Tag Archives: christmas

Not Only Christmas Day

Good morning! I hope you had a blessed Christmas! It is a rainy & windy day in North Carolina – perfect for a lazy morning of staying in our pajamas. I’m thankful for time to rest, partly because my family hasn’t had a lot of sleep in the past few days and partly because the house is such an overflowing mess that I don’t know where to start! Sometimes life is one daunting task after another, isn’t it?

And so today finds me procrasinating a bit, because I’d really like to stay in the Christmas glow of worship, family, prayer, and reflection. But I know that as soon as I turn on the TV, the newscasts will have turned their focus onto 2012 in review and what’s to come in 2013. Commercials will be playing upon our holiday-indulgence-regrets and pitching weight loss plans and products. Eventually I’ll have to think about removing the tree with the falling needles. And there will be duties to resume and big decisions to make. Plus, upcoming visits to the cancer center with my dad.

January may be around the corner, but this year’s Christmas offered me, more than ever, the gift of an eternal perspective. The holiday season may soon be past, but Christmas Hope is a forever-reality because the Baby went from the manger to a sinless life to a cross that I deserved. He died that death may die. The things that I worry over today – be they trivial like messy houses or heavy like doctors’ reports – pale in comparison to the immeasurable hope and glory that are forever found in Christ.

And so I’ll take one step at a time today and not buy into the temptation to mentally venture into what’s to come. Life will be a mix of taking out the trash and hugging the ones I love and talking to Jesus who goes before me. His example of humility and His gift of hope won’t be on my return list, but will be presents that I open every day.

The poem, Not Only Christmas Day, by Mary Fairchild, is on my mind today. I hope it encourages you, as it has inspired me, to view life with a Christmas perspective throughout the year.

http://christianity.about.com/b/2007/12/06/weekly-prayer-post-not-only-christmas-day.htm

Lord, this is my prayer
Not only on Christmas Day
But until I see You face to face
May I live my life this way:

Just like the baby Jesus
I ever hope to be,
Resting in Your loving arms
Trusting in Your sovereignty.

And like the growing Christ child
In wisdom daily learning,
May I ever seek to know You
With my mind and spirit yearning.

Like the Son so faithful
Let me follow in Your light,
Meek and bold, humble and strong
Not afraid to face the night.

Nor cowardly to suffer
And stand for truth alone,
Knowing that Your kingdom
Awaits my going home.

Not afraid to sacrifice
Though great may be the cost,
Mindful how You rescued me
From broken-hearted loss.

Like my risen Savior
The babe, the child, the Son,
May my life forever speak
Of who You are and all You’ve done.

So while this world rejoices
And celebrates Your birth,
I treasure You, the greatest gift
Unequaled in Your worth.

I long to hear the same words
That welcomed home Your Son,
“Come, good and faithful servant,”
Your Master says, “Well done.”

And may heaven welcome others
Who will join with me in praise
Because I lived for Jesus Christ
Not only Christmas Day

— Mary Fairchild

The Gift of Gifts

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The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers, and one of its prayers, “The Gift of Gifts,” so beautifully captures the heart of Christmas worship. I’m including it today with my hopes and prayers that your Christmas is filled with the peace, joy, and wonder of the best gift ever.

You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that by His poverty He could make you rich” ~ 2 Corinthians 8:9

O Source of All Good,

What shall I render to Thee for the Gift of gifts, Thine own dear Son, begotten, not created, my Redeemer, substitute;

His self-emptying incomprehensible, His infinity beyond the heart’s grasp.
Herein is wonder of wonders: He came below to raise me above, was born like me that I might become like Him.

Herein is love; when I cannot rise to Him He draws near on wings of grace, to raise me to Himself.

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Herein is power; when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart He united them in indissoluble unity, the uncreated and the created.

Herein is wisdom; when I was undone, with no will to return to Him and no intellect to devise recovery, He came, God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost, as man to die my death, to shed satisfying blood on my behalf, to work out a perfect righteousness for me.

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O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds, and enlarge my mind; let me hear good tidings of great joy, and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore, my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose, my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father;

Place me with ox, ass, camel, goat, to look with them upon my Redeemer’s face, and in him account myself delivered from sin;

Let me with Simeon clasp the newborn child to my heart, embrace Him with undying faith, exulting that He is mine and I am His.

In Him Thou hast given me so much that heaven can give no more.

