There’s not one without the other. No power in love without the possibility of losing it…
Even when it’s too early and even when it doesn’t make sense and everything seems like insanity.
But, Father, how I long to never lose the gratitude of having loved. The gratitude of being loved.
Loved in a way that changed me. Completely.
The gratitude for regret that illuminates forgiveness. Of living and learning with another failable soul because it knits you together so tightly that you can’t tell where one starts and the other ends. Of dreaming and hoping and healing and moving forward, hand in hand, with hearts lifted to you. For years. For decades.
For what should have been longer
I don’t understand, Lord. I don’t know how I missed what you were saying. I thought we had a calling – together. I thought we were walking towards wholeness. But, maybe, it was a calling and wholeness of a kind I couldn’t fathom. What I know is that the moon makes the sun brighter. The winter makes the spring more beautiful. The night makes the day warmer. The pain makes the joy sweeter.
And I see it all too clearly now. How beautiful. How holy. How precious was this gift. This life. This love.
Too often we don’t see our blessings until we have lost them.
Teach us, Holy Spirit, to see more clearly. To live more fully. To love more selflessly.
Teach us to count our blessings – even in the valleys.
Teach us to have grateful hearts – even when things are hard.
Teach us to hope in possibilities – even when we face dead ends.
Teach us to love – even when we don’t feel loved or loveable.
Because when things change, we will hope for another season, another day, another chance to say “I love you”, “I’m sorry”, “This is worth fighting for”, “You are amazing”, “We are blessed” or “I forgive you”. Help us, no matter where we are, to live with this banner in our hearts and over our lives…
“Praise you, God – you are always good – even now!”
My desk sits in front of our homes’ largest window. My front porch swing, two towering live oaks, my front flower bed and the livestock roaming in my neighbor’s pasture seem to be extra comforting as sunshine melts the evidence of this week’s snowstorm. Five days ago I sat here under layers of blankets watching hundreds of birds dart around my feeders devouring bird seed as quickly as I could put it out. Shockingly, they would bravely remain on one feeder as I filled up another without so much as a glance in my direction. One even landed on my hand! Hunger overrides fear,I guess, and they were certainly hungry, puffed up and frantic to survive. (Much like the rest of our ill-equipped state.)
Today, as I look out over my feeders, I only see a handful of sparrows and a red bird or two. Quite a few Robins are eyeing the mushy ground for bugs, and crows are cawing from the neighbors’ oak tree but my smorgasbord is fairly empty once again. The weather sure makes a difference in the desperation of my feathered friends and in their willingness to allow me to get close.
It’s not difficult to draw similarities between the nature of birds and my own nature. The “weather” in my life has clearly determined the levels of desperation in my heart and the willingness to which I draw near to God. When life falls apart and we’re at the end of our abilities, it seems that we, as humans, instinctively run to God. We pursue His presence, we devour His word, and we cling to any sense of hope that prayer can provide. But, when the sun comes out and the fear dies down, it seems just as instinctual to depend on our own abilities and to forget who provided all we needed during the storm.
Oh, but God is patient and gracious! He knows our pride and self-reliance but he continues to convict, to pursue, and to love us. When I’m face to face with the results of living life in my own strength, I’m reminded of how faithful he is. Each time I’ve found myself in a storm and in desperate need of his presence and provision, He’s been there. Each time, I find more “belonging.” I’m not sure how else to describe it except that my soul knows this place of dependency is where I’m meant to be. Where I’m meant to live. Each time I watch God faithfully care for me through a trial, my heart finds it easier to stay in that place a little while longer. To live from that place of dependency and trust instead of from a place of forgetfulness and self-reliance. The more I taste of God’s goodness…the hungrier I become.
And hunger seems to not only override fear but pride and self reliance as well.
I haven’t found a way to expedite the learning to live from this place of dependency. This place of abiding. It seems to come in its’ own time through experience…and failure. The ability to rest in who God is and what he does is inexplicably tied to the knowledge of who I am and what I can do. Or cannot do. The sin, deceptiveness and naiveté of my own heart and the weakness, frailty and decaying nature of my own body lead to the understanding that my hope truly does rest in God, the Keeper of the sparrows.
This revelation is worth praying for, but it isn’t easy and it isn’t always pretty. It is, however, a gift. A gift of humility that leads to a pursuit of righteousness that leads to peace. To belonging. To satisfaction. Resting in God’s hand as he provides exactly what I need frees my soul to hope, breath, and love in the face of whatever comes. At least that’s the glimpse I’ve had of where I’m meant to belong. I hope I can learn to hang out there a little longer today than I did yesterday. And even longer tomorrow.
“Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. Matthew 6:26-33
This is one of those posts where I’m telling myself what I know to be true and what I need to hear. Just flat out preaching to my own heart with the hopes that I can stir up my faith. Because, truthfully, I am so weary. I’m shocked and disappointed by people on all sides and in all kinds of ways. Even disappointed in myself. This world seems out of control crazy and the consistency of lose has ripped stone after stone from the walls that protected my soul until I find myself in a place off sadness that I haven’t felt in a very long time. If ever.
The question that I ask myself is, “Why? Which difficulties of life, or prideful, suspicious and hateful acts of man shock you?”
I know life is hard. I know humans are sinful. I know nothing is promised to me and our comfort is always something that is out of the ordinary. I also know that my grandparents faced many more struggles than I have including the death of a child, chronic illness, a flu epidemic that was worse than COVID, two world wars and an economic collapse to name a few. Yet, I remember them as being so strong. Physically, mentally and spiritually strong. Not only that, I remember their smiles and their laughter. The joy they found in simple pleasures. The hope that God is, ultimately, the victor. Truthfully, maybe I should be more shocked by the lack of faith, love and joy in the lives of Christ’s followers than I am at the struggles we face.
I’ve been asking for deliverance a lot lately and asking God how I can let go of this worry so I can live in greater faith and joy. True to his goodness, he has allowed the tears, the fear, the doubt and ALL THE WORDS – without condemning my weakness. He’s covered me with comfort at times and left me to struggle at others. And then, like he always does, after patiently listening and allowing me to vent all my feelings, he pointed me to truth. Truth that I didn’t necessarily want to see or hear. But my heart knows it’s true.
James 1:2-4 Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.
The amplified version says, “Consider it nothing but joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you fall into various trials.” I sure feel like I’ve “fallen into various trials.” Don’t you? The last 12 months have been full of all kinds of various trials that seemed to just happen to us. Not due to anything we’ve done, but just because we live in this world. Yet, James says to consider it a gift. Count it as joy. Really? How?
And I remembered my grandparents again. And my parents.
I was looking at old pictures with my mom the other night as she told me stories of her grandparents her parents, her uncles and even her and my dad. Things they experienced and walked through that I never knew about. Horrible things. Things that changed them. And I suddenly saw a beautiful picture of this passage.
A few of them were changed by the difficulties in negative ways. They became depressed, angry, hateful, bitter or afraid as they aged. But most of them allowed those difficulties to change them in positive ways and to grow their faith. To differentiate what was tradition and what was true. They struggled and cried and prayed to the other side of the trials until their faith was mature and well-developed. Like the Amplified Bible says, it led them to inner peace. I remember seeing that peace in how they lived, how they related to people, how they handled disappointments and in how they died.
I would prefer that God change the things in my life that we’ve fallen into but, in the long run, I want what he is showing me. I want steadfast faith. Perfect peace. A certainty that my life and purpose is wrapped up in him and not in the ever-changing power struggles of this world.
So, self…count it all joy. Face these various trials knowing that God is greater and that this world is not the ultimate home for your soul.
The next few verses in James say to ask God for wisdom when we need help navigating circumstances and to have faith that he will lead.
So, self…ask and trust that God gives generously and without blame. He won’t leave you hanging without direction.
A few verses later, James mentions those people who are tossed around by every wave and wind. James 1:8 “Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”
So, self…search long and hard to see who you are loyal to. God and his everlasting kingdom or the kingdoms of this world that give you a false sense of security. Your security is in the light and life of Jesus. There will always be sin, injustice, poverty, hatred, division, pride, fear, war and uncertainty. The question is, will you simply curse the darkness or will you become a light?
So, self…don’t just endure this time. Defy it by being the light of the world as Jesus was. Walk like Jesus walked. Love, especially those who hate you. Forgive those who hurt you. Speak truth but don’t hate. Stand against lies with power and strength that is under control. Trust that God sees and cares. Focus on him and discard the things that distract you.
Self… Never forget that your heart goes where your eyes look so stay focused. Don’t despair. Don’t give in. Don’t give up. And don’t settle for what the world says is righteousness and peace. God will use it all for His glory and you will know pure joy.
“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thought are fixed on you!” Isaiah 26:3
Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor,Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!
Revelation 21: 1-5 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”
Revelation 22:12a “Look, I am coming soon, bringing my rewards with me.”
There is perhaps no story as amazing and unbelievable as the story of God choosing to become a man. His coming to live among us has literally changed everything, but even with the hundreds of thousands of books and messages written and shared about the Incarnation, there’s still more power, more insight, and more hope available to the children of God all because of the newborn King. The baby represented in your nativity scene is so much more than a nice story that happened 2000 years ago.
