Your Prayer Has Been Heard

“The angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.” (Luke 1:13)

What sweeter words could you hear than “Your prayer has been heard”? Those are words we all long to hear spoken directly to the deepest part of our hearts. Zechariah’s prayer for a child was decades old. A long-suffering prayer. And now, in God’s plan to bring Jesus into the world, those prayers were being answered. Zechariah would have a son who would prepare the way for the Savior.

What have you prayed for this past year? Rest assured, “Your prayer has been heard.” In the Christ-child, your prayers and God’s promises intersect.

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:20)

The Amen – the final answer, the “let it be so”, the bottom line truth. Christ, the Amen, is the hook we hang our heavy prayers upon, the resting place for pleas that go beyond words, the living answer that transforms our wishful thinking into hopeful anticipation.

As you celebrate the Baby born today, realize that there’s room in that straw-filled stable for you and your prayers. There’s room to come lay your requests down in that musty manger, and as you set down those prayers, pick up the fullness of the Baby.

Good Questions

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.” Luke 1:30-38

“How will this be?” Mary asks a great question but not out of unbelief, out of normal curiosity. She’s a young virgin. Can you blame her for blurting out the obvious? I would have asked the same thing. But notice her question is, “How will this be?” not, “Can this be?” She’s not questioning the character or ability of her God, she’s just reflecting upon what she doesn’t understand.

The problem with our questioning is not that we are asking hard questions, but that we are not asking them in the right way. We ask from places of unbelief. We use “Can” and not “How”. But perhaps most disturbing is that our questioning doesn’t lead anywhere. We don’t follow up with assertions. We remain in that place of questioning.

Mary follows up her question with a declaration, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

Everyone questions. Raising questions to the Lord can be a form of worship, if they are raised with humble hearts, hearts that confess, “I am the Lord’s servant.” What we learn from Mary is how to step over the confusion, what we don’t understand, and rest in truth, what we do understand. Mary might not know the whole salvation plan of God, but she does know her place as a servant of the Most High. Her simple, meek response is spoken into the unknown of her circumstances. That’s a beautiful picture of faith.

Is there a realm of confusion in your life right now that has you swimming in questions? Ask the questions, but don’t stop there. Make your declaration.

Jesus is Not the Mascot of Christmas

They prance and dance, snort and snicker, cheer and chant. No, I’m not referring to Santa’s reindeer. I’m referring to mascots. Every sporting event has its mascots. They stir up the crowd, encourage participation, summon team spirit.

Sometimes we place the Christ-child next to Santa as just another Christmas mascot. The feel-good stable story (we love our underdogs) adds to the magic of Christmas: the pastoral environment of straw and animals, an inexplicable star, the mystic of traveling sages, the humbleness of shepherds, and a swaddled newborn.

Christ is not a mascot. He doesn’t bring good luck. He isn’t a cheerleader for the Kingdom of God. He doesn’t represent God. He is God. And he didn’t come to be the focal point of our nativity for four weeks before being packed back up in a box for the rest of the year.

Jesus is a year-round Savior. Our worship of him in January should be as devoted as our worship of him during his “public” season. Jesus warned against half-hearted discipleship. You couldn’t follow him and look another direction as well. It was daily cross-bearing, not seasonal cross-bearing.

“No one can serve two masters.” (Matthew 6:24)

If you want to feel good this Christmas, put on some sentimental music. If you want to get pepped up for the new year, decorate your house and drink some eggnog. But if you want a Savior, head to the manger and kneel before the King. If you want new life, absorb the words of Luke’s Gospel, “‘He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.’” (Luke 1:24)

God’s Presence is No Surprise

It comes as no surprise that the God who took initiative to create the world out of nothing would take initiative to redeem it. Somehow, in the midst of struggling with legalism, I failed to make that connection. Instead, I was presumptuous enough to think that I could have an active part in my own saving.

Christmas reminds us that we have no initiative in our redemption. The whole salvation program was God’s scheming work. His the implementation, his the sacrifice. Ours the surrender and benefit.

The saving plan of God was hinged on an important concept: presence. The only way to fix a broken world is to come into it. The work of grace is hands-on. That’s why the grace-child is called Emmanuel, God with us.

He couldn’t have sent an angel. He couldn’t have sent a liaison. He’d already sent prophets and mediators. He had only one option. He had to send himself. Presence. He had to be in the world in order to save the world. He had to wear skin and feel emotions. God had to come face to face with pain and death – not God-face to human-face, but human-face to human-face.