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~ The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett, 1975

Why “Dimly Burning?”

“Dimly burning,” I know, doesn’t sound entirely optimistic as a name for a blog. You would think I’d rather be identified with more positive descriptors – something that would draw readers in, right?  Typically we’re drawn to things and people that could be described as radiant or dazzling. But dim? Uh, not really.

I write this blog as a way to ponder and express my journey of faith in and with Jesus Christ. Of course my heart’s desire is to let my light shine, through living and writing, so that others would see Him (Matthew 5:14).  But if I’m honest about my story, it should include the highlights and the, well, lowlights.

“Dimly burning” comes from a verse that has been life-changing for me – Isaiah 42:3 – “A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish.”

During this season I sometimes recall Christmas memories which aren’t very merry. I doubt I’ll ever forget the horrible sinking feeling I had when a child approached me at a Christmas gathering and inquired: “Why does your face look like a skeleton?” Now that’s a question you just don’t forget! The little girl wasn’t being cruel, just sincerely curious.  I cringe at the pictures of myself during that Christmas because truth be told, I really did look on the verge of death’s door.  And while a battle with anorexia had me barely holding onto life, I was held in shame’s firm grip.

Honestly I don’t have many clear memories of that time of my life, except for moments of severe mercy and moments of simple grace. The child’s curiosity prompted one of those severe-mercy-moments because it shocked me into the hard truth that I refused to see in the mirror.

“Dimly burning,” on the other hand, takes me back to a moment of simple grace. It was a Sunday, and my pastor at the time, Dr. Joe Brown, was preaching a sermon on the prophecy of the Messiah in Isaiah 42:

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth… Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

Dr. Brown had a lit candle on the platform, and from where I sat in the large sanctuary, it looked like a tiny flame. But Dr. Brown asked for the house lights to be lowered, and in the midst of darkness, the little light shone persistently. Unmistakably. As I watched the flame, my heart leapt with hope. Yes, my life was a picture of a candle dimly – barely – burning, but because God’s Son had come to live in my heart, I suddenly realized that the flame of His Spirit would never be snuffed out. The Holy Spirit whispered to me, “I believe in you. I will not leave you. I will keep shining in your darkness.” It was a moment of pure and simple grace. Truly I felt deserving to be extinguished. My fear and shame and failures were so painfully obvious. Many struggles can be hidden but not anorexia. And yet, the Lord spoke undeserved love and forgiveness into my life.  And He promised a future and a hope. The Light of the Nations would re-kindle a spark of strength within my soul.

About the promised Messiah in Isaiah 42:3, Martin Luther said, “He does not cast away, nor crush, nor condemn the wounded in conscience, those who are terrified in view of their sins; the weak in faith and practice, but watches over and cherishes them, makes them whole, and affectionately embraces them.”

Watches over. Cherishes. Makes them whole. Affectionately embraces.

This is what He did for me. And He still does.

That painful Christmas was years ago. While an eating disorder is not my struggle anymore, there are times when I still hunger for hope. My sense of His mercy runs thin. The enemy would be well pleased for guilt, shame, and regret to smother my flame.

This morning in church, we read from John 1, and I remembered….

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (verses 1 – 5, 14).

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This week comes the culmination of our Christmas celebration. All because the Word became flesh. May we never get over the why and the way of His coming.

Matthew reminds us in the twelfth chapter of his gospel. Jesus healed numbers of broken people in the large crowd that followed him, but He“warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:‘Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Matthew 12: 15 – 21).

Jesus could have come to our world in the company of blaring trumpets. But as Matthew Henry puts it, He came “without noise.” That is, without pomp and circumstance. Without a royal entrance.  Sure, there were the earthly sounds of a barn and a baby. But we recognize Christmas as a “silent night” because of the hushed humility of His birth. And then when Jesus as He ministered to the people, the Word shows us that He did not come to boast but to bind up the broken-hearted.

For You cause my lamp to be lighted and to shine; the Lord my God illumines my darkness.” Psalm 18:28

“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

This Christmas, I pray that your hearts – be they broken or blinded, doubting or dim – draw near to the Light. He can illumine a spark of faith within you that, with the Breath of His Spirit, ignites into a flame of hope.

