Crawling toward the Manger: Day 24

crawling toward the manger daily24If you feel like you’re laying by the roadside, forgotten, take heart that God won’t leave you behind.

I don’t have a lot of military associations in my family, but I’m impressed by the commitments and sacrifices those who serve our country make for us. All of us. Even those who disagree about war and plead pacifism. Our servicemen do so to keep us safe, to protect our privileges, and defeat forces in this world bent on wreaking mass havoc on innocent people. For sure, our military is not perfect, and suffers the effects of our fallen world like every establishment. But recently, I was struck by some lines from their creeds:

“I will never leave a fallen comrade.” (Army Special Forces Creed)
“Leave no man behind.” And “Failure is not an option.” (Navy Seal unwritten code)

How does this connect to Advent, you might ask? Because God is the greatest warrior this world has known. He fought the greatest battle and made the greatest sacrifice, all because love compelled him to “leave no man behind.”

That’s the promise of the manger. That God comes back for you, the wounded. Failure is no option for him, and thus, he’s left with one choice: to redeem the fallen world through his Son.

We love stories of brotherhood and courage, don’t we? Movies like Saving Private Ryan, which demonstrate the depth of human commitment and love for each other, the willingness to sacrifice.

The manger is the beginning of an operation that would go terribly wrong by the world’s standards. A king that doesn’t assert a military kingdom? A king that ends up dead? This is mass failure, by our standards.

But we know the rest of the story, don’t we Christians? We know that sacrifice was Christ’s path to victory. We know that He came back for us in order to rescue us and enable us to live forever in his presence. But you don’t have to wait for heaven for those eternal benefits. He offers life abundant right now.

As you reflect on the glory of Christmas this year, and maybe you do so feeling wounded and discarded, remember the tenacity of God who pursues you and promises never to leave you or forsake you. The greatest evidence of that promise lies before you in the manger, inviting your worship.

 

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Crawling toward the Manger: Day 23

crawling toward the manger daily23Are you moving toward God? And if so, are you prepared for when He moves toward you?

Check out this C.S. Lewis quote (thank you, Amy):

“An impersonal god? Well and good. A subjective god of beauty, truth and goodness inside our own heads? Better still. A formless life force surging through everyone; a vast power which we can all tap? Best of all. But a living God, pulling at the other end of the cord, approaching at infinite speed? The Hunter? The Covenant Lord? The Husband? That is quite another matter. There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion suddenly draw back. Supposing you really find Him? You never meant it to come to that. Worse still, supposing He found you? If there is a God, you are in a sense alone with Him. You cannot put Him off with speculations about your neighbor’s hypocrisy or memories of what you have read in books. What will all that chatter and hearsay count when the anesthetic fog we call the real world fades away, and the Divine Presence in which you have always stood becomes palpable, immediate and unavoidable?”

The birth of Christ is when God first approached humanity at infinite speed, breaking through the barrier of flesh and becoming like us. It was the beginning. The setting in motion of certain events on earth that will never be repeated and can never be trumped in importance.

Pursuing God is an active choice. It’s not for the dabblers who want a soft, feel-good religion. It’s not for those who want to construct their own images of gods.

The journey for toward the manger is for those who are desperate for that palpable Divine Presence. For those who are willing to come face to face with the God who stretched out the heavens and spoke the earth into being.

In the Old Testament, when God appears, theologians refer to this as a theophany. Think of the fourth man in the furnace in Daniel 3 or of Joshua’s encounter with the Commander of the army of the Lord in Joshua 3.

If you are serious about finding God, He will be found. It’s his promise that those who seek him with humble hearts find him.

“Those who seek me find me.” (Proverbs 8:17)
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

He’ll show up, a theophany in your life, and you’ll have that choice to make. To surrender all or continue being your own god. Even for those of us who have made that initial choice to make Jesus Lord of our lives, there are still times when our pursuit of God turns into our being found by God, when God’s Divine Presence becomes so palpable we feel it in our bones and say with Isaiah, “Woe is me.”

This Christmas, whether your journey is one of crawling (like me) or running, or laughing or crying your way to the manger, be assured that God is moving toward you–the Hunter, the Covenant Lord, the Husband.

 

Crawling toward the Manger: Day 20

crawling toward the manger daily20The angels forgot to appear—or at least, they weren’t sent down the aisle for the Christmas pageant when all the children processed down in the beginning. Sitting at the piano, I didn’t notice. And neither did the director, until it was time for the first angel solo. “Where are the angels?” came the cry.

And then they came, a procession of their own, albeit a bit rushed and without the grace you’d expect from heavenly beings.

Such is the joy of children acting out the Christmas story. One year it was Mary who didn’t process.

Didn’t we just practice twenty-four hours ago? How can four second grade girls in angel costumes hang out at the back of the sanctuary and no one notices . . .?

