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Immanuel, God With Us

Anticipation. I can’t sleep. Even now, at 31 years of age, I still look forward to Christmas morning as if I’m 7 years old. It’s not about the gifts I’m getting. It’s not even about the gifts I’m giving. It’s so much more than that. To be able to capture the looks on the faces of my children when they “get it” for the first time, what Christmas is all about, would be the best gift this side of heaven.

As I anticipate my children’s reactions to Christmas morning, I’m reminded of how simple and peaceful the birth of Christ was. He is a King, born as a baby, to a teenage mother. I find myself thinking about Mary and how she responded, the anticipation she must have felt.

Small town Nazareth
Small town Bethlehem
Tiny animal trough in the corner of a barn
Born without fanfare, born out of town, away from the familiar, away from family
Fully God but painfully human. To the unknowing ear, another baby was born. Another person to count. Another mouth to feed.
Nothing in the world’s standards would make Him noticeable to an outsider.
Yet Mary, unwed teenage mother, understood that her job was incredibly important.
Either it was true or she was crazy. She didn’t question. She didn’t worry about what others would think. She didn’t try to get her beloved Son noticed. She didn’t ask for any of it, but she did it anyway.
She wrapped Him in a cloth. She made a bed out of hay. She shushed Him when he fussed. She rocked Him to sleep. She sang lullabies to Him.
Did it break her heart to know He would die for her? Did it break her heart when He ignored her or treated her the same as everyone else? She accepted the call, knowing that He was not hers. She mothered Him and let God do the rest.

I am reminded daily of the incredible gift that Jesus is, and I’m reminded daily of all He came to Earth for. Without Christmas, there would be no Easter. And without Easter, there would be no point to life, there would be no life. Jesus could have shown up already grown. He could have declared His kingship over all mankind. He could have demanded people to follow Him. But He didn’t. He came as the most vulnerable and dependent creature in the world, grew up among the very people who would one day reject Him, and lived every day knowing the end of the Story. He loves people where they are, and lets God do the rest.

“How many kings stepped down from their thrones? How many lords have abandoned their homes? How many greats became the least for me? How many Gods have poured out their hearts to romance a world that’s been torn all apart? How many fathers gave up their sons for me? Only One did that for me.”

Redeeming Baby

“Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people. He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David, just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago. Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us. Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” (Luke 1:68-71, 78, 79 NLT)

The above words were spoken by Zechariah just after his son, John the Baptist, was born. John’s purpose was to prepare the way for Christ. Zechariah knew this, and as he is speaking about his son, he says these words about Jesus. Jesus is God’s solution to the problem of sin and eternal separation. He is coming to redeem all mankind from the hands of satan. To take back what is rightfully His. To put us back into a right relationship with God.

As Christmas Day quickly approaches, amidst the hustle and bustle, I pray that you are able to take time to be still, and prepare room in your heart for the Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Redeemer.

Preparing for God to show up

The song “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” has been one of my favorite Christmas songs for some time. It is pretty, heard rarely, and has an incredible message. It’s typically sung earlier in the Christmas season, for the Advent focus. It invites Christ to come, to ransom Israel, His people. Emmanuel, meaning “God with us”, comes to Earth to save us. Ransom us. Redeem us. Live among us.

As I was thinking about the upcoming weeks, with preparations and endless concerts and parties, I realized that this Christmas will be much different for us as a family, being the first one in many years that I will not be working. While this is welcome and exciting, it also made me realize just how much I want God to show up and insert Himself into this season this year.

Every year, we celebrate the birth of Christ, or “God showing up” as the solution to the problem of sin. We prepare our homes to be pretty and festive, and attend concerts, plays, and candlelight services. We reach out to others and look for ways to help those in need. These are the reasons I love this season so much!

As I was thinking about the things coming up in the next few weeks and thinking about decorations and presents and other preparations, I thought about how preparing for Christmas this year, in the normal way, is preparing for God to show up in our home, family, and finances. Giving God this space of preparing our minds and hearts for His arrival this season takes on new meaning for me this year. This year, more than ever, I am recognizing my need for Him, for hope in this dark world, and I’m recognizing the need for Him of those around me (my kids, friends, family members). In celebrating “God showing up” as a baby two thousand years ago, we are preparing for God to show up again, to change the way we view this season and this priceless gift we were given.

In this season, are you just trying to make it through, going to bed exhausted nightly from preparations, decorating, and parties, or are you preparing for the God of the universe to show up? Create space in your heart and mind for God to do a miracle in and through you.

The Redeemer

Over the last few weeks, God has really been quietly whispering His love, grace, and peace to me through the things around me. I have been wrestling through some frustrating circumstances, and I’ve really wondered sometimes whether I’m where God wants me.

Ten years ago, when I was just barely starting my “real” life, if you would have asked me what I saw for myself in my future, I really don’t think I would have pointed to everything right now. Yes, I saw myself as a mother and wife. I was pretty sure I would have a job, but never in a thousand years did I expect it would be in retail. I thought we would have a house, but I did not picture having school loans and other sobering life experiences. I do not have any regrets; I love my family, and at least I have a job. Things just aren’t what I expected them to be like.