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The Towel

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Many years ago at Christmas, a dear friend gave me a kitchen towel rolled around a piece of paper. On the paper was written “The Towel.” Since then, I’ve passed this gift along to many friends because it so perfectly symbolizes the meaning of Christmas. I don’t know who wrote “The Towel” – a Google search shows that other people have discovered it, but seems that no one can cite an original source.

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Based upon John 13: 1 – 17, here is the message of this simple but meaningful gift ~

        “At first glance, one looks at a towel and thinks, ‘Great, a towel… I needed new one,’ or ‘Good, a towel, the old ones are getting stained and worn.’  But have you ever stopped to think that for years and years, the towel has been used not only in the kitchen or the bathroom, but for a variety of reasons.

Take for example, the mother who wipes the tears of a little child; the nurse who binds the wounds of a patient; the woman in the home wiping her hands as she moves from task to task; the caregiver who patiently cleans another spill.

Notwithstanding all of the above examples, perhaps the most significant use of the towel was years ago when our loving Jesus took an ordinary towel in His hands and dried the feet of His disciples only hours before His crucifixion.  Sure, the towel is a handy item with a myriad of uses, but it also has special meaning when seen in the hands of the Savior doing a work of humble love for His fellow men.

So take this towel, knowing it is given with love, and do works of goodness with it, as the Savior worked goodness with His towel so many years ago.”

Our Lord Jesus came to us in the most humble form, and His mission was servanthood in the fullest extent. He said to the disciples (who were concerned with position and status): “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). In His prayer of John 17, Jesus tells the Father, “As You sent Me into the world, I have sent them (His followers) into the world” (verse 18). Since Jesus willingly came to this world in full humanity and humility, His followers are most like Him when we follow His example, take up a towel – whatever that means for us – and serve. At Christmas, as I’m shopping for kitchen towels and making my copies to give as gifts, I’m reminded of why and how Christ came. When I’m tempted to snap at my family for the mess in the kitchen or skip the nursing home visit, all it takes is a glance at the towels waiting to be given to remind me of His example. At times when I feel I have little to give materially this Christmas, I think about John 13 and remember that sacrifice – whether I see it as minor or major – is always meaningful when given in the Name of One who gave His all.

So as I give “The Towel” every Christmas, it offers me a gift in return: the gift of perspective.

Perhaps you can give “The Towel” to a caregiver, a mom, a teacher, or someone who serves in other ways as an encouragement that their service is a reflection of Christmas Love. And together we can remember and worship our Savior for being with us and among us, for dying because of us and for us, for imparting His love in us and through us this Christmas and always.

Philippians 2: 1 – 8 (The Message) ~ If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care — then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

John 13: 1 – 15 ~ Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end.It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas,son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.

When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”

 “No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”

Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!” Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.

Favored One

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During this time of the year, we often think of Mary. As I write, I’m looking around my home at the various nativities where she sits with her baby, her Lord. As I read Advent devotions, I marvel at her faith and willingness to accept this stunning assignment from God. One of my favorite writings about Mary comes from Elisabeth Elliot in “The Mother of the Lord” (http://www.elisabethelliot.org/newsletters2/nov.dec.1986.pdf)

Elisabeth wrote: “A dazzling stranger stands before her with a puzzling greeting. He calls her ‘most favored one’ and tells her the Lord is with her….Mary is troubled. She discerns at once that this has to do with things infinitely larger than herself, far beyond her understanding. What can it mean?”

When I remember that Gabriel greeted Mary as the “favored one,” (Luke 1:28) I’m instantly intrigued. This past year I did a study on the word “favor” in Scripture. Initially I was curious about the meaning of favor after reading Psalm 84:11, “The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” For some reason, it seemed that the Holy Spirit zeroed my attention on “favor,” and I realized that I seldom ever consider its significance. “Grace,” on the other hand, is something that I read about, think about, and sing about fairly often. And while Christians usually define “grace” as “God’s unmerited favor,” I don’t know that I ever considered what that essentially means.

I learned that the standard dictionary definition of “favor” is acceptance, courtesy, or preference, and its synonyms in a Bible dictionary include grace, blessing, or mercy.

When I looked up the word “favor” in my Bible concordance, I was amazed at how it is a thread woven throughout God’s story, throughout the covenants of the Old Testament and the new covenant in Christ.

Genesis 6:8 – “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

In Exodus 33, Moses found favor in God’s sight.

God gave this promise to the Israelites in Leviticus 26 – “I will look on you with favor and I will keep my covenant with you … I will walk among you and will be your God and you shall be my people.”