There was no rehearsal for the first noel. It came and went with all the glitches a sovereign God had planned. The innkeeper didn’t get a do-over, “Oops, I should have given that man and woman a room, but I didn’t know she was caring the Savior of the world.” The shepherds who ran in from their fields with the smell of sheep crusted on their clothes didn’t get to go back and wash-up, didn’t get to grab some gifts to match the wise men. Joseph didn’t get to rewind his life a year, thinking, “this time I won’t be such a jerk when Mary tells me and I won’t need an angel to convince me because I’ll have more faith.”

Matthew writes, “This is how the birth of Jesus came about . . .”  A beautiful passive sentence that makes the writer in me cringe and yet perfectly highlights God’s sovereignty. This—and exactly this way—is how the birth of Jesus came about—by a force beyond human control. It happened because God happened it to happen in a specific way.

Any imperfections we might find in this story are not accidents. Mary’s too young to have the Christ child. It’s not fair they have to travel to Bethlehem so late in her pregnancy and get shut out of reasonable accommodations. Shepherds aren’t high enough up the social chain to receive the first tidings of Christ’s birth. And Herod certainly shouldn’t have been told by the wise men about the King’s birth. I mean, why did they let that slip? Are they idiots not to understand that Herod would be jealous and thus kill a city’s entire baby boy population? That certainly wouldn’t have happened in my script.

Maybe there are things happening in your script that you wouldn’t have chosen for yourself. We all have uninvited circumstances. Glitches, from our perspective.

Step back from your life a moment. Does God ever lose control and need a do-over? Part of us would like to think yes—because then the awful things that happen would be comprehensible.

But the answer is no, a resounding and unchallenged no. And there is comfort here in the hands of a sovereign God who doesn’t tell us why things happen, but instead shows up in the Flesh to endure with us. More than endure. Christ transcends with grace and mercy a darkness that has claimed victory.

Crawling toward the Manger: Day 19

crawling toward the manger daily19“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him . . .” (Luke 1:76)

John the Baptist is one of the funny characters of scripture. He wears odd clothes, eats a strange diet, and when he opens his mouth, words come out that aren’t necessarily politically correct. He calls a spade a spade (or rather, he called sin, sin). Let’s just say he didn’t blend in with the crowd. He didn’t keep his head down on the way to market with the goal of slipping in and out in record time.

He had a mission, one he recognized while he was still in his mother’s womb:

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.'” (Luke 1:41-44)

The pre-born John worshiped the pre-born Christ by leaping in his mother’s womb. He made such a stir that his mother Elizabeth noticed. In other words, this wasn’t your usual turning over or kick.

And might this movement of his have prepared the way for Elizabeth to welcome Mary into her home? Remember, Mary came as an unmarried pregnant woman to Elizabeth, who could have easily dismissed her, chosen the way of the community and shamed her. But John’s mission, from the beginning, was to prepare the way for the Savior.

Every thing about his birth–his miraculous conception to ancient parents, his father’s vision in the temple and consequent muteness for disbelief, his receiving of a non-family name–was like a neon sign, flashing warning over Israel that something great was happening. Pay attention, Israel. Years of prophecy are about to explode into reality.

Some people got it, or at least understood that the baby John had a mission different than other children:

“The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, ‘What then is this child going to be?’ For the Lord’s hand was with him. (Luke 1:65-67)

They were filled with awe and wondered. I never had that response when toting my newborns around in public. John garnered a bundle of attention his entire life, especially when he started to preach repentance. He knew his mission, and eventually it killed him. The price for preparing the way? Death.

After a look at his life, we must ask the question: are we those who prepare the way for the Lord’s work? Are our life patterns and speech set apart so that others take note and listen? Are we those of whom others might say, “the Lord’s hand is with them”?

The initial work of preparing for the birth of Christ and his earthly ministry is done. But Christ is coming again, and those who are following him must now take on the prophetic role of John announcing this Good News.

It is not an easy mission, nor is it socially acceptable or politically correct. Not that we are called to be Jesus bullies (Paul states that our speech should be full of grace and seasoned with salt–an interesting combination). But because of the nature of the message we proclaim, we will often find ourselves in John’s situation. Standing out, sometimes awkwardly so.

Take heart, friends. The Gospel took on flesh and endured more than we ever will. For his sake, we can wear the camel hair and eat the grasshoppers. Let us be preparers for Christ.

Crawling toward the Manger: Day 18

crawling toward the manger daily18She’s going now, on the threshold of this life, looking across the Jordan. It’s the dusk of my grandmother’s life, and she’s waiting. Waiting for Christ’s coming . . . to take her home.

And I’m waiting . . . also for Christ’s coming, to celebrate the Incarnation, the greatest coming of all. In the midst of this season of newness—the new baby Christ, his first breaths, and the coming new year, first resolutions—I’m pushing hard to reconcile the book ends of life, to understand how endings are also beginnings.