At Christmas we celebrate the unimaginable – that God, the Son, would humble himself to be present in a world of suffering.

What does this mean for those of us still living in a world where the Kingdom of Darkness advances with bloody thrusts? The recent school massacre is just one example of the war path of evil. Our quick assertion, “God is in control,” while truthful and faith-driven, can also seem trite and confusing.

Some are asking, “Where is God?” And the answer may be startling. He’s present. He’s amongst us. And he’s with us in a way no one else has been.

Jesus, which means Yahweh is Salvation, is the embodiment of God’s covenantal promise to dwell with his people, a promise made way back in Genesis. No other Ancient Near Eastern god would ever dwell amongst its people. The promise of a future Emmanuel came to Israel during a dark time when many were asking, “Where is God?” (Isaiah 7-8). The answer, from the prophet Isaiah, was that God was coming to dwell, coming to be I Am right in the midst of a humanity crying “I want to be!”

When you can’t see the Emmanuel, I Am, because of the darkness, remember this story from Matthew 14: 22-27:

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.”

This Christmas, when you look at the Child in the manger, may you hear the words, “It is I. Do not be afraid.”

God’s Present is No Surprise

It took only 24 hours for my daughter to blurt out what she’d gotten me for Christmas. I’d known anyway because I’d sent a dollar to school for her to buy a homemade wash cloth from another parent. When I picked her up that afternoon, she pretended secrecy.

“Mom, don’t look in my backpack. I bought you a present.” I gave her some wrapping paper and sent her to her room.

A few minutes later, “Mom, I’ll give you a hint. It’s square and you use it in the bathroom.” Because I knew, I didn’t panic that it was toilet paper.

The next day, “Mom, I got you a wash cloth!”

She’s the age where the fun of a surprise is the revealing of it, not the keeping of it. The pressure of anticipation is too great, and like a geyser, the surprise eventually blows.

God, the Father, proudly revealed his present to us. He may have invaded the world quietly, humbly, but not secretly. After letting the anticipation build for a thousand years, his burst on the scene in the form of a baby.

Sometimes grace is hard to find. It can have clandestine qualities. It gets muddied up by the filth of life. But God’s desire is for grace to be found, not hidden. At the manger we find new grace. We are reminded that God stepped toward us, even while we were stepping away from him.

Let us receive his present this year.

Are You Prepared?

I grew up in Seattle, where the threat of an earthquake was driven home by the drills we had at school, hiding under desks, head down, holding onto desk legs. At home, we had the essentials stored in our emergency kit up in the attic. Preparation is something at which some Americans excel. Our pantries are stocked with food. Flashlights with juiced up batteries are stashed strategically around the house, as well as candles, extra blankets, gallons of water, emergency phone numbers, lists of procedures.

Are we prepared when it really matters?

First century citizens in Judea weren’t prepared, in spite of the prophecies. A young virgin with child? Suspect. Later, those of Nazareth would question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” They still hadn’t understood.

God fulfilled his promise to come once, and he will fulfill his promise to come again. The Father has promised to send his Son a second time, are we prepared for this final break-in? Because he has been faithful once, do we consider him faithful in the future?

Advent is a time of expectation and preparation – not just for the Christ-child, but for the Christ who is coming again. Advent may be only four weeks on the sacred calendar, but it’s really a year-long celebration. Think of what characterizes Advent – the waiting and receiving, the fulfillment of promise, and the faithfulness of God. Advent means coming.

Sometimes theologians refer to Christ’s second coming using the Greek term parousia. The term literally means, presence. Christ’s second coming will usher in the complete presence of Emmanuel, God with us. His presence will be final and absolute, with no boundaries, hesitations, or restrictions – with one caveat: His presence will be reserved for those who have confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Are you prepared?

For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.” Hebrews 10:37-39 (quoting from Habakkuk 2:3-4).

As you rush through Christmas Day and into the new year, be sure to keep the spirit of Advent strong in your hearts.

The Great Break-In

If you’ve ever been robbed or had something precious stolen you know the complete sense of violation that descends upon you like a thick fog. When something of yours is taken, it’s an assault on your sense of belonging and safety. Someone has crossed into your space and violated your ownership rights.

We had a car stolen from in front of our house in the middle of the night when I was in high school. Our family felt invaded. That injustice turned our hearts inside out. Part of the frustration of being robbed is being caught off-guard, taken advantage of secretly.