Throughout God’s story, in all of His ways with people from biblical times to today, He displays His favor through His covenant and by His presence with those who believe in Him. For us who live on this side of Calvary, God’s favor is shown toward those who have trusted in His Son.

After I researched Bible dictionaries and concordances, I googled the phrase “God’s favor” and found that there are very different perspectives on what the experience of God’s favor looks like.

Some people equate God’s favor with prosperity. I think the Bible would agree, but not in terms of health and wealth. A biblical perspective of God’s favor challenges the Americanized definition of prosperity. What I see about God’s favor in Scripture is that it is NOT directly related to one’s status or station in life nor is it a ticket to a life of ease. Consider….

Noah found favor with God and spent over 100 years building an ark although the earth had never felt a single drop of rain.

Moses found favor with God, and had to lead the Israelites through the desert for more than 40 years.

Esther found favor with God, and risked being killed to save the Jewish people from annihilation.

Daniel found favor with God, and was thrown into a pit full of lions.

According to Chris Tiegreen in  Fixing Abraham: “God’s favor is a tricky thing. It is poured out on messy lives and it can make certain aspects of life much messier. It should be profoundly comforting that the heroes of Scripture were perceived as flawed and foolish. That makes any of us qualified to fulfill God’s purposes. The amazing thing about their lives was what God did in them, not what they did themselves. Sometimes humility, honesty, and desperate faith were all they had to offer, but those are priceless commodities in the economy of God. He wants us to come to him on those very simple but uncomfortable terms.”

Jesus described these “simple but uncomfortable terms” when He said “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” (Matthew 5:3).

When I think of what it means to be “poor in spirit” I think of a character that is so unlike the self-assertive, self-sufficient disposition which the world admires and praises. Scripture reveals God’s favor as it was given to humble souls that were poor in spirit yet rich in worship.

Isaiah 66:2 – “I will look favorably on this kind of person: one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and trembles at My word.”

1 Peter 5:5 & James 4:6: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

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Luke, in chapters 1 and 2 of his gospel, highlighted God’s favor throughout the incarnation story ~

Luke 1:28 – The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Luke 1:30 – The angel said to her, “ Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.”

Luke 1:43 – (Elizabeth’s words): “But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Luke 2:24 – (The angelic proclamation to the shepherds): “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Luke 2:40 – And the child (Jesus) grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

The story of our Savior’s birth is marked with inconveniences. Elizabeth bore a child in advanced age. Mary faced the possibility of losing her husband and her life.  Joseph accepted unforeseen responsiblity and ridicule. The shepherds risked losing their livelihood to see the Messiah. The magi traveled far to give their worship.

And yet, God’s favor with was them. God in the flesh was with them. Mary’s heart was filled with the treasure of her Savior’s presence. The shepherds and wise men were filled with unspeakable joy and matchless wonder.

“Blessed are the poor in the spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Favored ones look through a lens of eternal promise.

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But what does God’s favor mean for someone living 2000 years past Jesus’ birth?

God is still with us. When we receive His Son, we receive His acceptance, His covenant, His presence. Here at Christmas, that’s an enormously comforting truth.

God’s favor frees me from the pressure of my own expectations.

“Peace is not a reward for those who wrap everything by December 24. There can be no mad rush, no frantic preparations for the real spirit of Christmas. It simply fills our hearts as we are and where we are. Much the same, Christ did not need us to finish our work before He could save us. God’s salvation has always found us in the most unlikely of places and conditions…” (Ginger Garrett, “The Perfect Christmas” in InTouch magazine – http://www.intouch.org/magazine/content.aspx?topic=The_Perfect_Christmas).

It’s been an emotional day for me. I learned of something that someone I dearly love wants, and it was beyond my financial ability to make it happen. My husband and I have chosen for me to stay at home (having the choice is a wonderful blessing). But in insecure moments, I equate my worth with my ability to contribute. And in the season of giving, it hurts when I can’t contribute (and my husband’s presents come from his own paycheck.)

But God gave me the sweetest gifts today. In the midst of a tearful morning, my husband came home from work to say how much he appreciates me. And this afternoon, dear friends reminded me that this time of motherhood and ministry is a precious season. They helped me realize that my time is worth more than money can ever buy. And my worth lies not in what I contribute but in who (Whose) I am.