We are all crunched into time and space. Immortal souls housed in physical, temporal bodies. Again, I cannot escape the verse, “eternity in our hearts.” Because everywhere we look, we see eternity. In our longings, our failures, our joys, and our hopes. Eternity is the big reality squeezed into each shell of a body.

I view the end of my grandmother’s life with the light of eternity. That big push in her heart that has propelled each yearning of her heart? It’s about to break free. The horse being set out to pasture after years in the stall.

In Christ, all is coming. Advent. We come into the world, live the life He’s ordained for us, and we come to the end. We come home, truly home.

And in between the comings, we wait. Wait by the bed for our loved one’s last breath. Wait by the phone for that call. Wait for the realization of eternity, that whispered nudge we’ve lived with, to become the shouting push. The overwhelming, in-our-face reality.

So much waiting, and so much coming.

You, friends, are there too, right now, experiencing your own comings and witnessing the comings of others. I’m witness to many journeys, some through Facebook, and others through the prayer requests in the bulletin. Many are coming Home. Some old, some not. Some expected, some not.

And all—hard.

How do you handle the eternal comings of others? Through your own comings. You come to the cross. You come into the comfort of the Spirit, or rather, He comes into you. You come to church, into the presence of others. You come to the Word, because the Word became Flesh and came to you.

We come to 2 Corinthians 4 and read that we preach Christ, not ourselves. In spite of the hardness of our circumstances, Christ’s life is revealed in us, a glorious witness that though we waste away on earth, we are renewed. We look beyond our momentary troubles to what is unseen, because what is unseen is eternal.

There is that concept again. Eternity. Perhaps the most comforting concept of Scripture, for those who have been saved.

Wherever you are this Christmas season, stop and come to the manger. Come to worship, like the wise men, come to bring gifts, come to marvel.

Crawling toward the Manger: Day 17

When life flips you upside down and shakes the hope from you and dreams fall like coins to the sidewalk, clattering, scattering . . .

In that moment, what do you do?

Mary found herself in such a moment. The future she’d imagined for herself was suddenly nothing more than past thoughts.

Do you ever wonder if Mary’s life was endangered by her out-of-wedlock pregnancy? Did the town of Nazareth mob around her, ready to cast stones? They would have been right to do so, by Mosaic Law.

Suspicious glances. Name calling. Avoidance. This was Mary’s life now. The favored one, rejected by family and friends. The favored one, spat upon and glowered at. A promising young woman, now an outcast.

I’m pretty sure I would have sulked, or at least decided to prove to the town what a good life I could have without them and their religious ungrace.

We don’t get to see Mary’s response in full, but we hear her confess faith to the angel, and we read about her trip to Elizabeth. Then we see her on the road to Bethlehem with Joseph. What happened in between is left to our imagination. Perhaps she was glad to get away from a town that was growing increasingly hostile toward her. Did Joseph lose business as a carpenter? Was there a time he didn’t think he’d be able to support Mary and the baby? Did they ever consider relocating?

We don’t know, but we can be assured that this turn in Mary’s life led to some interesting experiences. Her life had been flipped over. Not for a moment, but for its entirety.

Perhaps you are there, in that upside down place. Perhaps circumstances have left you shaken and your dreams scattered. Or perhaps lack of activity in your life, things not happening, has left you stuck and feeling flipped over, like the pathetic beetle with its legs in the air, wiggling itself to death. So much activity and yet it goes nowhere.

Oftentimes answers elude us. Frustration or disappointment can cling to our hearts like a filmy residue on a glass cup, and there’s no easy fix to this, no oxi-clean detergent answer.

But there is trust. One act of trust doesn’t change emotion, but slowly, over time, trust builds–one act on another–and erodes the residue we’d thought would last forever. One day at a time, the choice to trust sets loose the power of the Holy Spirit in us. The act of trusting is akin to a prayer, “Come, Jesus,” and the door is opened.

Take that first step today and trust him in that difficult situation. Find others who are trusting and join with them. Trust is easier in community. Together, trust what He says is true and good, even if evidence suggests otherwise, remembering that now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, and someday we shall see face to face.

romans 513

Crawling toward the Manger: Day 16

crawling toward the manger daily16Scandal, shady characters, rumors, and ruined reputations infuse the Christmas story. Then a few years after Jesus’s birth, Herod swoops into Bethlehem and murders all the baby and toddler boys.

You don’t see that part of the story in your normal Christmas pageant. But as I look at the battle in the world today between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, Herod’s response to the birth of the Messiah cannot be ignored. We can’t shove the unpleasant out of Christmas because it’s sad, evil, or makes us uncomfortable, and for those who aren’t sure there’s such a thing as sin (or evil), this passage says, “think again.”