God doesn’t work that way. He doesn’t stalk around in the dark. Prior to his invasion as a man he gave advanced warnings through the prophets. Today, we have the whole story, Genesis to Revelation. There’s no reason to be taken by surprise. He invades our space, but he goes so with grace and humility.

And yet, so many around us are unaware that God has burst in upon their struggles. Precisely because God doesn’t manhandle our hearts into belief, many are left unaware of this ultimate invasion.

Advent gives us the opportunity to prepare for God’s break-in. This baby in the manger came to rupture the sin barrier, to straddle the chasm between holy God and fallen creation. Christmas is the time we celebrate and embrace this sacrificial movement of the Christ-child into our world.

This is one break-in we prepare for and welcome.

Ask

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,” (Matthew 7:7).

Christmas is the season for asking. We make lists . Children sit on the lap of Santa and ask for what they want.

I hate pretense. As a child, I avoided clowns, mascots, the Easter bunny, and Santa. I only remember sitting on Santa’s lap once during a Christmas party at the local fire station. It was awkward.

On the other hand, I sat on my father’s lap frequently – to read books, to watch TV, to say prayer, or just to have a family chat.

I find it ironic that the Lord of heaven and earth invites us to ask, and we hesitate. We don’t think twice about asking each other for things that we need or want. But somehow, when it’s the great I Am who wants us to ask, we clam up, or we offer casual requests from a distance, with constraints like “if it’s your will.” We don’t want to be presumptuous.

The problem is, we don’t understand what it truly means to be presumptuous. Would you like an example? Consider Isaiah 7, when the Lord invited King Ahaz to ask him for any sign. King Ahaz refused, saying, “I will not put the Lord to the test.” And God was mad. God sent his sign anyway. Ahaz was presumptuous – conceited in his idea that he would not trouble the Lord, faithless in his refusal to take God at his word.

It’s arrogant to say no to the Living God. He’s not the boss that frowns upon your vacation request. If the Lord says ask, then we ask, even if it feels unnatural or we’re not good at it. We ask for healing of a broken relationship, for money for our daily bread, for simple joy that has been lost. We ask to find lost keys.

The size of the request does not matter. Don’t save only the big requests for him. Take the little things, too, especially the little things. Asking for the little things shows great faith. It shows that you believe God cares for every part of you, that he’s worth your time. It shows that you refuse to limit his involvement to things you deem too big for you. No request is too small for God, and no request is so small that you can handle it on your own.

And when you ask, do not do so from a distance. Sit on your heavenly Father’s lap. The little children came to Jesus and he took them in his arms. Being a child of God means being intimate. Children are not only good at asking, they are good at being close. My daughter said this morning, “I don’t want to be by you today.” I had just scolded her for back talk. Her response was to withdraw.

Distance is the response of unbelief. It’s an action that shows refusal to ask. Intimacy is the response of faith.

The “Revelation” Moment of Christmas

The glory of God pours like liquid light across the bleak night sky. Shepherds tremble in fear as the angel makes an announcement, and then, for a moment, the door of heaven is cracked open, and those shepherds glimpse the divine worship service, angels praising and singing, “Glory to God in the highest.”

If the announcement of a Savior is so fantastical, being in the presence of that Savior must be even more marvelous. And so the shepherds go. They seek out that newborn King.

The worship of the angels in that darkened sky above the shepherds is one of the most beautiful moments in the Christmas story. It’s a Revelation moment. The book of Revelation is filled with foretastes of the heavenly worship service. What separates the visible reality from the invisible reality is peeled-back and we are allowed a look at the worship that is occurring in the midst of our daily doldrums.

When those angels fill the sky and start to sing, we need to pause. We need to enter into their song. When we face announcements of any kind – job promotion, cancer diagnosis, a friend’s betrayal, our child’s success – we break into song, “Glory to God in the highest.” Because of that first announcement, “I bring you good news of great joy…today…a Savior has been born to you,” we can sing, “Glory to God in the highest,” no matter what the news.

This year, as you hear Luke’s Gospel read, enter into the Revelation moment of the Christmas story. Don’t let the angels sing alone.

 

Surrounded By Darkness. Or Is It Hope?

Sometimes I overreact and spew out a string of harsh words, like when a certain child of mine refuses a nose-blowing attempt, or when another certain child of mine whines “hold you” when my arms are full of grocery bags. What a frustrating life I have.

