Years past I have posted a musical advent calendar to celebrate Christmas. This year I am putting up a few of my non-traditional favorites all together instead of one by one. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas week remembering God’s most gracious gift to us.
“And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins. Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying; BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL, which translated means, God with us.” Matthew 1:21-23
We don’t think of that verse as offensive, but more than likely it would have offended the religious leaders of the day. They were being oppressed by Rome. Their country was overrun by foreigners. They were being abused and mistreated at every turn. They wanted a Savior who could save them from the trouble around them. Shockingly Matthew points to the real problem. It wasn’t their circumstances it was their own hearts.
“…He will save His people from their sins.”
How dare he talk to persecuted people like that. How dare he not enter into their pain and ask them how they feel. How dare he accuse them of being sinners.
And so it is. The gospel is offensive. We think our life would be better if we just had different circumstances. If I just had a different wife, husband or different children. Maybe a different church or friends or job. Maybe if my past hurts weren’t so great. The list is endless.
Trouble is everywhere. You can find atrocities sprinkled throughout history. Your circumstances, however horrifying, are nothing new. The sooner we see the problem is within us instead of without us the sooner we are ready to hear the wonderful story of the gospel.
God became man. (Amazing)
God is with us (Incredible)
His purpose? …to save us from our sins. (Freedom at last)
“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! II Corinthians 9:15
“I can’t wait for Christmas!!!” My six-year-old granddaughter blurted out to the clerk restocking the shelves at the grocery store. The clerk responded with, “Have you been good this year so Santa will come?”
Arianna looked a little confused and then answered, “Santa’s not real, God’s real.” Now it was the clerk’s turn to be confused. Not knowing just what to say, I smiled, and we moved on down the aisle.
I thought about the conversation all the way home. I don’t think of Santa as evil, but Jesus is so much better.
Santa keeps a list of who is naughty or nice. The theory is he only visits those who have been good. We use it to motivate kids to cooperate with us those last weeks before Christmas, or those gifts aren’t going to show up.
Jesus, on the other hand, came knowing we weren’t nice. We needed a Savior who could save us from our sin. (Matthew 1:21) His coming depended on God’s goodness, not our goodness.
Santa supposedly leaves a lump of coal to those who don’t measure up. Jesus offers complete forgiveness and has taken the punishment we deserve by dying in our place.
Santa lives forever to keep track. Jesus now lives forever to intercede for us before God. (Romans 8:34)
Santa shows up one day a year. Jesus has promised to never leave us or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5b-6)
But the most important difference between Santa and Jesus is the one Arianna pointed out so simply. “Santa isn’t real …God is real!” It is fun to pretend, but my belief in God isn’t a fantasy. It is something I have staked my life on. So as you celebrate Christmas this year remember it is about a Savior, not a Santa.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
I can still see him sitting in the corner of our living room, pen in hand, next to a small handmade bookshelf, where he kept his Bible and other reading material. He sat there either early morning before his day started or late at night while he waited for one of his three daughters to come home. Once we were home he quietly locked the door and went to bed. His job was done for the night.
I didn’t notice how carefully he kept track of us until one night while working the late shift at a local nursing home. The commercial washing machines that were entrusted to my care decided to leak all over the floor. When I came back to the laundry room, after putting linens away, I was met with a small lake.
My shift should have ended at 11:00, but it took me until after midnight to mop up the mess. Assuming my parents would be in bed I didn’t call to tell them I would be late. When I finally made it home the lights were on and my mother met me at the door.
Why was I late? What had happened?
Her voice was a mixture of rebuke and relief. Before I could answer she told me Daddy had gone looking for me, tracing the path I would have taken from home to the nursing home.
I apologized and we waited together for Dad to get home. I’m not sure what time it was when he finally drove into the driveway. He didn’t say much, just that he was glad I was ok, and please call next time. He quietly locked the door and we all went to bed.
It made me wonder how many other times he had sat and worried about us. Praying we would make it home safely.
But as much as my earthly father took care of me how much more does my Heavenly Father. He waits for me to remember that he is waiting for me… day after day, week after week, year after year.
How long has it been since you have sat at His feet?… read His word?… met with other Christians?
But God wasn’t content to wait. He came looking for us, even going so far as to send His son to walk among us, and eventually die for this race of rebellious, thoughtless people.
In this season of celebrating Jesus birth wouldn’t now be a good time for you to come to Him? Come for the first time or return to Him from a long absence. He is not only waiting, He is pursuing.