When I was younger, each Sunday of Advent we acted out parts of the Christmas story as a family (of only four–we played multiple roles). And fleeing from Bethlehem in the night was part of the story we replayed. It might seem too dramatic for children, but if we don’t introduce our children to the true battle of this world—that between the spiritual forces in the heavenly realms as Paul tells us—then we do them a disservice.

What happened in Bethlehem through Herod, wasn’t just borne from the jealousy of an earthly king. Satan wasted no time on fighting back. God snuck into the world, took on flesh in a covert operation known as Code Infant in a Manger, and the backlash was immediate. The threat on the kingdom of darkness was too much for its king.

“Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:20)

The evil that turned on infant Jesus, that followed and opposed him his entire life, has subsequently been turned on his followers—an extension of him. We should not be surprised, and for that reason—because we battle not against flesh and blood—we should take to heart this lesser read portion of the Christmas story.

There is an Enemy, of this world and of our souls.

“The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

This is more than pretty poetry. This is truth from which to build your life upon. Truth to strengthen your ability to endure the struggles that wage against you as a result of your association with Jesus Christ.

Crawling toward the Manger: Day 14

crawling toward the manger daily14An entire community of journeyers exists out in the blogging world, and today I encourage you to let their words stir the beauty of the season in you.

In need of a miracle? Ann Voskamp, When Your Heart Hurts For a Miracle this Christmas.

Celebrating with lots of guilt and comparison? Jennifer Dukes Lee: Have Yourself a PreApproved Christmas.

Looking for books to encourage your soul this new year? Holley Gerth: 12 of the Most Encouraging Books from 2014.

Tired of waiting and stuck in your waiting place? Lisa-Jo Baker: If this whole year has felt like wasted waiting and you’re about ready to give up.

Have a blessed Saturday, friends, and don’t forget to put on your beauty glasses to find God in your midst. He’s there, the ever-present Emmanuel.

Crawling toward the Manger: Day 13

crawling toward the manger daily13What do you think of when I say “King.” Do thoughts of grandeur fill your mind? The color purple, perhaps? Wealth, castles, lords and ladies at court, old European history?

I’m back in Matthew chapter one today, and am overwhelmed by what an ugly genealogy I see. The kings in the later half aren’t feeding the poor, working justice for the people, or leading toward peace. Well, a few are, but most are self-seeking, paranoid leaders who’d rather bask in their opulence than extend mercy and protection for their people.

Rehoboam, Abijah, Jehoram, Ahaz, Manasseh, Amon, Jeconiah and his brothers: they fail. They sacrifice to idols, sometimes sacrifice their own children, they bury the Book of the Law so that it gets lost for years and years, they kill to achieve their purposes, they stone God’s prophets.

Go back to the first half of the genealogy and you’ll find the Patriarchs. Do I need to rehash their shortcomings? The deceit, scheming, and disobedience that permeated their lives?

Two-thirds of the people Matthew lists aren’t people you’d be proud to have in your ancestry line. But they’re here, part of Jesus’s earthly line. And thus, part of our faith heritage.

It’s no accident that Matthew spends the first seventeen verses chronicling names. We would do well to slow down and read each name, remember his story, and be humbled by the broken lives God uses.

When we read these names, we recall the years of longing and horror that led to the birth of Christ. We recommit ourselves to Christ’s mercy–because only his grace works in us to bring about something good from our lives. We rejoice that God uses the imperfect, the fallible, and EVEN those who intentionally oppose him, for his purposes.

How sweet the irony of redemption: that those who hated Yahweh gave birth to sons and those sons to more sons, and then came Christ, the Savior for all.

If you feel you’re not qualified to journey to the manger, think again. You must come. You have no where else to turn with your sin and baggage and discouragement.

Crawling toward the Manger: Day 12

crawling toward the manger daily12There it is, for all to see: “by the wife of Uriah.” I read it again and wonder at it. Really, Matthew? You couldn’t just say Bathsheba?

No, he couldn’t. Sin had invaded the genealogy and he had to paste the brokenness up front of Jesus’ story for all to see. Matthew’s main audience was Jews, and they would not have breezed by this tidbit without stopping and remembering. They knew the story. Matthew shoves the shameful moment of their past to the forefront, reminding them–and us–that God’s ways are more powerful than our brokenness. That the Redeemer of each man’s story is also the Redeemer of the grand scheme of things.

Matthew geneology

Yes, Matthew had to say “by the wife of Uriah” and not “Bathsheba.” It’s there for us all to relate to. We’re kidding ourselves if we sit down to read the Christmas story and expect a holy Pollyanna tale. I can’t come to Jesus looking pretty so why should I want my Bible to be pretty, to cover up the ugly?

