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.

 

 

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.

Losing, Looking, Seeking and Finding Christ this Christmas

Who knew at least 25% of my life as a mom would be looking for other people’s stuff?

One day you hold  a beautiful  infant in your arms and 12 years later,  you’re answering an endless stream of the same-old, same-old questions.

“Mom, have you seen….?”

“Mom, where did YOU put….” (Because obviously you must have moved it.)

“Mom,where’s my….?”

Today alone, I have already found a costume piece, a missing outfit, and a pair of shoes.  Plus, I am engaged in an ongoing hunt for a dress that  apparently walked out of a closet.

Earlier this week, I sat at the kitchen table helping one daughter with schoolwork while another daughter frantically huffed around the house.

She shuffled papers on the piano.  She tossed books around in the book bin.  She slammed desk drawers and closet doors.

I prodded her with a few standard investigative questions.  “Where did you last have it?  When was the last time you saw it?”

She just knew she put it on the piano, 100% absolutely sure . Someone must have moved it.

I let her search while I doggedly continued the study session with my other kid.  Finally, though, I looked up at this increasingly stressed child  and said, “I feel like I saw you fold that paper up into a square as we headed out the door somewhere.  Maybe in your coat pocket?   Maybe in your Bible?

Ding ding ding!

I carried that victory around as a moment  of superior Mom-ness.  Finding something without even getting up to look, that is worth serious parental points right there.

Hunting and finding.  Searching and seeking.  Looking and tracking.

This Mom-life has made me watchful and aware, and maybe that’s more than just a good Mom-skill.  Maybe that’s a heart-skill we need, especially at Christmas.

Because, right there in the busiest of seasons, if we stop being watchful and aware, we can miss out on Christ right in the middle  of Christmas.

The shepherds looked up on that holy night.  As the angels crowded into the night sky, the shepherds could have run in fear, cowered into rock crevices, hid their faces, and waited for life to return to normal so they could get back to watching those good-old sheep.

Instead, they looked up.   They listened.  They watched their flocks by night and they watched the angels worship, and they pursued the Savior.  They had to leave those Bethlehem hills and follow the instructions they’d been given.  A manger.  Swaddling clothes.  This baby.  Christ the Lord.

The wise men looked up, too.  They watched the night sky, they studied the stars.  They dug deep into ancient texts and lived in awareness.

Then, instead of shrugging off an anomaly among the stars, they packed up belongings, kissed loved ones goodbye, and set off on a journey to who knows where to find really who knows what.

They were searchers, seekers, treasure hunters, and they were finders.

Then there’s Simeon, who waited in the temple to see the Messiah.  He watched as people filed in and out, families coming for festivals, couples carrying babies to be dedicated.

He saw the One he’d been waiting for all because he kept his eyes open.  He looked and kept looking and never gave up looking until a poor carpenter walked in with a young bride who carried in her arms a baby named Jesus.

Shepherds.  Wise Men.  Simeon.

They all lived watchfully.

Others missed out.  When those wise men arrived in Jerusalem and asked King Herod about this one who was born “King of the Jews,” he called for religious scholars to fill in the blanks.  They knew the prophecy.  The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

But they didn’t go.  They shrugged off the visit from these foreign seekers and stayed right where they were, pursuing their own religious agendas, doing all of the holy things, and yet MISSING it, MISSING Him.

Max Lucado writes,
“They reported to Herod that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.  Did they not read the prophecy?  Yes, but they did not respond to it.  You’d think at a minimum they would have accompanied the magi to Bethlehem.  The village was near enough.  The risk was small enough.  At worst they would be out the effort.  At best they would see the fulfillment of prophecy.  But the priests showed no interest” (Because of Bethlehem p. 78).

During this holy season, how can we choose the better thing, to be aware of God on the move?

How can we wake each day with watchful anticipation, asking God to let us see Him?  To not miss Him?  To go where He is and to worship Him right there?

Let’s look and let’s listen and live watchfully, so we can see Jesus and we can worship.

This is the invitation to go together and not alone

“I want to come!”

This is my son.  He lives in a constant state of high-alert awareness, making sure no one in the family goes out for an adventure or for some fun without bringing him along.

We plan a movie day, just me and my girls to see a film that isn’t animated and isn’t going to hold the interest of my active four-year-old boy.