“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:10
“Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hear my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20
“Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no delight in them”, Ecclesiastes 12:1
“I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth, The love of your betrothals, Your following after Me in the wilderness, Through a land not sown.” Jeremiah 2:2
In early November I got out the Thanksgiving decorations box. I carefully unwrapped a ceramic pilgrim man and put him on the buffet. Our three year-old granddaughter, Arianna, gasped with wonder and said,… “Jesus!”
I had to tell her, “No, it’s a pilgrim.”
I unwrapped the matching pilgrim lady and again Arianna whispered, …”Jesus.”
“No,” I responded, “Another pilgrim.”
We hadn’t been talking about Jesus. We don’t have statues of him standing around our house and yet when something new and wonderful was taken out to be displayed she just assumed it had to be Jesus.
When the first snow came in November she squealed and said, “God sent the snow.”
“Yes, Arianna, God sent the snow.”
I smile at her simple happiness and wish I could rewind my life to a simpler time. My grown-up heart is cynical. I have lived in this broken world too long to be optimistic. The reality is, life is hard. It isn’t how God intended. We have each royally messed up.
…And so we have Christmas. Not to distract us from what is bad in our lives. Not to have a month of gift giving and parties. We have Christmas because God promised he would send a redeemer all those years ago when our first parents sinned.
Just as Adam and Eve chose sin over God, we have chosen our own selfish ways. Instead of turning our face to God we turn our faces inward. We turn them anywhere but toward God. And yet…
“God so loved the world… (God so loved me, you) that He gave…” He gave his son, not only to be born, but eventually to die for my lost condition. What a marvelous hope!
So I stay close to Arianna. As she delights in Christmas and wants to learn all about the baby and what God did, I feel my own heart melting. It is becoming a little more childlike. As I tell her about the great God who loves her, I am reminded of just how great He is.
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:76-79
I have two chairs that my grandparents received on their wedding day. They are tiny by today’s standards. I used them as thrones when I was a little girl. There was a matching loveseat that I spent hours sprawled out in reading the World Book Encyclopedia. The loveseat met an unfortunate end when it got in the way of a semi-truck, but that is another story.
The chairs came to me before my mother died. About 10 years ago one of the chairs was damaged while being used in a drama production. The front leg and part of the frame was shattered. I couldn’t bear to throw it away. How do you discard something that you have lived with all your life? It was the only thing I owned that had belonged to my grandmother…so it sat in my basement. The chair that wasn’t damaged sat with it. It seemed they should be together. I looked at it every once in a while and tried to see if I could fix it. It seemed impossible. There were just too many pieces. Still, I couldn’t throw it away.
A couple years ago I decided to buy some fabric and recover the good one. I bought enough for two chairs just in case. I started on the broken one first. I took out the old tacks, peeled back the old fabric, took out the stuffing and removed the webbing from the bottom. There it was looking worse than ever. The springs had come loose. The leg and frame looked hopeless. I carefully took the leg apart where it met the frame. I cleaned out the old glue. I fit the pieces back together with new glue in the joints. I added wood filler where the wood was damaged and splintered. I bound it up tight while the glue dried. I also put some braces up inside where they wouldn’t show. I sanded and covered up the scratches with stain.
Next I started putting new webbing on the bottom, retying the springs, layering the burlap, stuffing, cotton cloth, more stuffing, more cotton cloth and finally the finish fabric. The braid went on last to cover all the edges. I stepped back and looked it over. I was amazed. It was beautiful. It was also strong…stronger than it had ever been. I recovered the good chair too. I had to redo some of the stuffing, but I didn’t have to touch the springs or webbing. They were a matched set again. They looked the same, but one was much stronger. The one that had been broken, seemingly beyond usefulness, was now the stronger of the two.
My thoughts turned to people. Many are broken and shattered. As broken people we have two choices. We can hide in the basement and expect other people to stay there with us or we can give our broken and shattered pieces to the one who made us. It will hurt. He will have to take things apart, scrape off things that shouldn’t be there and dig out some rotten bits. But as we trust Him to work with our life He will make us beautiful and strong…stronger than we would have been if we had never been broken.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10
Noah was 500 years old when God told him to build an ark. God saw that …
“the wickedness of man was great.” “Every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”. Genesis 6:5
(So much for thinking that following your heart is a good idea.)
“the LORD regretted that he had made man…and it grieved him to his heart.” vs. 6
God decides to destroy man, animals, every creeping thing, and birds, but in that cesspool of humanity…
“Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.” vs. 8
Imagine Noah and his sons building the ark while the rest of mankind looked on and mocked. To preach for 100 years without any converts must have been devastating. Noah simply obeyed. Once they were all safely on board with the animals, God shut the door, and they waited.