Some want it that way. They do. They want tales of courage and hope, a nice good overcoming evil saga. The Bible is that–and so much more. It’s God’s goodness overcoming personal brokenness because the sinner falls on his face before God, not because the sinner finds the loop hole out of a bad situation.

Jesus might have come from the Heavenly Father and been born of the Virgin Mary, but He was clothed in flesh and the lineage of that flesh gave witness to the reason for his coming.

I need this broken reality to be in my Bible. I need to know that the heritage of faith I come from is full of regret and bad choices. Sin. It’s laden with sin. And how can it not be? God didn’t impose his redemption over a sinful people, he wove it into their lives and brought about reconciliation between God and man through the ugliness of man’s choices.

Only a Sovereign God can do that. And only a people who recognize brokenness in their own stories will appreciate and truly get why the reality of sin has to permeate the pages of God’s Story.

Crawling toward the Manger: Day 11

crawling toward the manger daily11I have many friends who are carrying boulder-sized burdens. One such friend is dear Amy, a young woman who lost her husband last summer and is now raising their elementary aged boys on her own. Everyday her Facebook posts witness that she is doing the hard work of grieving. Recently, she wrote exactly what I needed to hear:

“I cannot get over how much our Jesus crammed into John 15. You want a fruitful life? You want to glorify God? You want wisdom in prayer? You want your Joy made Full? It’s ALL in there. Your whole life calling is in John 15. Reduce it down: Abide in Jesus. Spend as much time at His feet listening as you possibly can. Which means ditch a lot of internet, TV, and blogs. There isn’t enough time to view all that AND sit at His feet and listen. The fruit of the Spirit is gained by praying: “Jesus, be my love, my joy, my peace, my patience.” You want to be a good wife / mother / sister / friend? Don’t make to do lists you know will make you despair, because you can’t accomplish them. Go sit with Jesus. “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10) Pastor and theologian John Owen lost 10 children and survived his wife. How does such a man function? Abiding. He had no other distractions for coping–he only had Jesus.”

Thank you, Amy for clinging to Jesus and helping us to cling as well. Thank you for letting us journey this dark path with you.

Crawling toward the Manger: Day 10

crawling toward the manger daily10“Consumerism”: that nasty “C” word that jumps into conversations that Christians have at Christmas. What are we to think about it? Here are my thoughts on how we can consume with the best and still celebrate.

First, let me say that I like to give gifts—sometimes, when I know that what I give someone is what they really want and need. But sometimes, I don’t like to give gifts. Shopping is stressful for me. I’m not creative to think of what a person would want. It just seems like an exercise in consumerism that I have to do.

However, the act of giving something to someone brings satisfaction for most of us. We are made in the image of God, and in that common grace, the joy of giving is woven into us.

Yet, buying things–often a necessary part of giving–can lead to issues, and at Christmastime, those issues come to the forefront. How consumerism gets in the way of true celebration:

  1. It pressures us to buy and spend. We feel that buying presents is something we must do (a felt need) to show others that we care, to not be seen as unappreciative or scrooge-like.
  2. It makes us busier than we already are. Trip after trip to the store adds up until we feel like we’ve spent more time shopping than at church. Consumerism robs our time.
  3. It skews our thoughts on sacrifice. We come to see sacrifice as mainly financial. The more we sacrifice money for someone, the more we love them. Thus, consumerism also skews our idea attributing value to others.

I have friends who don’t do gifts at Christmas, and part of me envies them. I’d love to focus more on giving gifts at birthdays and not Christmas, but I need to be sensitive to my family and the joy that Christmas gifts bring my children. I grew up, as most did, with the tradition of giving gifts and it didn’t snare my celebration of Christmas. Christmas still felt holy and special because of the Christ Child.

As Christians, we would do well to be warned that the world sees our anti-consumerism as anti-celebration. By hounding commercialism at Christmas, we might be charged with being party poopers.

On the contrary, we should be seen as the life of the party at Christmas. Buying gifts is a way we can show that we celebrate. How we buy can be as important as whether we do buy or not. Just because we buy, doesn’t mean we must be carried off in the stream of consumerism.

With that said, how can we consume and celebrate at the same time? (In other words, how can we guard against the challenges I listed above?)

  1. Buy with purpose: think less about money spent (but remember your budget) and more about what is being given, where you are buying it from, and whether or not giving that specific gift brings you joy. Think also about the time you spend on shopping and whether or not you have the budget for that time.
  2. Buy with an eternal perspective: remember that souls are eternal, not gifts. Hold lightly, then, to the gifts you give and receive. Have fun with them, but more so, teach children that gifts are temporary expressions of an eternal reality: the gift of Jesus Christ. Gifts can be the perfect doorway into great conversations about enjoying the temporal but pursuing the eternal.
  3. You can’t buy identity. Teach children—and adults—that their value comes in being made in the image of God, not in what they possess.