I was in the car, by myself (which happens next to never lately), on my way to work the other day. I was having a hard time getting motivated to even go to work, and I was trying to pray through that feeling of apathy. I remember saying something along the lines of “God, I don’t like what I’m doing now. Is this really what You have for me? Why do I feel stuck in this dead-end job, not going anywhere? But starting over costs so much (i.e. loss of benefits and pay). So now I really feel stuck. I never intended to be working this job this long.” Then I sensed His whisper: “Why are you so worried about the money? Haven’t I provided for you your entire life?” Then I realized that I have been so focused on the money part of working that I have forgotten everything else. I’ve been afraid to move forward because I don’t want to battle the cost of “starting over.”

But, God gives us dreams for a reason. If we spend all our time in the in-between, waiting for the right time to move, in our terms, we miss the opportunity for God to give us our dreams.

God reminded me that it is ok to dream and to still believe that there is more to life than paying bills. He can and will redeem and make new any and every situation in life. All I need to do is believe that He will do it, and to keep dreaming of things bigger than myself.

Check out “The Redeemer” by Sanctus Real for more on what God has been showing me.

I Want it Now!

I wonder sometimes how I must sound to God. I complain and whine and cry about silly things. I think I’m justified, but I’m sure I sound a little ridiculous instead. I’m sure sometimes I sound like a child!

My youngest son, who is three, is the master of tantrums. He’s been known, on some occasions, to pitch a fit for twenty minutes. During his tantrums, nothing calms him down. He will kick and scream and cry. If you make the mistake of cracking a smile during his tantrum, he screams all the more and yells “don’t laugh for me”, which makes things even funnier. He will cross his little arms and, tears streaming down his face, scream at the top of his lungs.

One time, he threw a torrent because, when he asked for more pancakes, I politely told him they were all gone. You would have thought I had told him no more pancakes, ever. I let him cry and gave him an audience for about three minutes, trying to convince him that there was nothing I could do, and he needed to get over it. He continued to scream, so I got him down from his seat, told him I had to go get dressed, and started up the stairs. Through incoherent screaming, I also heard him begging “come back here”.

Finally, after fifteen minutes of his constant screaming, I went to where he was standing on the stairs, still screaming for me to “come back here now”, scooped him up, and pressed him in tight. I just held him tight until he settled down, which took quite a while. When he finally settled down, we talked about why he was so upset- there weren’t any pancakes left, and then mommy walked away instead of listening. We also talked about how mommy scooped him up and helped him to feel better because mommy loves him and doesn’t like for him to be sad. As often happens after a discipline session or a boo-boo, we said a brief prayer, and aside from a few sniffles, life was back to normal.

This whole ordeal got me to thinking about how God treats us. We want something, He tells us no, and we pitch a fit. We scream and yell. We cross our arms. He never raises His voice, and even though it may seem like He is walking away, we are usually the ones trying to get away. We yell “come back here now” and cry and scream when it seems like He’s not listening. Before long, He comes down, scoops us up, and holds us tight, all the while saying, “Hush, honey. I love you. Shhh, sweetheart, daddy’s here.”. Once we’ve finally settled down, He reminds us of the events that took place, and He reminds us of how much He loves us and doesn’t want to see us angry or upset. Never once does He say “why on earth did you make such a big fuss? I mean, really. Can’t you see I’m too busy for this? Why cant you just grow up and act like less of a child?!”. He holds us tight, whispers calming words of love, and rocks us until all that’s left is a few sniffles.

God loves us so much, and I am so thankful that He doesn’t yell at me for being silly or immature. He simply scoops me up, calms me down, and reminds me of His grace and love.

Come Home

One of my favorite stories, ever, is the story of the prodigal son. There has always been something about how that father allowed his son the freedom to make some lousy decisions, but he never gave up on him. He didn’t leave him in the pig pen, broke, starving, and filthy, both physically and spiritually. The son squanders everything and is completely desperate.

The father’s response gets me every time. The son has it in his mind that he’ll go home, beg for forgiveness, and work to earn his spot in his father’s house again. However, the father wants nothing to do with that plan. Unknown to his son, the father has been waiting for him to come back. I can picture him getting up every day (before dawn), if he even sleeps at all, and heading to the end of his road and waiting. I envision him praying for his son, unwavering. I can picture him staying out all day, and not going home until it is long after dark. He does this every day, the entire time his son is gone. Nothing is more important to the father than being there when his son comes home. He waits. And waits. Patiently. Never gives up.

And this is my favorite part: “And while he (the son) was a long way off, the father ran to him” and welcomed him home. The son couldn’t even get his plan out of his mouth before the father, bursting with emotion, pride, and excitement, hurries him home, all along the way telling his servants to plan a party for his son, who was dead and is alive again. He gave his son a hero’s welcome, when he deserved to be left alone to learn from his mistakes.

God is this Father to His children. I am constantly blown away by how nothing is more important than welcoming a lost child home. He never leaves us in our low spots. He never leaves us broken. And while we’re still a long way off, thinking of what we are going to say, He runs to us and throws His arms around us. He throws a party. He never mentions the fortune we’ve wasted. He never reminds us of the wrong choices we’ve made. He just wraps us up and welcomes us home.

“You can try to fix your broken empire, put bricks on your cracked foundation. But you’d still be building castles on the sand. There’s power in the blood of Jesus. Your Father’s screaming “Just COME HOME” and He’s reaching out His hands.
I know you’ve been running, searching for something, but you’re looking in a place you don’t belong. It’s never too late. You can’t out run grace, no, mercy doesn’t care what you’ve done. Come home.”