His story didn’t end in the manger. It didn’t end at the cross. It didn’t even end at the resurrection. Christ’s story…God’s story…will ultimately come to a dramatic and victorious end when Jesus comes again. Not as a humble baby but as a victorious King who will complete what he started the night Mary held him in her arms.
Light will completely destroy darkness and all the evil that goes along with it – forever. The Word who became flesh will be seen by all of us…in the flesh. We’ll hear his laughter, see his smile and touch his nail-scarred hands. All of our waiting will come to an end as every promise will be received, every injustice will be made right, every hurt will be healed, and every fear will be destroyed. Our surrender and obedience will be rewarded, our love will be made complete, our humility will become a crown and our hopes will be fulfilled.
Scripture says that Jesus will come back in the same way he left. Through the clouds. But this time he’ll have an army with him, and it won’t be a humble, quiet entrance. Everyone will know of his presence and nothing will be the same.
Here’s the part of the story that I love and that is, sadly, often misunderstood. Jesus won’t be taking us to a city somewhere in the clouds where we sit around and sing all day. The desire of God has always been to be with his people…here. On this earth that he created. His plan has always been for us to rule under his authority and in his kingdom. The plan hasn’t changed.
Christ’s second return will make all things new. ALL THINGS! Us. The animal kingdom. The earth itself. Our purposes. Our giftings. Our bodies. Our minds. Paradise will be renewed! All things will be made right! Joy will fill every heart!!
Our sins will be forgiven, God will dwell with man, and the fullness of who we were created to be will become reality.
That’s the hope that Jesus provided when he came to seek us out and to win our hearts with his humanity, holiness, and love. That’s the hope of Simeon’s prayer. That’s the hope or Mary’s surrender. That’s the hope of the Shepherds as they remembered the night they saw the Messiah. That’s the hope of Joseph’s obedience.
That’s the hope of Christmas!
Make it personal
Spend some time dreaming of what life will be like in a new heaven and a new earth. What would you want to see and do? Who will you want to talk to or hug? Can you imagine life without fear and doubt? A life where all good and holy things are possible? Paint a picture of that perfect world in your mind and remember it often. Hope is always a good thing to hold onto.
As we anticipate Christmas on this Christmas Eve, thank Jesus for all he has done and ask him to give you a fresh expectation of his return. Spend some time in worship and stillness. Ask the Holy Spirit to provide, renew, and restore joy to your heart. Joy that can’t be tarnished by the things of this world. He loves to answer those prayers.
Good tidings, my friends, and may you experience all of God’s comfort this season and be filled with His endless supply of joy. Merry Christmas!
Matthew 1:18-21 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus,for he will save his people from their sins.”
Matthew 2:13-15 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother,and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”
Matthew 2:19-23 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt.“Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.”
So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother.But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Then, after being warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee.So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: “He will be called a Nazarene.”
Matthew 13:55 Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas.
Luke 4:22 Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. “How can this be?” they asked. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”
Jesus’ arrival was made possible by the love, protection and provision of God through a young man named Joseph. He doesn’t get much airtime during Christmas, but have you ever realized what an important role he plays? Joseph actually has more interaction with heaven than anyone else in the story. God was bound and determined that Joseph would be prepared to protect His son.
Joseph and Mary must have been an incredible pair. Righteous, humble and kind. However, they wouldn’t have been considered with high regard in their culture. Joseph, in particular, seems to have been seen as a blue-collar worker of very little significance or importance. In fact, we don’t hear much about Joseph at all after these few references. Once more in Luke and twice in John. All of which simply mention that Jesus was his son. That seems to be ill-suited for the man who carried the earthly responsibility of fathering the Messiah.
In a patriarchal world, the newborn King would need an earthly father to protect him, provide for him and love him. Joseph seems to have taken on that responsibility without question and with complete humility. The situation with Mary may have brought scandal on his family and it seems to have made the next few years a bit more difficult, but at every turn, he simply obeyed. Jesus knew him as his Daddy for at least 12 years because we see Joseph and Mary desperately looking for Him in Luke 2. At the age of 12, Joseph finds his son in the temple asking questions and amazing the teachers. The carpenter must have been amazed by his son’s wisdom.
That’s the last we see of Joseph. It seems that he didn’t live to see the ministry of Jesus. Not only does he not see the fullness of his son’s ministry, he doesn’t seem to receive much notoriety down through history.