Somehow, though, without us talking to  him or even talking near him so he’ll overhear us, he manages to catch the word “movies” and pipes up with his current catchphrase, “I want to come!”

This is so hard.

I am an oldest child in a family of 5 kids.  Until I had a youngest child of my own, I had no idea how hard it can be sometimes to be the baby of the family.

He is the one who wants to play, but the others are too old to play.

He is the one who always wants to come even if we’re going somewhere he can’t go.  That means feeling left behind and that breaks his momma’s heart.

So, we try our best.  We draw him in.  We take him whenever we can.   That’s not everywhere and that’s not always, but we do our best.

Right in the middle of decorating our Christmas tree, last weekend, I ran out of working Christmas lights.  It had been a long and busy day full of projects, but unfinished projects are like fingernails on a chalkboard for me.   I cannot do, “let it wait until tomorrow.”

So, off I went, grabbing my bag and prepping for an emergency dash to the Wal-Mart.

My son saw my bag and sure enough said, “I want to come!”

He didn’t even know where I was going.  He just didn’t want to be left out.

Of course, making quick runs into a store is much easier without children along for the ride, but I grabbed his coat and shoes and took him with me because I could.

We drove out of our neighborhood slowly, marveling at all the Christmas lights.  We bought our supplies at the store and as we walked back out, Andrew shouted to a group of unknown bystanders, “Hey, they have a lot of Christmas stuff in there!”  Then we drove back home a slightly different way so we could see the decorations on a whole new set of houses.

The best part  of our unexpected adventure was his presence.  He was there.  He didn’t miss it.  I had drawn him in to the journey and pulled him alongside as a companion and he brought all the joy when wrestling with the lights on that tree had left me joy-depleted.

This is one of the gifts of the Christmas season: Jesus draws us in and He draws us together with others.

This is what He did for Mary, as she was commissioned to be the mother of the Messiah, right when the calling was at its most overwhelming and she could have felt both overwhelmed and all alone.  That’s when the angel said:

And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren (Luke 1:36 ESV).

You’re not in this by yourself.  Come.  Share this experience and this calling with another.

That was the invitation.

It was an invitation to do the hard thing with another rather than all alone.

And the angels made other announcements.  The heavens displayed other signs.  They shared the good news of great joy with a group of shepherds co-laboring in the fields, and a group of wise men studying the skies and ancient texts together.

These men had been working together and searching together.   Now, they became fellow-travelers and fellow-witnesses, bringing their community to Jesus and bringing Jesus to their community.

So much of me wants to hide away and hibernate by the time we hit December.  The calendar has “no more room at the inn” and my depleted resources leave me with little left to give.

But Jesus.

Jesus draws others in.

He brought His very presence right into the middle of the everyday, ordinary, needy lives of people and then invited them to come and not just to come alone, but to come together .

Maybe this Christmas can be a Christmas of invitation for us.  Maybe instead of doing alone and going alone, we can ask another, “Do you want to come?”  It can be last minute, it can be messy, it can be casual, it can be crazy.  It can be formal and planned or it can be made up as we go along.

It can be a prayer as we begin the Advent season, “Lord, draw me to you….and draw me to others.”

 

 

Why we’re not done celebrating yet

jeremiah-29-13

I’m slipping ornaments and lights into Rubbermaid containers and packing the Christmas village into Styrofoam and cardboard this week.

On the kitchen table, though, I place the three wise men from our nativity scene.

Tonight, the wise men take center stage.

My middle daughter announced a few years ago that we should celebrate Three Kings’ Day on January 6th.

This was important.  Necessary even.

She instructed us:

  1. We must leave our Christmas decorations up until then.
  2. We must have a special dinner with a kingly treat.

I tried to ignore the pleading at first and then made futile attempts to explain that since by January 6th we are already immersed in the insane schedule we call everyday life, perhaps we could skip Three Kings’ Day.

But no.

So, knowing how this girl-of-mine treasures traditions and because I love her,  I Googled it and Pinterest-searched and asked on Facebook  how to make this happen.

I read about traditional dishes like “pickled cabbage leaves stuffed with grouts drizzled with water and sauerkraut juice, ” “broccoli accompanied by crostini with chicken liver pate” and “stuffed ravioli with rich duck or rabbit ragu.”

