard sale, and I love it.  Truly love it.  It’s not porcelain white with gold trim.  It’s not handcrafted wood.  It’s not expensive or fancy.  It was a bargain,  well-loved, used, and slightly the worst for wear.

It’s been a little broken even from the beginning for me.  Our donkey came to us with one ear missing.  So, this little set has some history.

But I love it. There’s something about these figures that draws me, their individual expressions and personality,  the colorfulness of it all, maybe.

Maybe the beauty is simply this: Jesus didn’t come all pristine and showy.  He didn’t come gilded or gorgeous, lofty and high.

He came so low.  He came to  the humblest and the small.  He came to the broken.

He came to us.

I see this heart in Mary when she sang with astonishment at the angel’s message.  She would be the mother of the Savior! Her!  Not some princess or queen, not a woman of position and power, not a matriarch of a rich family,

Young.  Single.  Poor.

Mary sang:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name (Luke 1:36-49).

Her song rings with astonishment.  Not just that God would do  this miraculous work, but that He would do these great things “for me.”

In his book, Hidden Christmas, Timothy Keller writes:

We should be just as shocked that God would give us—with all our smallness and flaws—such a mighty gift.

God  does this.  He chooses the humble.   Scripture reminds us of God’s heart:

Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble, but he keeps his distance from the proud
(Psalm 138:6 NLT)

The Lord supports the humble, but he brings the wicked down into the dust.
(Psalm 147:6 NLT)

For the Lord delights in his people; he crowns the humble with victory.
(Psalm 149:4 NLT)

So he chooses this girl Mary, and when He does she marvels at the way this is so topsy-turvy, so against the world’s expectations and plans:

He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty (Luke 1:51-53). 

He has blessed not the mighty, but the humble,  not the rich, but the hungry.

How startling that God would choose her.

And he chooses simple shepherds.  He chooses foreigners, Gentiles, from a far off nation to carry the gold and the frankincense and the myrrh to worship this new King.  He chooses the tiny town of Bethlehem; He chooses a stable, not a palace in the capital city.

How startling that God would choose them. 

It’s an astonishment we need ourselves:  How startling that God would choose us:  love us, save us, call us, use us.

Us!  Yes, us, the broken ones gathered around the nativity, held together by super glue with our cracks still evident upon up-close inspection.

 

Timothy Keller continues in his book this way:

“no Christian should ever be far from this astonishment that ‘I, I of all people, should be loved and embraced by his grace!” (Hidden Christmas)

It’s a surprise that shakes us out of complacency and into awe-filled worship.  Our God, so mighty, so worthy of praise, He “has done great things for me!”  Yes, He has done this even for me, even when I was lost, even when I’m imperfect, even when I mess up, even when I’m broken, even when I don’t  have it all together.

Such grace.  Such amazing grace.