And then I read about ancient Israel and I have one of those monumental perspective shifts. They not only had to deal with the weight of their sin through a flawed sacrificial system, they had to fight for daily survival, surrounded by enemies. All of a sudden, the aggravating sound of my son’s cough seems trivial.

Many Messianic prophecies are dropped right into the dark circumstances of ancient Israel. God parachutes down words of hope right when the darkness has threatened to utterly devour his people.

While God’s people are under siege, Isaiah proclaims, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” In the midst of their struggle, God promises himself – a baby that will be “God with us.”

The prophet Micah, ministering during the same time as Isaiah, proclaims, “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.” What an odd thing to prophesy when enemies are beating on the doors of your cities. A ruler from pitiful little Bethlehem? Yes, words of hope delivered into the midst of a dark time that would only get darker before that promise was fulfilled.

From Isaiah 9, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” If you hear these words as an Israelite living under threat of Assyria’s army, how do you react? Do you expect immediate deliverance from your physical foe, or do you see a deeper promise, that of deliverance from spiritual death? Do you look at your darkness and mock such a promise, or do you see those words as a lifeline of hope?

You may be like me, light on physical suffering, but heavy of heart. Or you may be like ancient Israel, heavy of heart and your very existence being threatened. Whatever darkness is bullying you, God’s words of hope cannot be withdrawn or forsaken. When we see the fulfillment of his promises to Israel, we realize that his promises are never left unfulfilled. We look at our own struggles and know that the fulfilling work of Jesus stretches forward in time to swallow our darkness, just as he reached back in time and embodied the prophets’ words of hope.

The Best Christmas Present

I had two insights from last Sunday’s sermon, God is With Us, preached by my awesome pastor, Richard White (listen here).

First, I am a rebel.

It takes a lot for a good girl to admit this. Yes, I am aware of the bad attitudes that swirl around my heart like snow in a snow globe. And although I bear the weight of shame daily, I’ve made good choices over the course of my thirty-two years, and somehow, I’ve always felt like a good person.

Last Sunday, the knowledge that I am a rebel traveled twelve inches from my head to my heart. I’m really not that good, I thought. I have a lot of issues (which had been my hunch for some time).

On the tail of that revelation came the second insight: God is for me.

And not begrudgingly so. Sometimes I see God as a tolerant being, putting up with my sin, dealing with it because I can’t, but wishing I’d get my act together. This is not the picture of a God who is for me.

Last Sunday I realized what “for me” meant: 100% committed, not angry, constant grace, without regret.

Pastor Richard referred to this as the best present we could receive this Christmas. To really know God is for us. Not to accept that he loves us and had to deal with sin because he is good and compassionate. But to know that sin and shame are out of the picture. Dealt with and gone. God being on our side is complete and unchangeable. Can Jesus undo his life on earth? God has given mercy, it cannot be taken back.

What other proof do we need that God is for us than to see the son of God lying in a manger, and to know that this innocent baby has it coming to him. He’s not going to live a Pollyanna life. It’s going to be messy and dark because….I am a rebel, and he is for me.

Revelation

Joseph had a problem. A problem he couldn’t solve. What to do with Mary? His betrothed was with child, not his child.

Apart from God’s revelation –  “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” –  Joseph had no idea what was going on. He would have made the wrong choice, and he, a “righteous man”!

We have a problem. A problem we can’t solve. Apart from God’s revelation – his in-breaking Word – we roam the earth clueless. We create solutions that seem good in our own eyes, but which lead us astray and ultimately fail us.

We need God’s revelation: his written Word, his living Word. The birthday of Jesus is more than an excuse to get a lot of new stuff. It’s God’s solution for us. God’s answer to our sin problem.

Are you in need of his revelation? He invites you to ask, “If any of you lacks wisdom he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5). We have a generous God who did not hold back his Son. Why would he hold back anything else that we need?

He Became Like Us

“He gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.” (Philippians 2:7).

Christ didn’t just come to us. He became like us. No other god does that.

At creation, the Godhead makes man in his image. At the incarnation, the Son of God sets aside his “Godness” and takes on “made in the image of God”, human flesh.

What does it mean that Jesus became like us?

It means that he felt our emotions. He was hurt by rejection, saddened by mean words, angered by wrongdoing, warmed by a friendly smile, filled with joy by a celebration.

It means that he struggled like we do. He made tough decisions. He faced temptation.