Perhaps more than any other, Joseph is an example for those of us that want to follow Christ. The truth is, obedience and humility are foundational to a Godly life and we see them reflected beautifully in his. It’s so easy to feel overlooked and useless if we aren’t receiving applause or encouragement. In an Instagram world, it’s even more difficult to feel useful when others seem to be successful while we feel stuck. But, the life of Joseph shows us that God’s approval, his purposes, and his love have everything to do with our hearts and nothing to do with our social standing or worldly success. God chose Joseph and Mary because they loved him and lived righteous lives of surrender to his will. Not because they had a big house, wrote a best seller, pastored a mega church or ran a successful business. God looks at the heart, not the resume.
What’s valuable to God? A heart that’s willing to obey His call no matter how crazy it sounds and a heart that’s willing to walk out that call over the long haul, even if no one else seems to notice. That’s a heart that knows God’s love and trusts His heart.
It seems that Joseph, (and most biblical characters), knew something we might need to remember. Something that seemed to motivate and inspire him. He understood that God’s story wasn’t about him personally. Yes, he played an important role, he was invited into the story and he would benefit from the fullness of that story; but, the story began long before him and would extend far beyond him. The faithfulness of God is larger than the lifetime of one person and sometimes, the culmination of a promise isn’t seen in that one lifetime. Our obedience, our humility to accept our path in life, and our ability to find joy in that journey rests in the faithfulness and love of God. Faithfully living for his glory is the gift we can offer the King. This world is not our home. This life is not the end. And this story is not over.
Jesus, the Light of the world, the Word who became flesh, the Joy of man, the Peace for those who seek him and the Hope of all the world…He has come.
But he will also come again.
As we celebrate the baby in a manger whose parents were much like you and I – very ordinary people – let’s remember that he isn’t done yet. The celebration has only just begun. Emmanuel is waiting expectantly for his Encore.
Are you ready?
Make it personal
Is there a relationship or situation in which you could show more humility or love? An argument that you don’t need to win. A difficult person that you can chose to love. Recognition that you don’t have to have. Forgiveness that you can give. An unpleasant task that you could accomplish for someone else. Ask God for strength to obey regardless of whether you receive any fanfare or approval.
Now spend the next 24 hours thinking about the second coming of Emmanuel when God will, once again, physically be with us.
Luke 1:31-35 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel[f] forever; his Kingdom will never end!”Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.
Luke 1:38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
Luke 2:4-7 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born.She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
God seems to love the unexpected. Zechariah and Elizabeth received an answer to their prayer for a baby, miraculously, after they had passed their childbearing years. Then there’s Mary! She was told she’d have a child as well, but she was a virgin! That wasn’t the only problem in this scenario. She was also “betrothed”. In her culture, this was as legally binding as marriage. We could look at it as a preparation time before the husband and wife moved into the same home and consummated their union. For all intents and purposes, Mary was married to Joseph so a pregnancy would not only have been a scandal, it could have been her death. (John 8:4-5 Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”) Maybe we don’t give Mary’s response to the angel’s news the weight that it deserves. Although she was probably a young teenager around the age of 14, she was a very brave one.
The Light of the world, the Word who became flesh, the Messiah that would save people from their sins….He didn’t come by power, prestige, money, knowledge, coercion or political influence. He came because a young woman offered an open womb, an open heart and an open life to her God. She surrendered to His plan, as dangerous and scary as it may have been. Why? Because she trusted Him.
I have to ask myself if I’m that brave. Do I trust the ultimate and eternal goodness of God’s plan even if it means I might face difficulty, grief, pain, death or abandonment? It seems easy to believe the lie that we’re only in God’s will when things are going well. Likewise, it’s easy to expect his light in the darkness to be instantaneous instead of a process, or that our actions in the middle of the darkness aren’t all that important. Isn’t that often how it goes? We have to walk through a difficult season with surrender and obedience in order to get to the promise, but we question that journey? Mary had 9 months of carrying Jesus and 33 years of carrying the haunting words from Simeon,“A sword will pierce your very soul.” Joseph was sold into slavery around the age of 17 (Genesis 37) and wasn’t promoted by the King until he was 30. Scholars say that Noah worked on the ark for anywhere from 50-80 years before the flood. Sometimes God’s fulfillment of a promise comes after a long and arduous journey.
It would be a Christmas tragedy to miss Jesus because 2020 has been difficult. There’s certainly a lot of grieving, fear, loneliness, depression, uncertainty and suffering going on but that doesn’t mean Jesus isn’t invading the darkness. There’s also a lot of understanding, love, maturity, clarity, gratitude and perseverance going on. Jesus shines the brightest in the darkest and most unexpected places if we will only train our eyes to see. Don’t miss him. Don’t miss the unexpected and beautifully miraculous ways that He invades our world…or the beautifully unexpected and miraculous ways he may be calling you to join that invasion.
