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?

There was evening and there was morning

My son is holding me to a very strict Christmas decorating regimen this year and I  am not meeting his deadlines.

But, he’s five and excited, so I don’t fret too much.  I want the house decorated,  too, and I understand all the anticipation and expectation.

Normally, I am a weekend-after Thanksgiving decorator when it comes  to Christmas.

But this year,  some family traveling changed our routine a bit.  I wasn’t even home to start decking the halls until Sunday afternoon and by then I was already behind my son’s schedule.

Why in the world was our tree not up the moment Thanksgiving ended?  That’s what he wanted to  know.

Perhaps he expected little Christmas decorating elves to apply themselves to the task while we were away.  In fact, that’d be a sweet surprise for me,  too!

Alas, no elves strung the lights or hung the stockings and garland.  So, that meant working away bit by bit, light strand by light strand with one consistent periodic interruption from my taskmaster 5-year-old:   “Are the lights up yet?  Where are the lights?  When will the lights be done?”

What  my son doesn’t fully understand is this is all a process: The cleaning up of Thanksgiving decorations, the unpacking of Christmas decorations, putting the tree up and pulling out the ladder to decorate outside, checking light strands and replacing burnt out bulbs, untangling garland, finding extension cords and plugging everything in.

It’s not a snap my fingers and voila kind of  thing.  It’s working away, little by little, with patience until there is light and beauty and Christmas.

And this is the way, isn’t it?  Most  of the time we just want the light and we want the light now.  We tire easily of delays, of waiting, of tension or difficulty.

Giving up on hope feels easier than continuing to look for redemption.

Here’s the truth built  into the very structure of creation, though, and this is what we fight against, but this is what is nevertheless true:

First there is evening.  Then there is morning.

First there is the waiting.  Then there is the sunrise.

First there is dark.  Then there is light.

First there is the resting in the Lord.  Then there is His miraculous provision of sun, of light, of hope fulfilled, of redemption and of His glory.

Genesis 1 peals out  this reminder like  a relentless echo, every single day of creation ends in the same way:

“And there was evening and there was morning” (Genesis 1:5 NASB).

Every day, God’s acts of creation ended the same:   Evening.  Morning.

Never the other way around.  Never the light first, the glory first, the joy first,  the fulfillment first.  Always the investment of walking and waiting through the dark of night until  God delivers with the morning dawn.

And He does deliver.  So, we have that  consistent assurance in creation itself that yes, this is darkness right now and it is hard to have faith, yes it looks  bleak, it’s heartbreaking and difficult,  yes you are weary and maybe frightened to your very core or overwhelmed because you simply cannot see….

But this:  “There was morning.”

There  will be morning.

Eugene Peterson describes this as “victory of God’s light.”

He said:

God’s day is not complete  until light shines again, penetrating the darkness and dispersing the shadows.  The creative action of God is light, which encloses and limits a temporary darkness…The shadows are there–night descends upon life–and there is that which seems to defy God, to disturb his order and his purpose: sickness, death,  trouble, and sorrow. But it does not have the last word:  ‘And there  was morning, one day.’ (Every Step an Arrival)

We have the promise also that even when we feel blind and abandoned in the dark places, God sees through.  Before we can ever see Him, He sees us—He always sees us.

The Psalmist said:

“Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You” (Psalm 139:12 NASB)

I read this explanation  in Barnes’s notes on the Bible:

” things appear dark to us–disappointment, bereavement, trouble, care, losses; but all is light to God.”

It’s all light to Him.

So, maybe I can hold on through the process.  Maybe I can cling a little harder to hope.  Maybe I can wait a little longer before giving up,  before despairing, before looking for an easier way.

Because this isn’t dark to Him.  And because at the end of this, at the end of all of this evening….there will be morning.  There will be light again.

A Gift for you: A Christmas prayer, Christmas carols and Bible verses

Merry Christmas!

I thank God for you all.  Just like Paul when he thought of the believers in the churches he’d started and visited, I pray with thanksgiving when I think of you.

You are so often a gift to me.