I’m not loving this holiday.

But a friend speaks truth to me.  It’s not about the menu.  It’s about the family time and the celebration.

So, I let my daughter plan the feast and she chooses what is simple and fun and a family favorite.

I see the simplicity of this.  It’s a family dinner with a special dessert and three wise men finally arriving in Bethlehem to worship the new King.  Nothing difficult or fancy.

It’s not about effort; its about celebrating those who abandoned everything to seek truth–to seek Christ.

I read in my Internet research that it’s not just the celebration of “three kings,” but the rejoicing in the Epiphany, the humanity of Christ, God in flesh. It’s the reminder that He’s not a cold and impersonal deity too far out of reach to care about the passions of my day-to-day heart.

He is God come near.

God bent low.

God of compassion, who knows what it’s like to be hungry, tired, hurt, broken, sad, joyful, loved, and hated.

And I marvel at the magnitude of this, that when God’s infant Son cried out in a hay-filled manger, right there at the beginning of the salvation story, God sent the birth announcements to the whole world.

Not just to the Bethlehem natives.  Not to the religious elite or the most righteous among them.  Not even just to Jewish shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night.

For God so loved the world….

The whole world.

He sent a Messiah to the Jewish nation, but then announced redemption for us all with a star that Gentile sages could see and follow to find their Savior, as well.

These men, these watchers-of-the-sky, not so much kings as bookworms, as astronomers, as students and sages, they remind me to pursue the presence of Christ.

 

How hard it must have been to explain to wives, to family, to employers, to friends, to the people in their hometown that they needed to journey far in pursuit of a newborn King.

Sometimes I’ve imagined them following a star without really knowing why, without knowing what it could mean or where it would take them. Yet, when they arrived in Jerusalem, they pestered Herod with questions:

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).

Everyone else continued on with life as usual, but they were willing to rock their entire lives in radical pursuit of the Messiah.  It was so clear to them.  So simple.

See the star.
Follow it.
Find the Savior.
Worship Him.

Reality so often complicates the simple.  Life gets busy.  Radical seems too hard.  Maybe the journey will cost too much.  Perhaps I forget along the way whatever it was I was seeking to begin with.

Or maybe I’m too busy and distracted to seek at all.

But I’m reminded today that God comes near and the wise seek Him.

Tonight I celebrate these magi who pursued the presence of Christ with wild abandon and focused determination, and I celebrate the God who promised this:

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

Originally posted January 6, 2014

#AnywhereFaith and Christmas

christmas15

Today, I plunked down $0.88 for a new address book.

Then, I laid its 13-year-old, well-worn predecessor to rest.

It was time.

In that old address book, I have crossed out.  I have drawn arrows.  I have swirled over old addresses and entered in new.  I have stuffed envelopes with corrected info into the pages.

This year during ‘Operation Christmas Cards,’ I flipped through that edited mess.  Seven more family members moved this year to new homes in new places.

Most of these are happy moves: The new-job, new-marriage, new-baby kind of celebration.

Others are moves of in-between, of change, of loss and sadness and finding new hope for the future.

Since I have an intense dislike, maybe even horror, of writing in pencil, though, I can’t just erase and start afresh at each new life event.

That’s when I realized the truth.  It wasn’t time for more corrections.  It was time for a completely fresh shart.

It was time to move on.

And it strikes me right at that moment as I fill in the blank pages A-Z, surrounded by Christmas decorations and Christmas cards, that Christmas itself is about moving.

God began that progress, journeying to us:

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him (1 John 4:9 HCSB).

He makes the first move.  He steps into the void we can’t breach, the abyss of sin we can’t possibly cross, and He leaves the glory of heaven for our sake.

Jesus isn’t the only One who moved that first Christmas, though.

“The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth” (Luke 1:26).

Mary and Joseph loaded up the donkey and trekked slowly “from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the City of David, which is called Bethlehem” (Luke 2:4 HCSB).

The angels arrived on the hillside to announce the Savior’s birth to shepherds and then “left them and returned to heaven” (Luke 2:15 HCSB).

Then, those shepherds in their excitement said, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened” (Luke 2:15 HCSB).

Days later, a man named Simeon was guided by the Spirit and went straight to a GOd-appointed place:  “he entered the temple complex” (Luke 2:27 HCSB).