A few years ago, I attended a funeral for the mother of one of my dearest friends. Sally’s children have grown up with my kids and they brought me to tears as I listened to them sing the praises of their grandmother. I’ll never forget how inspired I was when they told this story of her response after her husband’s death. The floral arrangements at his funeral were proof that he was dearly loved. After the services were over, this amazing woman had her children and grandchildren help her divide the arrangements into dozens of smaller arrangements and they distributed them to nursing homes throughout the community. The day of his funeral! That’s joining God in an unexpected and miraculous way.
As I type this, a pillar of our community is in rehab for a month after being in ICU for weeks with Covid. It just about took her life. I was scrolling through FB a few days ago and came across one of her posts where she mentioned praying for her nurses and leaving them little notes of encouragement. Again…this is the Light of the world showing up in circumstances that we would often assume to be less than holy.
The truth is any circumstance is made holy based on how we respond. It sure isn’t easy! I get that.
When my husband’s mother died from cancer after thousands of people prayed for her, he had to do the funeral. It wasn’t easy, but he reflected God’s light miraculously as he allowed the Holy Spirit to strengthen him and as he shared the message of her life and faith. When my Daddy died 2 years ago from a brain tumor, we were all crushed. My youngest daughter was extremely close to him and, although she is strong and not prone to show her emotions, it wasn’t easy. She also found a way to shine God’s light by picking up a pen and carrying on Daddy’s legacy of writing encouraging letters to people.
These weren’t easy and comfortable circumstances, but God’s children used them to His glory. That’s light in the darkness. That’s unexpected and miraculous. It wasn’t what we wanted. My friend, my husband and I would love to see our parents this Christmas, but God’s plan is so much greater than this life. His plan is greater than I can imagine and, miraculously, He wants to include us in it both here, through every circumstance both good and bad, and for eternity.
Make it personal
How is your heart doing after this past year? Really? Tell God about the difficulties and the struggles. Now ask the Holy Spirit to show you ways that God has unexpectedly shown up in this year and thank him for that. If you can’t think of any, ask that your eyes would be opened to all the places where he has been.
Spend some time praising God whether you see His fingerprints or not. Make it a sacrifice as you choose to praise him in spite of your circumstances.
How can you be light to the world? Make it practical and follow through right now. Is there someone who could use an encouraging note from you? Is there a neighbor or food bank that could use some groceries? Is there a stranger in the store that you could share a kind word with? Is there a first responder who could use a “Thank You”? Is there a pastor who could use a word of appreciation?
Your trusting and hopeful response, even in difficulty or darkness, is an offering of praise to God. Sing it loud!
Luke 1:6-7, 13 Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.
But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.
Luke 1:36-37 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail.”
Luke 2:17-20 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
In Luke 1:13, the angel refers to God hearing Zechariah’s prayers. I can only imagine that those prayers were accompanied by tears as month after month and year after year passed by without a child. Like so many others, they prayed and waited only to be disappointed.
And then they were beyond the age of hope.
At least it seemed that way. Zechariah must have thought, “Heard my prayers? Then, where were you?” He stood in front of an angel who was declaring Elizabeth would finally have a son and doubt was the first thing that crossed his mind. The logic of it all just made no sense – even in the face of the unbelievable. To be fair, I understand. Can you? Years of asking, decades of waiting and the sorrow of letting go of a dream can easily eclipse faith in our human hearts.
The story of God’s interaction with man has always been full of waiting. Sometimes the wait is met with provision, sometimes it seems to be in vain, and sometimes it’s honored with an answer that no one could have expected or imagined.
Zechariah and Elizabeth prayed and waited until hope was lost. The nation of Israel waited 400 years for God to move after Malachi’s prophecy that a Messiah would come. Abraham waited decades for a child even though God promised descendants more numerous than the stars. Israel waited over 200 years to be delivered from Egypt.
God seems to have knit waiting into the fabric of faith. It’s painfully hard to understand when you’re in the middle of it but the waiting doesn’t mean God isn’t listening or that he isn’t moving. Even when we don’t see a glimmer of hope in our waiting.
Have you ever wondered what the Shepherds did after that joyous night when God invaded the darkness? I can’t imagine that they were able to forget the angelic declaration that they heard. One angel would have been hard enough to forget, but a host of angels in praise? That had to be life changing! Scripture tells us that they proceeded to tell everyone about Jesus, and I can only imagine that what they said was straight from the angel’s lips. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
But, after the adrenaline and joy subsided. They waited.