And I think about my salvation. I didn’t contribute to it. I can’t add to it. It is a gift of God’s favor. And though this life of faith is sometimes messy, I will choose to look through a lens of eternal promise and take a humble path made rich by His presence.

No good thing does He withhold – Psalm 84:11.

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Every Longing Heart

Eighteen days until Christmas, and my ten-year-old is eagerly counting each one. Anticipation builds each time she opens a door on the Advent calendar. While I want to slow down and savor the season, the 25th could not come fast enough for my girl!

This morning I’ve found great comfort in the words of Chris Tiegreen in a devotion simply titled “Joy.” Today’s devotion is based on Isaiah 65: 17 – 18, “Behold I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. Be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create.”

Tiegreen writes: “Most of us are good at reaction emotions. We grieve when tragedy strikes; we get angry when injustice is done; we celebrate over good news, and we feel peaceful when all is well. But God asks us to do a strange thing in Scripture. He calls not only for our natural, reactive emotions, but also for supernatural, proactive emotions. He urges us to be glad and rejoice forever in something that has not yet taken place….

This dynamic of rejoicing before something has happened is an integral part of faith. It’s just as much an act of faith to celebrate a promise as it is to set foot in a Red Sea that has not yet parted…”

This devotion reminds me of Advent, for “advent” means “coming.” It is a season of expectation. It’s a time when we celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a Messiah (Isaiah 7:14 & 9:6; Micah 5: 2 – 4) and a time when we anticipate His return. A time to be glad and rejoice forever in His eternal promises.

True joy is “supernatural” and “proactive.” After all, it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit – not something that we can muster up our own, try as we might.  Christmas joy is not related to festivity, parties, presents, or cookies. It has nothing to do with a party outfit that fits just right, or a meal that wins praises, or a beautifully decorated tree, or a perfectly chosen gift.  If we experience Christmas in a reactive way, imagine what we’ve set ourselves up for when the dress doesn’t zip all the way up, the green beans get cold, one strand in the middle of the tree goes dark, or the sweater is not the right size.

As I write, I’m sitting in the oncology clinic, waiting for my dad to get through another MRI. To pass the time, I’ve been thinking about shopping lists, and ironically the only two people I have left to shop for are my daughter who seemingly wants everything the toy aisle can offer and my dad who wants nothing. Well, nothing that money can buy. While many of my girl’s wishes will be fulfilled in 18 days, my dad has to wait and focus his longing upon a promise that one Day there will be a world without pain, worry, and cancer.

Joy has to be an intentional focus upon our Savior who has come and who is coming.  Joy doesn’t depend on our circumstances – it depends upon His character. Christmas tells us that God kept His word about Jesus’ first coming. Christmas assures us that we can await all the joyful promises of His coming again.

Luke’s gospel presents two of the most joyful people in the Christmas story: Simeon and Anna.

About Simeon, Luke says: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

Simeon had longed for many years for see His Savior. Can’t you imagine the joy in his heart as his longing is fulfilled?

Barely after Simeon proclaimed his praise, Anna, an 84-year-old widowed prophetess, confirmed his revelation about the baby. Luke says of Anna:

“She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.  And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

I love how Luke portrays the faithful anticipation of those who were waiting for redemption and the faithfulness of God to fulfill what their eyes had longed to see.

Simeon and Anna were waiting. They were old. Surely they were tired and frail. But they made a choice to focus upon the Promise, and the Promised One made their joy complete.

And so, as we live between the Advents, let us find our joy in the Promise fulfilled and the Promise to come… He is the Joy of every longing heart.

Come Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel’s strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth Thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart

Born Thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a King
Born to reign in us forever
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring
By Thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By Thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne

~ Charles Wesley, 1745

Prepare Him Room

“All hearts turn home for Christmas…” Somewhere along the way, I’ve heard a saying like that, and it really rings true. My family is a small group of homebodies – we love just being together and hanging out in the comforts of home. Recently we traveled to Florida for Thanksgiving, and it was wonderful to play on the beach in the last days of November. Our daughter was thrilled to be with her aunts, uncles, and cousins, but several times during the week she whispered to me: “It doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving away from home.” Perhaps it was because this was the first Thanksgiving away from her grandparents or the first Thanksgiving without activity and yummy smells in the kitchen.  Whenever Caroline struggled with a longing for home, I tried to reassure her: “Anywhere that we are together is home.”  Although she couldn’t quite wrap her head around that concept, I was trying to communicate to Caroline that sometimes “home” is not necessarily a physical place as much as it is a place in our hearts.