Wise men from the east searched the night sky and could no longer remain at home, complacent, apathetic, mildly interested but not engaged when they saw the mysterious star.

NO, THEY MOVED.

They committed to the journey, packing camels, loading supplies, asking questions.

They must have left so much  behind:  Family, possessions, homes, a culture they knew and friends they loved.  Maybe they left position and power in the dust in order to arrive in a foreign land as strangers and outsiders searching for a King they couldn’t describe whose name they didn’t know.

Where were they going?  They did not know.  When would their journey end?  They could not say.

Just like Abram long before, the Magi left their homes to travel to an unknown destination for an uncertain amount of time.

Friends must have called them crazy.  Family might have questioned their sanity.

Yet, they kept moving because a star “led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was ” (Matthew 2:9 HCSB).

CHRISTMAS IS ABOUT THE FAITH OF MOVEMENT, ABOUT FAITH IN ACTION.

It’s going anywhere god calls you to go.

 NO STANDING STILL.  NO REMAINING THE SAME.  NO STUBBORNLY REFUSING TO LEAVE THE OLD IN PURSUIT OF GOD’S WORK ANEW.

In a season steeped in tradition, God shows us that He can do the surprising and unexpected.  He is at work.  He is in motion.

Christmas is angels and shepherds, sages and a teenage girl, the righteous and the ordinary, all abandoning their plans, agendas, comfort, and homes, leaving it all behind so they would not miss what God was doing.

ARE WE SO WILLING TO MOVE?

When God calls, when He is active, when He is at work and He comes to us, will we also go to Him?

I’ve finished filling this new address book now and for a while at least everything is settled and set.

Yet, I’m hushed with expectancy.  I’m at the feet of Christ with anticipation.  I’m asking the question and I’m silent, breathlessly waiting for the answer He gives:

“God, what are you doing and how can I be there?  I don’t want to miss it by refusing to move when you move. Lead me this Christmas.”

Originally published 12/11/2015anywherefaith-christmas

 

Would you consider sharing the message of Anywhere Faith with others this Christmas?  Click here to visit the book page on Amazon.  Thanks!

Christmas means God on the move

christmas15

Today, I plunked down $0.88 for a new address book.

Then, I laid its 13-year-old, well-worn predecessor to rest.

It was time.

In that old address book, I have crossed out.  I have drawn arrows.  I have swirled over old addresses and entered in new.  I have stuffed envelopes with corrected info into the pages.

This year during ‘Operation Christmas Cards,’ I flipped through that edited mess.  Seven more family members moved this year to new homes in new places.

Most of these are happy moves: The new-job, new-marriage, new-baby kind of celebration.

Others are moves of in-between, of change, of loss and sadness and finding new hope for the future.

Since I have an intense dislike, maybe even horror, of writing in pencil, though, I can’t just erase and start afresh at each new life event.

That’s when I realized the truth.  It wasn’t time for more corrections.  It was time for a completely fresh shart.

It was time to move on.

And it strikes me right at that moment as I fill in the blank pages A-Z, surrounded by Christmas decorations and Christmas cards, that Christmas itself is about moving.

God began that progress, journeying to us:

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him (1 John 4:9 HCSB).

He makes the first move.  He steps into the void we can’t breach, the abyss of sin we can’t possibly cross, and He leaves the glory of heaven for our sake.

Jesus isn’t the only One who moved that first Christmas, though.

“The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth” (Luke 1:26).

Mary and Joseph loaded up the donkey and trekked slowly “from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the City of David, which is called Bethlehem” (Luke 2:4 HCSB).

The angels arrived on the hillside to announce the Savior’s birth to shepherds and then “left them and returned to heaven” (Luke 2:15 HCSB).

Then, those shepherds in their excitement said, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened” (Luke 2:15 HCSB).

Days later, a man named Simeon was guided by the Spirit and went straight to a GOd-appointed place:  “he entered the temple complex” (Luke 2:27 HCSB).

Wise men from the east searched the night sky and could no longer remain at home, complacent, apathetic, mildly interested but not engaged when they saw the mysterious star.

No, they moved.

They committed to the journey, packing camels, loading supplies, asking questions.