It means that he understands every circumstance, pain, triumph, battle, and incentive we experience.

But most importantly, Jesus not only became like us, but he did what we could not do. He lived a sinless, perfect human life. He lived the life God created man to live, but which man fell short of in Eden.

Because Christ became like us, we too, can live that perfect life. We can partake of his “becoming like us” by surrendering our hearts to him. We can enter in to his perfect life, but we have to let go of our failure to be “truly” human. We have to admit that there’s this sin problem that has cut into our ability to live as God originally created mankind to live.

Let us rejoice that God is not only Emmanuel (with us), but became like us, and lived a perfect human life, so that we can return to that place of perfection before God.

Power of the Word

Earth from space. Photo from Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of NASA.
Earth from space. Photo from Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of NASA.

“In the beginning God created…” (Genesis 1:1)

…by his spoken word. Everything out of nothing, by his spoken word.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

The world-creating, word-speaking, creating God, creates again, out of nothing. Incarnate Word, into the nothingness of virgin Mary’s womb.

Sabbatini painting, Wikimedia Commons.
Sabbatini painting, Wikimedia Commons.

“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.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Pondering the mystery of God with us.

Linking up with Deidra at Jumping Tandem for The Sunday Community.

 

A Baby or the Word?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”John 1:1-3

The opening of John’s Gospel takes us back to Genesis and the creation of the world. “In the beginning…” Jewish readers would immediately fill in “…God created the heavens and the earth.” But John gives a twist. In the beginning…the Word. Who is this Word?

This Word was with God. With, an important preposition that connotes communion. God and the Word were moving towards each other, were together.

The Word was God. Not, the Word was “a god” or “the god.” The Greek has no article in front of theos (God). The Word was part of the Godhead. John is making use of Trinitarian theology. The Word is not just divine, it is deity.

The Godhead of the Word is affirmed in the next statement, “Through him all things were made…” Bible readers will immediately thing of Colossians and Paul’s affirmation of Christ’s supremacy.

“For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” Colossians 1:16

Only God can create out of nothing. Only the God who creates out of nothing can reign over everything.

The Christmas story does not begin at the manager. Jesus’s life story does not begin with an angel visitation to Mary. Jesus first appears in scripture in Genesis 1, “the Word was with God, the Word was God.”

Who is Jesus to you? This is the question you must answer at Christmas. He’s not the baby in the manger anymore. That was a moment in history. Our culture allows for a secular celebration of baby Jesus. I hear the music in the stores, lyrics about “baby Jesus.” Our culture does not allow for celebration of the Godhead Word becoming flesh, bringing light and truth. Jesus is, however, still the Word. The Word in the beginning, the Word now, and the Word forevermore.

Shepherds didn’t bow before a baby. They bowed before the Word. Do you bow before a baby or before the Word?

Pondering Christmas

Sometimes life doesn’t make sense. With great effort we churn those milky questions, but they refuse to harden into answers. We’re left only with the sourness of our confusion.

The nativity gives us permission to not see the whole picture. We’re allowed to sit in the dark and wonder. Consider the limited perspective of Mary and Joseph. All they knew was that they had been given this baby, the Messiah. They had no special parenting book, “12 Steps for Raising the Perfect Savior.” When Mary held her baby and “pondered all these things in her heart”, she saw only the moment. His tiny hand grasping, his lips suckling. She didn’t see the miracles he’d perform or the cross he’d die on. She didn’t see the Pharisees questioning or the crowds pressuring.

Instead of seeing, Mary and Joseph pondered – questions about the future, prophecies of the past, all of it a swirling wonder within their hearts. They had only the certainty of hope and an anticipation of who this child would become.

This Christmas, may you find…

…in the pondering, anticipation;

…in the churning of questions, an unfurling promise;

…in the confusion, fullness of wonder.

Find Your Miracle At the Manger

If you aren’t destitute this Christmas, don’t bother putting up your nativity. A heart with no need can celebrate Christmas with Santa Clause, Frosty, “Jingle Bell Rock”, and cocoa by the fire. The manger is for the destitute, those who know they don’t have a chance without an immaculate conception, incarnate God, perfect life, sacrificial death, and triumphal resurrection.

“What do you want for Christmas?” my pastor asked the congregation during his sermon last Sunday. I’ll tell you what I want: something I can’t go out and get on my own. I can get new clothes, music, books, or gadgets. I can’t get a guilt-free conscience. I can’t keep my head above the surface of the ocean of shame I daily swim in. The failures, the “should haves”, the to do lists – I can’t manage them all.