So, here’s a Christmas gift from me to you, some goodies that will hopefully warm your heart and bless your day.

A Christmas Prayer:

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Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” Luke 1:45 NIV

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O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today

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“For nothing is impossible with God” Luke 1:37 NLT

luke1-37

Silent night, Holy night….

christmas7

Good Christian men, rejoice!!!

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Unto you is born this day…

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His name is Immanuel, God with us!!

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Thanks be to God his indescribable gift!

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He gave His son…

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Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!
To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

Christmas devotionals: Keeping it real (and simple)

My dad always insisted on a real tree.  Sometime in December, we wandered around the Christmas tree lot, everyone searching for the one perfect tree full of pine needles and vibrant green.

Somehow we always chose trees that were fat and wide and typically too tall for our ceiling.  When we hauled the tree home, my dad had to lop off the bottom until it fit in the stand.  christmas11Some years, we still couldn’t top it off with the angel or star.

There was always the lingering suggestion that perhaps it would be easier and cheaper and neater to tuck an artificial tree away in the garage and just pull it out of the box each December.

But for my dad, this suggestion would destroy Christmas.  There are no substitutes for a real tree, he’d say, despite my mom’s suggestion to burn pine-scented candles or potpourri.

This, after all, was his only contention—that no matter how good an artificial tree looked, it would never smell the same as a real tree.

Christmas smelled like pine.

I think about my dad and how he made us all trek every year to choose the real Christmas tree.  Mostly, I think about him while I’m pulling the various wired limbs of my own artificial tree out of the box.

I’ve never been a convert, per se, to the need for a real live tree that smells like real live pine. I’m more of a sucker for convenience and control and a bargain.

Yet, as I hunkered down inside my wool coat and pushed through the wind into the Wal-Mart the other day, I lightly brushed the branches of a Christmas tree leaned against the front of the store.

And there it was…the scent of pine carried on cold air.

It was real.

All of those years growing up with sticky sap-covered branches, pine needles scattered on the carpet and my parents crawling under the tree to water it, I never truly “got it.”  I never once smelled the scent of pine that my dad loved so much.

It took the incidental brushing against a tree on the Wal-Mart sidewalk for me to understand the appeal…and to breathe deep the air and think of the beauty and feel newly reminded that Christmas is here.

Perhaps we need reminders because it’s so easy to forget.

In fact, sometimes we’re so busy trying to “remember” that we bury ourselves deep in endless tradition-making, busyness, activity, have-to’s and must-do’s that suck the life and energy right out of us.

Oh, I understand the feeling like it just can’t be Christmas without….

For me, it’s not so much the scent of the pine tree as the sound of the Christmas music.  We played it all season when I was a child.  But every time I flick on the radio for the “all-Christmas all-the-time,” my own kids protest.  They balk and whine.  Why can’t we just listen to the same ten songs we like and listen to every other time of the year?

My daughter complains for an entire half-hour drive, slumps herself in the back seat of the mini-van and announces, “Well, I won’t sing to it.”

Kind of sucks the joy right out of the carols.

And I understand the desire to make Christmas powerful and lasting.  For many of us, we’re just trying to stay Christ-focused and giving-centered.  But we set ourselves up for failure at times by trying to heap on so much to make it “really” Christmas.

Why not make this new tradition and that….read this devotional, light these candles, do these acts of kindness, bake these goodies, sing these songs, visit these places, take these pictures, make these crafts…..all in one year.

All of that effort to make Christmas seem real, to infuse it with magic and memories.

Yet, truly it’s just a simple thing.  So, we can breathe in and breathe out and relax into the celebration.

The angels said it simply: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

What more is needed?

All the rest we can do or not do.  We can enjoy, but not stress about.  We can choose the live tree or pull out the fake one in the Rubbermaid container.  We can sing.  We can bake.  We can light the candle and make the gift.  We can pop the popcorn and watch Rudolph or Snoopy or the Grinch.

Or not.

It doesn’t change Christmas.  Christ is all we really need for that.

Are you finding ways to keep Christmas simple this year?

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King