I’m sure there are many more ideas about engaging the consumerism we live in while not being polluted by it. Please do share!

Crawling toward the Manger: Day 9

crawling toward the manger daily9Yesterday we celebrated the Lord’s Supper at church, as we do the first Sunday of the month. Taking Communion during Advent is a strange experience for me. At first thought, Communion doesn’t fit into an Advent service. It’s not “Christmasy.” Christmas is the celebration of God’s gift, his Son sent as a baby. A sweet holiness fills our hearts as we imagine the newborn Christ, surrounded by worshiping angels. Children put on Christmas pageants, telling us the story we’ve heard many times.

On the other hand, when we look at the Lord’s table, we see blood and sacrifice, and remember that our redemption came at a great cost. The work of the cross is on display during Communion. Children don’t act out the crucifixion story, and the sober holiness that surrounds the cross feels different than that sweet Christmas holiness.

Yet, when we think beyond first impressions, we hit the deeper truths. This year I realized how perfectly Communion fits with Advent.

  1. Both are all about Presence—God’s with us through his Son. The Newborn (called Emmanuel, God with us) grows up to die on a cross so that we can forever know God with us in a relationship sort of way.
  2. Both are about sacrifice. Christ’s coming down to earth, leaving his rightful home to take on flesh, was a great sacrifice for him, no less than climbing onto the cross for our sins. His life was one, big humble sacrifice, a surrendering of rights and power so that we might receive salvation.
  3. Both are about God moving toward us. As we’ve seen with Advent, God’s entrance into this world demonstrates his pursuit to redeem his people. The culmination of this pursuit is Christ’s death and resurrection. When we were helpless, God came for us. He made the first move, did all the work, and left us with only one task: choose him as Lord or reject him.

How do you make connections between Advent and Communion?

Crawling toward the Manger: Day 8

crawling toward the manger daily 8The beauty of the Incarnation is that God moves toward earth when all earth is moving away from him. He comes into a world that rejects him, and all for the purpose of saving it–of changing the direction of souls, that they may move toward him and not away from him.

Our natural, sinful instinct, as humans, is to move away from stress, responsibility, or conflict, and instead move toward the things that satisfy us in the moment. It’s our old vices selfishness and laziness. Sometimes it’s just easier to hide and weather the storm then emerge when the sun comes back out.

When things are crazy at my house (read: silly or disobedient children and impatient husband), I often cave to that most basic instinct and hide. I’ve hidden in the bathroom, the car, and the shed. When Nate and I argue and the pressure builds so much that I feel like vomiting out a string of harsh words, I retreat. I get out of the situation–with the hope he feels guilty for making me flee (yes, this is me at my sinliest).

We are a world on retreat, backing away from responsibilities or hard things and hoping they will go away or resolve themselves. We are hiding, stewing over the wrongs done to us, or maybe just sulking because we didn’t get our way.

The Incarnation shows us this is not the way to act. There is a better way, modeled to us in Jesus.

VOV Gift of Gifts

Christ moves into the messy sinfulness of this world. He advances upon the broken and hurting, holding out salvation in humble, incarnate hands.

Accept the gift. Take the grace. Hold it and derive strength from it. And the next time you feel like hiding . . . well, maybe you should. A few minutes away is an important coping mechanism. But hide with Jesus. Let him turn you around and push you toward others, helping you to face the trial, the frustration, or the issue (children) that is pushing you to run.

Crawling toward the Manger: Day 6

“Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.” (Matthew 1:19)

crawling toward the manger daily 6There are days I seem so wise in my own eyes. Just and upright. Sensible and wanting to do the proper thing.

Surely, Joseph must have felt the same. A man of character, he knew what needed to be done when the news of Mary’s pregnancy whispered its poison through the settlement. And for whatever reason—maybe because he loved her and wanted to protect her or because the shame was too great—he chose to “put her away secretly.” Subtle and sensible, that was Joseph. And all because he was just and upright, wise in his own eyes.

God might have appreciated such a man. “Thank you, Joseph, for being gracious and willing to show great mercy when judgment was due.” God might have thought such a thing.

Except that Joseph was wrong. He had made a decision from partial knowledge, on the grounds of an assumption. What seemed to be right in his eyes, was all wrong in God’s eyes.

“There is a way that seems right to man, but in the end it leads only to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

Humility pounds through this verse, nothing subtle about it, and we should all, right now, go to our knees and confess the rightness we feel about ourselves in our own eyes. We should pray for God’s eyes, for without his eyes we are blind. Pretending to see but seeing nothing at all.

Only divine intervention shifted Joseph’s perspective, and so too with us, without God’s revelation to us, we would have eyes only for ourselves and our ways.