What did they do the following week? Or the following year? Or after Herod had every male child under the age of 2 murdered out of anger and fear? (Matthew 2:16-17) Did one of them lose a son in that massacre? Do you think they were still waiting and watching 30 years later when Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding? Did they hear about a man who was healing the sick and befriending the sinner? Did one of them wonder if this was the baby they once saw wrapped in a manger? Is it possible that a 50-year-old shepherd made his annual trip to Jerusalem for the Passover only to see crowds shouting “Hosanna” to a man riding into town on a donkey? Or did he stand at the foot of a cross a few days later wondering if the angel was wrong?
Did they doubt what they saw, or did they KNOW the Savior had come that night? The truth is that they woke up the next day to a life that was exactly the same as all the others they had known. Just like Simeon, they probably knew that though nothing had changed, everything had changed. The strength of their faith in God’s promise would determine how they would wait. The strength of our faith in God’s promises determines how we wait as well.
The secret to waiting well is knowing what God has promised. Unfortunately, we can easily assume that our desires are synonymous with God’s promises. He does care for the desires of our hearts, but he cares more for the transformation of our souls. We aren’t promised ease, success, notoriety or fulfilled dreams. Sometimes God blesses us with those things, but life can also involve suffering, struggle, persecution and loss. In the middle of it all, God speaks. The question is, are we close enough to hear what his promises are? Are we hiding his word in our hearts, so we know his promises? And can we wait and believe that he will accomplish those things even if it’s in an unexpected way?
Waiting is made beautiful when our hope is in Christ alone and not in an outcome. Can we trust that even if nothing changes, EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED? Because the Light, the Word, the baby is here?
Make it personal
Close your eyes and take 5 deep breaths. Do you have a dream that you’ve given up on or a calling in your heart that’s grown cold in the waiting? Have you questioned whether God was ever in it? Bring it to him and listen for his voice and guidance. Search your heart to see if you want to hear his opinion on the matter. If so, give it time and continue to bring it before him. God cares about your dreams and your heart. He will either encourage you to continue waiting and praying in faith or to look for his direction in a new way that you may not have expected.
Either way, his desire is for you to bear fruit and to be filled with joy.
On an index card, write one of these promises from God (or one of your personal favorites) and memorize it.
Lamentations 3:25-26 The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.
Deuteronomy 31:6 So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.
John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Isaiah 26:3 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
John 15:7-12 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Matthew 6:33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
Romans 8:1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.
Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
(You might want a few rocks and a container for this devotional)
John 1:1-5, 14 (NLT) In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God.God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created,and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
So, the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
Matthew 1:23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”
Matthew 12:21 “And his name will be the hope of all the world.”
In the beginning, the real beginning, before God created the heavens and earth – before he hovered over it all – before he spoke, and light pierced through the inky darkness – before everything…was the WORD. Jesus is the Word; he was with God and he is God. He is the one who spoke into the darkness and said, “Let there be light.” He conceived and created every plant, hill, animal and star. He created life and sustains life. He provided everything for life to flourish but, sadly, sin tarnished the perfection of it all. Life became overshadowed by the looming threat of death, decay, loss and isolation. Even then, the Word, the Father and the Spirit continued to speak and to move and to create ways of connection with the humans they loved so much. To give direction, guidance, encouragement and to intervene, bless, protect and reveal. God continued to pursue his people and his creation even as we continued to run from him.
We still run. There is an ever-increasing divide between us as we struggle to connect with God, with one another and with our own hearts. Humanity has always been marked by the scars received when we pursue our own way both individually and globally.
So, God did the unthinkable.
The light , the all-powerful, the Word that existed before the heavens and the earth…the one who created all things that were created…He stripped himself of his power and position and came to place himself in the hands of frail and failable human beings. The very ones he created were to raise the Creator, deny the Creator, and murder the Creator.
All so that his life could provide true life. The life he intended for us all along. Free from fear, and the threat of death and full of hope. He continues to enter into the most difficult situations only to bring life and hope while his love and faithfulness breaks through every darkness. It was his pleasure to take on flesh and to suffer death so that no enemy , no sin, and no failure could keep his creation from him ever again.
You matter that much to him. He cares that much about everything you faced yesterday, what you face today and what will come your way tomorrow. He is known by his unfailing love and faithfulness to those who chose to run towards him instead of away from him. To bow before the Word. The Creator. The Glory. The Hope.
In the beginning…from the beginning…the Word loved us, created us, fought for us, delivered us, lived for us and died for us. He spoke and Light was created. He came and Life was given. He died and rose, and Love was known.
Make it personal
Light a candle and sit in silence for a few minutes.