They waited 7 days before the rains came.
Then the floodgates of the deep and the windows of heaven were opened. It rained for 40 days and 40 nights. There was so much water that even the mountains were covered up. Every living thing died that wasn’t on the ark. The flood waters surged for 150 days or 5 months.
“But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark.” Genesis 8:1
They had not been forgotten. God stopped the rain and closed the floodgates. A little over two months later the water receded and the mountain tops could be seen again. Just over a year after the flood had begun it was finally dry enough for Noah and his passengers to leave the ark.
Sometimes when I struggle with a situation that never seems to end I think of Noah. He was given an overwhelming job while the rest of the world was being destroyed. There was no escape from his daily duties. Imagine being the only living island in a world of water. Yet, his faithful obedience saved his life and the life of his family.
Oh, that I would have such faith. To believe that God is doing something I am unable to understand.
Father, help me to trust you with my impossible situations, knowing that you have not forgotten me.
My son loved marbles. There is something fascinating about them, the color, the design… The thrill of sending them down the hall in quick succession.
My husband collects glass paperweights, which he keeps in a display case. Most of them were his grandmother’s. He has added a few to the collection over the years. Most of them are round.
One day, to my horror, I found our son rolling the beloved paperweights down the hall in quick succession. I yelled, “That’s not what those are for! Those are paperweights!”
He knew they were paperweights. He had looked at them several times under our watchful eye with our explanations of what they were for. But he had a passion for marbles so he didn’t care what their intended purpose was. He wanted to use them as marbles. His wants outweighed what was best for the paperweights. His wants outweighed what the certain punishment for damaging them would be.
Sad to say, they didn’t roll well. They weren’t made for rolling. After being hurled down the hallway most of them had nicks and chips.
When something isn’t used for its intended purpose it doesn’t end well.
A hand painted silk scarf used to mop up the floor.
A Monet used as a dartboard.
An ancient tapestry used as a doormat.
A priceless violin used as a cricket bat.
A crystal vase used as a garbage can.
Each thing is demeaned as it is misused. The creator of each would be saddened to see the intended purpose being ignored for a baser one.
Our society is good at renaming or redefining things. I think of the phrase, “love is all you need”. Love is defined by the feelings of the people experiencing it.
Our bodies can be misused in the same way. God created each of us with a design and purpose. To use our bodies as he designed them is to honor Him. He has made it plain from creation. It wasn’t good for Adam to be alone, so He created a helper for him. This helper was made from his own rib. He was to love and care for her as his own body. God made them to fit perfectly together.
The laws that followed were very specific as to what was not allowed. It was because God knew what would bring the most happiness. What would be best for the people He had created. God created love (or sex) to be between one man and one woman in a committed marital relationship. It was a good gift.
We have corrupted that gift to include: Sex before marriage, sex outside of marriage, sex with multiple partners, sex with prostitutes, sex with same sex partners, sex with children, sex with animals, sex with ourselves. The list is endless.
Now we even rename what gender we are to suit our own feelings. Men claim to be women. Women claim to be men. Some claim they are fluid, unwilling to pick a gender. Our very DNA tells us what gender we are, but in this case we are not willing to follow the science. We would rather turn our back on the creator God and follow our own passions.
None of us are sinless. We all need forgiveness and grace. But that comes at a cost. The cost is repentance of known sin and a turning back to God. Our society tells us to “follow our heart”. “Be your own person.” But our worth is not found in our deceitful heart or in our sinful person, but in belonging to God, to be used by Him. Our only fulfillment and joy can be found in following Him.
I had carefully done the samples for my art class weeks ago.
When I went to hang them up for display I couldn’t find them. I had searched every room in the house, some of them twice. They were nowhere to be found.
Now with 24 kids coming in a few hours I was desperate.
I finally sat down on the much traveled steps and prayed.
“God you know where they are. Help me find them.”
As soon as the prayer was on my lips I regretted how desperate I was to find something so trivial. If only I was as anxious to find God as I was to find my paintings.
I knelt and prayed a second prayer.
“Help me to search for You like I am searching for the samples.” Remind me that nothing is as valuable as my time with You. Help me to be desperate for You. Thank you for pursuing me, when I was not paying attention. Thank you for loving me.”
lesson learned. (If only…if only. “Father, help me remember”)
For Further Study:
“The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, to see if there are any who understand who seek after God.”
“Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near.”
“I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek for Me. I said, “Here I am, here I am.” to a nation which did not call on My name. I have spread out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts.”
“You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart.”
“that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him, and find Him though He is not far from each one of us.”
“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”