They must have left so much  behind:  Family, possessions, homes, a culture they knew and friends they loved.  Maybe they left position and power in the dust in order to arrive in a foreign land as strangers and outsiders searching for a King they couldn’t describe whose name they didn’t know.

Where were they going?  They did not know.  When would their journey end?  They could not say.

Just like Abram long before, the Magi left their homes to travel to an unknown destination for an uncertain amount of time.

Friends must have called them crazy.  Family might have questioned their sanity.

Yet, they kept moving because a star “led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was ” (Matthew 2:9 HCSB).

Christmas is about the faith of movement, about faith in action.  No standing still.  No remaining the same.  No stubbornly refusing to leave the old in pursuit of God’s work anew.

In a season steeped in tradition, God shows us that He can do the surprising and unexpected.  He is at work.  He is in motion.

Christmas is angels and shepherds, sages and a teenage girl, the righteous and the ordinary, all abandoning their plans, agendas, comfort, and homes, leaving it all behind so they would not miss what God was doing.

Are we so willing to move?

When God calls, when He is active, when He is at work and He comes to us, will we also go to Him?

I’ve finished filling this new address book now and for a while at least everything is settled and set.

Yet, I’m hushed with expectancy.  I’m at the feet of Christ with anticipation.  I’m asking the question and I’m silent, breathlessly waiting for the answer He gives:

“God, what are you doing and how can I be there?  I don’t want to miss it by refusing to move when you move. Lead me this Christmas.”

 

 

Pa rum pum pum

Glory to God

 

Pa rum pum pum.

I am practicing for the church Christmas cantata.

So is my two-year-old son.

I hear him from the backseat of the minivan, singing along with the CD, instinctively drumming his hands to The Little Drummer Boy.

Then he wiggles and bobs his head and does a little toddler dance of intense motion.

Pum pum pum, he sings.

All this Christmas season, my son has been singing this song.  It’s his favorite.  He reacts the same way every time, with participation, with whole body involvement, with spontaneous joy.

And, besides all that, it’s the one song that he knows most of the words to.

Pum pum pum.  He belts it out.

It’s not a Christmas carol I’ve ever given much thought to.  Being the realist I am, I’ve always balked at an extra-biblical kid with a drum hovering near the manger scene, rapping out a rhythm for the newborn Savior.

But as a parable….as a story digging God-centered truth down deep within me…..it’s captured my attention.

Perhaps this is because I’ve played it over and over and over again for my son and then it gets stuck in my head and I pretty much cannot escape hearing this song all….day…..long….

It’s here, this line, that gets me every time: “I have no gift to bring…that’s fit to give a King…. Shall I play for you?”

What’s more fitting than our worship?

What’s more treasured and valued by God than our praise offering?

Some of you might be fighting for the joy this season.

You could rush yourself right past the purpose of Christmas, caught up in the busyness, buried in the rush, made breathless by the expectations and demands on your time, on your attention, on your wallet, on your soul.

Maybe it’s hard to see the Light of Christmas through the crushing darkness of your circumstances.

This year, though, I’m not fighting for joy; I’m fighting for worship.  For awe.  To be captivated anew by the weight of His glory.

I’m battling and warring against the ‘blahs’ of same-old, same-old.

It’s remembering that family movie nights with The Grinch, hot chocolate and popcorn, lights and wreaths, traditions, baking sessions, and picking that perfect present are fun, but they aren’t ‘it.’

It’s hearing that well-known Christmas story one more time and gasping in amazement that God came down for us.

Not rattling off Linus’s speech from the Peanuts’ Christmas movie (love that, by the way), but letting the truth sink, sink, sink into the hardened soil of my heart to  saturate me with Christ’s astonishing love.

And then responding like I should in the face of so much glory—on my knees, hands raised, heart expectant, worshipping Him as spontaneously and as wholeheartedly as a two-year-old crooning along to The Little Drummer Boy in the minivan.

My truest response to God’s greatest Gift should be an offering of praise.

That’s Mary.  She sings in worship:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior (Luke 1:46 EV).

That’s Zechariah after 9 months of silence:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people (Luke 1:68 ESV).

That’s the angels who spontaneously exclaim in one unified voice, praising God:

 “Glory to God in the highest
 and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14 ESV).