Thanks be to God who sent Jesus—divine intervention—to make a New Covenant with us, that we might not only think we are wise, but that we might truly be wise. Not because we, ourselves, are just and sensible, law abiding citizens, but because He has written his law on our hearts and given us hearts of flesh, not stone. We have become heart-abiding citizens of God’s Kingdom.

“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened . . .” (Ephesians 1:18)

Friends, when you look at your lives, what are the confusing circumstances? What are the frustrations, the situations in which you know you are right and the other person wrong? What are the setbacks that have you staring at closed steel doors?

May you have the eyes of God today and his wisdom, not your own.

Crawling toward the Manger: Day 5

crawling toward the manger daily 5Eighty miles of journey and a load that grows larger each day. Sticks gouging sandaled feet. Blisters, hunger, and dust. More dust. And then mud. Strangers with stares that threaten peace of mind and lead to one-eye-open sleep. Hard ground beneath and the sky as a blanket.

After such an journey, the walls of the stable must have seemed like fortressing protection to Joseph and Mary. The crude walls of stone must have felt like a hug of grace. Refuged among the smells and sounds of livestock, Mary birthed the Savior.

At last, respite and sweet relief. Jesus slept, as newborns do, snug against his mother. And Mary’s body finally—after nine months and eighty miles—rested.

There’s rest. And then there’s rest. Right? Normal rest is the shutdown of our bodies from fatigue, our nightly sleep, our collapsing into a chair and turning on the television.

But rest can also be that full emptiness (or emptied fullness) that comes when heart, soul, mind, and body fall still and enjoy a moment of communion with the God of the universe. This is the rest I think Mary must have felt after nine months of awestruck pondering at what was happening to her, eighty miles of risky travel, and however many hours of hard labor pains.

matthew 11.29

Sometimes the journey is unpleasant. It’s not the luxury we would have chosen. It’s a desert crossing, not a cruise.

Maybe the carrying of your burdens mirrors the trek of Joseph and Mary. Each day, the lifting and walking forward is harder than the last day. You question why it has to be this way. But you know to Whom you journey. The stable that is waiting is a fortress. The walls of his arms will hold back the darkness, and your heart will find rest. You’ll be able to lay down—yearnings, blisters, and all—and find that sweet fullness that comes from surrender.

That is why you press on when you’d rather stop. That is why you take the next step. And then one more. Because the hope of what is ahead is stronger than the toils pulling from behind.

That is why He came. That you might have that place of rest, the refuge that sanctuaries you at the end of the journey.

Crawling toward the Manger: Day 4

cttm day 4Today I’m welcoming my friend and fiction critique partner, author Jennifer Rodewald. Find encouragement and truth at the blog she coauthors, The Free Slaves Devotion

Advent to Coronation

My oldest is thirteen this year. Thirteen. Wow! Where do the years go? She is at an age where, like a baby transforming into a toddler, I see changes in her literally every day. Each morning, her smile seems more grown up. She wears contacts now, and the little girl glasses are a thing of the past. She drinks chai tea while I sip on my coffee as we wait for the younger kids to get going. Her homework has taken on a grown-up tone, and I see emerging in her a maturity that will shape her into a woman. My baby is growing up.

Strange, though; I still remember with perfect clarity when I carried her in my womb. I remember the first time I felt her move. When she filled the space in my belly, I remember she often had hiccups—which made my freshmen students laugh, because they could see her movement against my clothing. And I remember preparing for her arrival.

That last part…oh how precious it was. Every time we went out to purchase something for our expected cargo was like Christmas day. Every little layette, bottle, toy, and all the baby equipment served to fuel our excitement and joy. As our apartment filled with baby gear, our anticipation for her arrival notched upward. Preparing for our daughter shot quite a buzz into our lives.

But you know, preparing for her adulthood, seeing a young woman emerging from my little girl is pretty thrilling as well. Sometimes we miss that as we shoulder through life—amazing moments beyond the cradle. We shouldn’t, though. My daughter’s transitioning into a lovely young woman is something like preparing for a coronation. One day not too very far away, she will claim independence and I will see the fullness of who she will become. Honestly, I look forward to it—truly, I do! Like a butterfly breaking from her cocoon, I will see the beauty time and change have worked in her life.

Advent should be like that, shouldn’t it? The Christ has come—praise God! Looking back on that precious moment in history should be something like that preparation for my baby. The excitement, the joy, the thrill that animated our days and fueled our anticipation—is this not the same? Because a Child was born, and His birth changed the world. More than that, though, His life, death, and resurrection holds the power to save that world. And, let this be the Yule log of our advent season, He is coming again!

As we crawl toward the birthday of Jesus, let us prepare for His return as well. Come! Let us adore the new-born King. But remember, the Child is no longer in the manger, nor is the Man still on the Cross. He is risen, and He rules.

Come! Let us prepare for His coronation day.