This Christmas season, I am thinking a lot about home. As Christmas approached, I honestly didn’t anticipate the season with a great deal of joy or excitement. My father is battling cancer, and leading up to this month, whenever I thought about December, I thought about a particular date – December 7. That is the date of more tests, meetings with doctors, and perhaps an updated prognosis. My thoughts have often been something along the lines of: “We’ll hope for good news on December 7, and then we’ll celebrate Christmas…”

And so, as it is not yet December 7, I have surprised myself by decorating the house even more than usual this year.  But I think something in me has realized that the meaning and worship of Christmas does not depend on decorations, mood, festivity or circumstances. Christmas means hope.

So while I find myself decorating my house, the Holy Spirit is adorning my heart with the peace that I need whatever the situation. Like “home,” HOPE does not depend on where I am in my circumstances as much as it depends on where my heart is.

This morning I read from Isaiah 66: 1 – 2:

This is what the Lord says:

“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
Where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things,
and so they came into being?”
declares the Lord.

These are the ones I look on with favor:
those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
and who tremble at my word.”

“Where is the house you will build for me?” the Lord asks. But at Christmas we remember that the baby Jesus was essentially homeless.  The point of this Scripture is that the Lord seeks not a physical home but a place to reside in our hearts.

As I was reading, the Holy Spirit impressed upon my heart these lines from the carol Joy to the World: “Let every heart prepare Him room…”

This is what Matthew Henry says about Isaiah 66: 1 – 2:

If God has so bright a throne, so large a footstool, where then is the house they can build unto God, that can be the residence of his glory, or where is the place of his rest? What satisfaction can the Eternal Mind take in a house made with men’s hands? What occasion has he, as we have, for a house to repose himself in, who faints not neither is weary, who neither slumbers nor sleeps? …  If he required a house for himself to dwell in, he would have made one himself when he made the world; and, if he had made one, it would have continued to this day so that he had no need of a temple made with hands …. He would not heed it (a man-made home) as he would a humble, penitent, gracious heart. He has a heaven and earth of his own making, and a temple of man’s making; but he overlooks them all, that he may look with favour to him that is poor in spirit, humble and serious, self-abasing and self-denying, whose heart is truly contrite for sin, penitent for it, and in pain to get it pardoned, and who trembles at God’s word…”

It always astounds me  that God humbled Himself to such an extent as a dirty stable in Bethlehem in order to cleanse my heart that it might be a fitting place for Him to dwell. And I ask myself, what am I doing to prepare Him room? Oh, that my heart humble, penitent, and gracious – in a season of long lines, longer to-do lists, and drivers who cut me off…

Plus, my dad’s struggle with cancer has reminded me, especially this year, that suffering does not take December off. I sit with him in the waiting room and I grieve for others around us who have yellowed skin, no hair on their heads, thin and fragile fingers…And I remember one of my favorite Christmas songs –

“Tears are falling, hearts are breaking
How we need to hear from God
You’ve been promised, we’ve been waiting

Welcome Holy Child
Welcome Holy Child

Hope that you don’t mind our manger
How I wish we would have known
But long-awaited Holy Stranger
Make Yourself at home
Please make Yourself at home
Bring Your peace into our violence
Bid our hungry souls be filled
Word now breaking Heaven’s silence

Welcome to our world
Welcome to our world

Fragile finger sent to heal us
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us
Unto us is born
Unto us is born
So wrap our injured flesh around You
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy

Perfect Son of God.

Jesus could have made His first arrival on earth in the grandest way, but His humble birth reflected the purpose of His life and death…

“The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:45

The long-awaited Holy One came to make His home in broken, hungry, fragile, and injured hearts. To ransom them from places of darkness and despair into places of light and hope. To transform them from places of pride and selfishness into places of humble service and kindness. This is the reason for Christmas.

O Lord Jesus, let my heart be drawn toward the Home that You, in Your astounding humility, have made within me. May I always prepare You room there. Fill it with Your hope and Your peace. There my fragile soul finds its truest rest. Where I am prideful and self-seeking, transform those places into humility and graciousness. Thank You, Savior.

(“Welcome to our World” – There are popular versions recorded by Chris Rice, Michael W. Smith, and Amy Grant).