Consider what it meant for the Creator of the universe to take on flesh and to dwell among us. Would you leave your family, your home and everything you own to live in a cardboard box on the streets of Calcutta to love and help people who don’t even like you? That’s a pale comparison to what Christ did when he became a man. He entered into our human existence in order to relate to us, to help us and to bring us hope.
What’s weighing on your heart today? What stirs hopelessness in you? Is it something you are fearful of, something you are worried about, a need that you have, or maybe a sin or addiction that is keeping you in shame and bondage? Jesus can handle it. He understands what it’s doing to you and he wants to help. He wants to carry your burdens and to set you free.
Take a rock in your hand to represent the sin or the concern that is weighing you down. You may need to do this multiple times for multiple things but take time for each one individually. Hold it tightly as you tell God about what it’s doing to you and how heavy it feels. Pour out your fear, worry, torment, sadness, shame, etc. If it’s a concern or worry, ask God to carry the burden and to provide what he knows you need. If it’s a sin, acknowledge that it’s wrong and that it’s holding you captive. Then, ask God for forgiveness and freedom. Ask him for faith and courage to trust him.
Now make the choice to release the weight of the rock as you leave it where you are. Whether in a bowl, a box, on the table or whether you decide to throw it across the yard. When you feel the struggle or worry creeping back into your mind, remember that they are safe in God’s hands and you don’t need to pick them up again. You might want to speak this prayer out loud.
“God, I release _______ to you again and ask that you will continue to carry it for me. Direct my path and strengthen my heart to trust you and to obey you. You are my hope, and you are my strength. Amen.”
Genesis 1:2 (MSG) First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.God spoke: “Light!” And light appeared.
It strikes me that the word “brooding” seems to have a negative connotation…until I discovered that birds brood by sitting on eggs to regulate the necessary and safe temperature needed for them to hatch. It seems that God calculated exactly what was needed to prepare the perfect atmosphere for his ultimate creation. Humans.
Light, warmth, water, plants and animals built a hospitable and lovely world for that first man to thrive, but it all started with one simple thing. Light.
If you’ve ever been in a darkness so black that you can’t see your hand in front of your face, you’ll agree that the smallest amount of light changes things. God’s word created light that chased away the nothingness and emptiness of that first heaven, but I believe it wasn’t just that He created light. I believe He entered into that emptiness himself. He chose to invest his whole heart into his new creation. I John 1:5 says, “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” It’s as if God was looking at a blank canvas that he was about to paint on when he decided not to just paint, but to enter into the painting. To be an active part of the work himself.
Isn’t that who He is? A gracious God who constantly chooses to come to us. Not just to watch us but to enter into our world and to be with us. Constantly speaking light into the darkness. Providing when we are in need. Pouring grace over us when we deserve judgement. Just consider the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night that led the children of Israel through the desert for 40 years. The revelation to Elisha’s servant that they were not alone but had all of heavens’ armies on their side. Jesus opening the eyes of the blind man. God is always invading earth in order to bring light, direction and revelation to people.
Then there is the most beautiful encounter of all. The day that the light himself took the form of a baby so that he could completely destroy the nothingness, the emptiness and the darkness of this world. The day that hope was born into the midst of chaos.
The word for “formless and void” in Genesis 1:2 is the word tohuw. Among its various meanings is “a place of chaos.” I don’t know about you but that describes this past year to me. Chaotic. Unfortunately, many people are also feeling like life is meaningless, empty, dark, and confusing. All of which are also definitions of tohuw. And what does our God do in the midst of darkness and chaos? He enters in and speaks light. He always will. The questions become “Am I willing to wait in faith for his presence” and “What will I do with him when he comes”?
There’s a character named Simeon in the Christmas story. An old man who had been waiting his entire life for the Messiah of Israel to come. In fact, God had been silent for 400 years at this point, so the entire nation had been waiting a while. Yet, Simeon was still waiting in faith and believing that he would see the Savior before he died. When Mary and Joseph entered the temple to dedicate Jesus, he saw them and knew that the baby was the long-awaited Messiah. I can imagine that he caught a glimpse of two young parents with a baby and was shocked that his heart jumped. He would have made his way through the crowd only to fix his eyes on the child, take him from his mothers’ arms and kiss his forehead as tears of joy streamed down his face and songs of praise from his lips.
Luke 2: 29-32 “Sovereign Lord now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations and he is the glory of your people Israel!”
The world that Simeon lived in was violent, chaotic, oppressive, divided, and dangerous. Some might say the same today. The truth is that Simeon wouldn’t live to see the culmination of God’s plan in the death and resurrection of Jesus, but it was enough to know that He had come. Nothing else around him had changed, but Simeon knew everything had changed. His hope and peace were found in the baby he held because he was looking at the light of the world. Darkness was, and would be, defeated – because God had come to be with man – and he wants to be with you now.