Crawling toward the Manger: Day 3

crawling toward the manger dailyThis morning the woods are shrouded with fog. Not a dense, harsh, blind-your-eyes fog, but a hugging fog. An I-love-you fog that wraps around you and makes you yearn to stay safe and hidden in it for hours and days. Makes you yearn for more of beauty and truth and grace.

Advent is the season of yearning. We recognize in ourselves the incompleteness of our contentment. Yes, there is the Christ Child, and we love him and are satisfied by his presence in our life.

But contentment is a now-and-not-yet phenomenon. As content as we are, that contentment waits for eternity to be sealed in us.

So we yearn, which is good. Yearning is a component for a healthy life. Exercise for the heart. When I yearn, I acknowledge that something is not right with the world, and that yearning becomes a prayer that God would make it right. Yearning can be the stirring of God in our very souls that makes us press more into him.

Today I want to share with you a few musical offerings that encapsulate this yearning. For me, music is yearning. They are innately joined, synonymous.

Feel free to yearn along with the music.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

The Mission / How Great Thou Art

Carol of the Bells

 

Crawling toward the Manger: Day 2

manger starBut when the time had fully come, God sent his son . . .Galatians 4:4

The manger is God’s idea. Nowhere in the Old Testament do we see an Israelite sit down and ponder, “If only Yahweh would become like us. Take on flesh. Then maybe we could learn to love him and have a chance at being saved.”

Though prophets foretold the coming of Christ, their message contained only bits and pieces and was veiled. No one was prepared for the incoming of a God-baby, a flesh-wearing God. Because the manger is God’s idea. His brilliant move.

Left to our own doing, we’d have done it backward. Moved toward him again and again, like whoever that Greek myth man was who kept rolling the world up the hill (Atlas?). And it would have remained hopeless, our efforts toppling back on us, squishing us into oblivion.

God moves first. His heavenly movement toward us is our invitation to journey toward him.

You see, God waited until that ideal moment in the history of the world, that “fully come” moment, to begin his subtle, flesh-wearing mission to recapture his people. This wasn’t some haphazard rushed operation. This wasn’t some imprudent reaction to the rush of sinners toward him. This was His journey. A well planned journey with a fail proof objective.

Do you hear the hope in this revelation? When we get it in our heads (or maybe we need it in our hearts) that God is moving, has been moving, will always be moving, toward you, your journey takes on the assurance of success.

Friend, your journey toward Christ is not without aim. The hope of God’s movement draws us. God moves toward us with such colossal width, that a heart directed toward finding Christ cannot help but be washed over by His kingdom wave.

Where do you need to recognize God’s movement in your life today? Not his “at work” movement, but his “coming after you” movement. How is he moving toward your marriage? Your job? Your broken heart or dreams?

Advent is not just about seeking the Christ-child but about being sought-out.

You are the sought-out one.

Crawling toward the Manger: Day One

Welcome to the journey.

It’s six a.m. I look out my back window, and all I see against the backdrop of darkness is my reflection in the glass, thanks to the light from my screen. This might seem gloomy, but that image seems to represent my season of life right now—looking into darkness and seeing only myself.

How fitting to begin this Advent writing journey in the dark, evocative of the hundreds of years of waiting, longing, and suffering that God’s people experienced as they journeyed toward the manger that first time. Their hope for a Savior often as dim as a lamp burning its last drop of oil.

The journey to Christ begins in a sin-induced darkness. That’s the reality of a broken world. Gospel principle number one: we are fallen.

Your hope, like the Israelites’, might be flickering its last flame. This journey is for you then, and I’ve titled it Crawling toward the Manger for a reason. We don’t always have the strength to run the race marked out for us, as Paul encourages. That doesn’t mean we don’t race. It means we drop to our knees.

The idea of crawling elicits that sense of desperation. It’s the act you succumb to when weariness roosts on your heart and pushes you down. The act that demonstrates your last bleeding desire to reach a goal, despite having spent your energy.

But crawling also screams of infancy, and hasn’t Jesus bid us come as children?

Experts in child development say that crawling is an essential step for an infant that is not good for an infant to skip. I take this to mean that—in all areas of life—crawling can be a necessary, enjoyable stage. When I remember my children crawling, I picture them with smiles, cruising across the floor on all fours. They didn’t see crawling as an act borne of desperation, but rather as a delightful freedom that ushered them into a new world of exploration.

You might crawl toward the manger in both ways: desperate and delighted. I know I will.

Because I began this post with a dark tone, let me end it with hope: we always crawl toward the Light. The manger is a place of exceedingly bright light. It’s the cradle of the Christ Child, Jesus. Our hope on this side of Bethlehem is that Jesus has come, the Incarnate Son, and that God the Father has said through this act: I am crawling toward you. I am coming for you.

But more on that tomorrow.