I’d really like a miracle this Christmas. Fire to fall from heaven and consume my weariness and shame.

The only way to find a miracle is to begin at the manger, welcoming the Christ child. At the manger we find light and grace and truth embodied in the Word become flesh:

The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:9-14.

Receive the Christ child and become a child, a child of the Father God. If you want a miracle this Christmas, receive the child, believe in his name. Do as the shepherds and wise men and bow before the newborn King. The light and truth that pours forth from the manger is the kindling for a miracle. The belief you demonstrate as you bow and receive him is the spark that ignites the miracle. The burning of his grace within you consumes your sin-struggle, and even weariness and shame cannot extinguish the fiery glow of the Word-flesh within a child of God.

The Labor is the Lord’s

Advent spits in the face of legalism. By legalism, I refer to the try-hard life where rules and accomplishments take the place of the Gospel. If you find yourself saying “I should” often, then you might have a sneaky legalism issue.

In the quiet months of the year, I get lulled into legalism. The rule-following instinct kicks in and seems to work, for a while. Mostly unaware, I measure my spiritual life regarding if I had a good quiet time, if I yelled at my kids, if I baked an apple pie for my husband. And if the hormones are in a happy place, I can get away with it and not realize the poverty of my soul.

But not during the busy months of the year, when the sacred calendar is packed with holy moments. During those moments, the perfectionist in me tries a little too hard to feel worshipful, and my soul gets pushed right off the edge of the cliff. Advent is one of those seasons where the try-hard life fails me, and the pressure of commercialism overrides the cruise-control of my spiritual life.

The baby in the manger has everything to do with God’s divine plan and nothing to do with our abilities to muster him into existence. Why, then, do I sit down with Bible in lap and press the muster button on my heart? Why do I think that if I try hard enough I can summon up some good spiritual thoughts and call it my spiritual nourishment for the day?

The only mustering that made Jesus appear was Mary’s that first Christmas. Giving birth is a messy, painful, smelly experience. Hard work is for birthing mothers, not our souls.

Here is the glorious good news about celebrating Advent. The labor is the Lord’s. The writhing struggle is his. He came into this world to battle our sin, so why do we still fight like the battle for salvation is not won?

As we fumble to set down the try-hard life and pick up grace, let us keep this in mind: In the floundering, in the grasping, Christ appears.

Advent and the Crucifixion

Yesterday I mentioned my friend Oswald Chambers. His wonderful devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, has been an insightful companion of mine since college. On November 26, his scripture was “…except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Galatians 6:14).

I admit, I wasn’t in the mood for it. Who wants to think of the cross while preparing to enter Advent season? I like to keep my seasons separate, and I was busy pumping up my Christmas vibes. I wanted to mull over the incarnation, the divine conception, or the star, but not the cross.

What does the crucifixion have to do with Advent?

Everything.

Paul warns us to preach “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2). When we focus on the effects of Jesus – our salvation, sanctification, healing, service…etc., his power within us is muted. We must keep the spotlight on the person of Jesus Christ. The baby we celebrate came to be crucified, and therein is the power for our spiritual life: Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

We speak of the light at the end of the tunnel. Crucifixion was at the end of an earthly life for Jesus, but it wasn’t light.

During Advent, we wait with that end in sight. We wait within the scope of God’s full revelation: cradle to cross.

Let us juxtapose that image of a swaddled baby with the bleeding savior crucified, and the meaning of innocence deepens.

Babies are innocent. We hold them, wistfully mindful that they have no idea how awful this world can be. Jesus was innocent, but not in that naive sense. He was innocent, as in without guilt. His whole life glorified the father and was undeserving of death.

My two babies were not without guilt. Their selfishness was on grand display. When I wanted to sleep, they wanted to eat. When I wanted to read a book, they demanded to be held, played with, diapered – right now. They took toys from other babies. They rejected mashed peas if they wanted creamed peaches. Babies are not really innocent, not like Jesus. Jesus was swaddled in blankets. We are swaddled in our sinful nature.

So really, Advent is about the crucifixion. That innocent baby came with the purpose of carrying our sins upon his back. As I wait this year, anticipating the breaking in of redemption, I have a lot of sins to thrust upon that baby’s back, and I know he is strong enough to carry them all.