That’s the shepherds, who high-tailed it off of that mountain to see this Savior.  They left the infant Messiah that night:

“glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20 ESV).

That’s the wise men, journeying with anticipation and finally arriving to see Jesus:

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 (Mathew 2:11 ESV).

At church, I tell the children playing wise men in the Christmas program to kneel and set their gifts (carefully) down as they bow.

But I tell them the truth, how those magi didn’t gingerly drop to one knee in the presence of Christ.

No, they hit their faces to the ground in adoration and humility.

In Unafraid, Susie Davis writes that the word really means:

They prostrated themselves and did him homage…laid out completely.  Hands in the dung.  Soiled robes.  Crowns knocked off.  Faces to the ground.

A poor girl from a small town.

A faithful priest.

Lowly shepherds.

Sages from afar.

The Christmas account is awash with praise: Spontaneous, heart-resonant, knees-to-the-earth surrendered worship to a Savior so worthy, to a Savior so compassionate, to a Savior so glorious.

What can I bring Him?  I am so small.

I bring Him my worship.  I give Him my all.

 

This Christmas Eve Tradition

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”
(Luke 2:19)

I was eleven and my Sunday School teacher gave our class a homework assignment for Christmas break.christmas letter

Write a letter to God, she said.  Make it a prayer, a re-dedication, an offering of my own treasures, not the gold, frankincense, and myrrh of wise men, but the very finest gifts I could lay at the feet of a worthy God.

It was my Christmas gift to Him.  I wrote it out on Christmas Eve, folded it up, tied it with a ribbon and placed it under the Christmas tree.

Two decades later, I have twenty years of Christmas Eve letters to God.  It’s my most intimate and holy Christmas tradition. This Christmas Eve, I fingered the packet of letters and marveled at God’s gracious work in me.

One of my “rules” is no peeking at the letters on any day of the year other than Christmas Eve.  Yet, on that one night a year, I can glance back at twenty years of me drawing near to God just as He drew near to us on the first Christmas of all.

Usually by about February each year I can see clear answers to the prayers I scribbled out on the page just months before.

In some ways, this prayer letter is my moment to lay gifts before the King as the wise men did.  It’s my re-commitment to serve Him in a new year and place at His feet the deepest desire of my heart to give Him praise.

I offer Him my very life, noting the places He is already at work in my character and asking Him for spiritual growth so I can bring Him glory.

Like the angels, though, I am also praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven” (Luke 2:14), as I give thanks and specific praise for the blessings of the year drawing to a close.

Then, like the shepherds, I turn my attention away from the busyness of work and daily life to see what God is doing in the heavens.  I write my letter to God at night after my daughters are asleep, the dishes are done, the gifts are wrapped and under the tree. There, in near-darkness, illumined almost solely by Christmas lights, I pray and write.

I look away from the “sheep” in my care, lift my eyes and attune my heart to hear the announcement of good news, of promises for the future and the certainty of promises fulfilled.

I dwell not just on what God has done or what He is doing, but what He will do in the new year.  What burdens has He placed on my heart?  What directions has He asked me to travel?  What steps of obedience has He asked me to take?

Mostly though, my Christmas letter is a moment to be like Mary, who after the shepherds came “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

Sometimes God’s work in our lives needs times of reflection and stillness.  What He reveals to us as we sit at His feet isn’t always meant for public announcements or official New Year’s resolutions, or campaigns or church-wide programs.

Sometimes God asks us to ponder and treasure, to reflect, pray, and wait for the appointed time.

So, I ponder.  I ask for God’s perspective on my marriage, my kids, my ministry and job and heart and mind.

Instead of monopolizing my conversation with an oh-so-patient God, I ask for His perspective.  Before I ever begin to write, I flip through my prayer journal and track the themes I see there.

How at times everything I read seems to be about grace.  Or prayer.  Or allowing Him to bring light into dark places. Or believing God for the impossible.  Or how He is a God who restores.

I follow the clear path of what He has already been doing in my life and then I join Him there in that place.  Yes, Lord, I pray, be at work here.  I will join You.  I will be submissive and receptive to what You want to do in me.

It’s not too late for you to sit in the stillness of a Christmas Eve and write your own letter this year.  What a perfect time to begin a holy and intimate tradition of your own.  A letter to Your Savior.