Make it personal
How would you describe the interior of your heart and mind? Chaotic? Dark? Fearful? Divided? Empty? Meaningless? Confusing? Numb? Find a private place to tell God how you’re really doing. You may want to write it out in a journal. Be brutally honest with yourself without fear of judgement because God already sees and knows anyway. He isn’t angry. He simply wants you to come to him just as you are.
Now pray or write out a prayer asking God to meet with you over the next 7 days and to open your heart and mind to whatever you may need. Light, revelation, peace, hope, joy, worship, truth, direction, rest…
Read the following passages and then choose one to meditate on for 5-10 minutes. Go ahead and set a timer so you don’t shortchange yourself. For the rest of the week, light a candle each day as you set aside time with the Lord and let it remind you that Light invaded the darkness.
Revelation 21:23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light and the Lamb is its lamp.
I Peter 2:9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
Colossians 1:13-14 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.
Psalms 18:28 You light a lamp for me. The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
Psalms 36:9 For you are the fountain of life, the light by which we see.
John 8:12 Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”
I’ve had a hard time enjoying Christmas the last few years. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because we lost my dad, my kids are grown, it’s a lot of work or simply because age has a tendency to dull my joy and wonder if I’m not careful. Whatever the reason, I haven’t decorated, cooked or anticipated Christmas like I once did.
Until this year.
My tree went up before Thanksgiving and, although they aren’t much to look at, I even hung lights on the house. I’ve pulled down my Christmas cookie recipes to bake dozens of our favorites and plan to build my own gingerbread house. If I’m able to get 4 walls standing, I’ll be thrilled.
I was turning off all the lights last night when the question of why this year is different settled on my heart. It’s not as if 2020 has been the year I expected. We haven’t had the opportunity to minister or even connect with people the way we would like to. We’ve had significant heartaches, relational losses, and difficulties to face as a family. I’ve had writers block in the face of a project I feel compelled to start. Steve’s business and ministry came to a screeching halt. And let’s not forget the pandemic, quarantine, forest fires, tornadoes, hurricanes (how many again?), racial division, political insanity, financial fallout and much more.
So why the sudden Christmas spirit?
Some might say its denial or naivete, but I think it’s the simple fact that my heart recognized my need before my brain did. The need that we all have.
That’s the central truth of the Christmas story isn’t it?
Hope was born when the Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 14:1) Hope survives no matter what the circumstance is because…
“The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” John 1:4-5
I’ve been working on an Advent devotional that I hope to share but whether I finish it or not, I’ve been blessed with the reminder that Christ was born during a very dark moment in history. Mary delivered our Savior during a time of political upheaval, injustice, oppression, violence, religious legalism and social division. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? And, yet, Isaiah said this about his coming.
“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine…
For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:2, 6
The Israelites would have memorized Isaiah12:4 in the Septuagint which prophesied about the significance of the Savior’s coming.
“And his name will be the hope of all the world.” (Matthew 12:21)
And we can’t forget the proclamation from the angel to the shepherds.
“…“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” Luke 2:10-11
Maybe more than ever before in our lifetimes, we need Christmas! Not just presents, not the once-a-year philanthropy, not simply lights and carols and trees and gingerbread houses, but a Christmas where anything and everything we do and say points us back to the true meaning of Christmas. Jesus humbled himself and entered our darkness so that we could have access to his light, his life and his love.
This message and its’ implications aren’t simple, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable trying to trivialize it into a 700-word blog post. But what I know is that I’ve seen its’ power change circumstances, give joy to the dying, healing to the sick, hope to the depressed, opportunities to the floundering, purpose to the lost and love to the lonely. It is so greatly needed in the lives of those around us. But how will they know if we don’t tell them? Not by Bible thumping, judging the secular nature of a Starbucks cup, or even throwing out the obligatory, “Jesus is the reason for the season” but by sharing our hearts with people that we actually have a relationship with. By telling of God’s work in our lives and the invitation that He has made to everyone. By sharing the burdens of our neighbors and trying to lift some of the weight off of their shoulders. By searching our own hearts to see if they’ve grown cold to the Savior and asking Him to reprioritize our hope. By turning everything back to Him in worship and by giving him all our cares and concerns as we remember that He cares so deeply for us all.
In the dark, cold winter of this life, we can carry the light of this world everywhere we go. He is literally the source of all hope, all comfort, and all joy!
Merry Christmas and a hope-filled New Year to you and yours! ❤