What gifts do you have to lay before the King?  What songs of thanks can you sing in the night?  What do you see in the spiritual places when you shift your focus off the physical daily routine of life?  What has God been doing in you and teaching you that you need to ponder in your heart?

Originally posted on December 26, 2011

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 © 2014 Heather King

 

Why I’m Serving Up Spaghetti and Brownies for Three Kings’ Day

I’m slipping ornaments and lights into Rubbermaid containers and packing the Christmas village into Styrofoam and cardboard today.

On the kitchen table, though, I place the three wise men from our nativity scene.

They aren’t glass or hand-carved from precious olive wood.  I have four kids, after all.

Instead, they are three little plastic figures that my daughters have been playing with for five Christmases at least, reenacting the birth story of Jesus with unbreakable Nativity toys.

Tonight, the wise men take center stage.006

My middle daughter announced this year that we should celebrate Three Kings’ Day on January 6th.  That it was important.  Necessary even.

She instructed us:

  1. We must leave our Christmas decorations up until then.
  2. We must have a special dinner with a special kingly treat.

I tried to ignore the pleading at first and then made futile attempts to explain that since January 6th was the day we return to the insane schedule we call everyday life, that perhaps we could skip Three Kings’ Day.

But no.

I did what any mom might do after that.  I Googled it and Pinterest searched and Facebook asked about how to make this happen.

I read about traditional dishes like “pickled cabbage leaves stuffed with grouts drizzled with water and sauerkraut juice, ” “broccoli accompanied by crostini with chicken liver pate” and “stuffed ravioli with rich duck or rabbit ragu.”

I’m not loving this holiday.

But a friend speaks truth to me.  It’s not about the menu.  It’s about the family time and the celebration.

So, I let my daughter plan the feast: Spaghetti with King’s Hawaiian bread and brownies.

Slowly, this Three Kings’ Day or Feast of Epiphany captivates me as we celebrate men who abandoned it all to seek truth—to seek Christ.

I read that it’s not just the celebration of “three kings,” but the rejoicing in the Epiphany, the humanity of Christ, God in flesh. It’s the reminder that He’s not a cold and impersonal deity too far out of photo by Ruud Morijn reach to care about the passions of my day-to-day heart.

He’s God come near.

God bent low.

God of compassion, who knows what it’s like to be hungry, tired, hurt, broken, sad, joyful, loved, and hated.

And I marvel at the magnitude of this, that when God’s infant Son cried out in a hay-filled manger, right there at the beginning of the salvation story, God sent the birth announcements to the whole world.

Not just to the Bethlehem natives.  Not to the religious elite or the most righteous among them.  Not even just to Jewish shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night.

For God so loved the world….

The whole world.

He sent a Messiah to the Jewish nation, but then announced redemption for us all with a star that Gentile sages could see and follow to find their Savior, as well.

These men, these watchers-of-the-sky, not so much kings as bookworms, as astronomers, as students and sages, they remind me to pursue the presence of Christ.

How long had they been seeking?  They knew the prophecies, knew that a Messiah would come, knew where He would be born.

They knew when they saw that star in the sky that God was at work.

How hard it must have been to explain to wives, to family, to employers, to friends, to the people in their hometown that they needed to journey far in pursuit of a newborn King.

Sometimes I’ve imagined them following a star without really knowing why, without knowing what it could mean or where it would take them. Yet, when they arrived in Jerusalem, they pestered Herod with questions:

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).

They couldn’t understand why everyone else could continue on life as usual when they were willing to rock their entire lives in radical pursuit of the Messiah.  It was so clear to them.  So simple.

See the star.
Follow it.
Find the Savior.
Worship Him.

Reality, though, can complicate the simple too often.  Life gets busy.  Radical seems too hard.  Maybe the journey will cost too much.  Perhaps I forget along the way whatever it was I was seeking to begin with.

Or maybe I’m too busy and distracted to seek at all.

The wise men saw that star because they were actively looking.  Too often, I’m missing God’s presence because I’m not bothering to look.

But I’m reminded tonight that God comes near and wise men seek Him.

Tonight I celebrate these magi who pursued the presence of Christ with wild abandon and focused determination. And I celebrate the God who promised this:

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

Have you ever celebrated Three King’s Day?  How do you make it special?

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