The Extravagance of Christmas

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Imagine going to a home where both the husband and wife are successful, recognized, and respected doctors. Do you have a mental image?

Recently I had the opportunity to do that with a friend from high school. She and I were traveling from Ohio to Michigan to have a little reunion with another classmate from high school. I tried to imagine what I was going to find. I was battling with feelings of intimidation all the way there.

Driving up to their home, I was surprised by its simplicity. Nothing on the outside screamed of money, or pride, or extravagance. When we were invited in and given the “tour” I felt so welcomed. It was a lovely home, inviting and warm. It was beautifully decorated in its simplicity. The only room my friend claims to have “decorated” is a small half bath. And it is precious. The only ‘extravagance’ I saw, and I’m sure my husband wouldn’t see it as such, was the amazing sixty inch stove in the kitchen.

We had a wonderful visit. And as all good visits do, it ended much too soon. On the way home I chatted with my friend, but I was also carrying on an inner conversation with God. The clearest thing I heard was that extravagance needs to be on the inside—in our spirit. Just as it is with Him.

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I spoke at a banquet not long ago and I shared that my least favorite question of the season is: “So, are you ready for Christmas?” The question begs at what things are still on your to do list, things like shopping and baking. I think the question misses the whole point of Christmas, what Christmas really is. Christmas is about God so lavishly loving the world that he gave his one and only son so that you and I might have life. And he didn’t come with fancy wrapping or trays of cookies.

My husband has always been the kind of person to buy extravagantly. Let’s just tell it like it is: he goes overboard. But it’s the way he is. He has no moderation button. He loves all out. And I really love that about him.

When I was thinking about this, I was reminded of the story Jesus tells: Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”Mark 12:40-42

That’s what we have to be ready to do. You know what’s really cool about my friends the doctors in Michigan? I think they’ve really figured out how to love that way. I may not be able to give a lot of gifts, but I can give my all whenever and wherever I can.

Are you ready to be that ready?

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Christmas Wonder

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I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on’ry people like you and like I…
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all.
But high from God’s heaven a star’s light did fall,
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God’s angels in heav’n for to sing,
He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King. (John Jacob Niles)

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Growing up, when I started a conversation with “I wonder…” Mom told me to be careful because if I ‘wondered’ too far I’d get lost.

Maybe getting lost in a little wonder wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Who couldn’t benefit from adding wonder, curiosity and amazement to their life?

It makes me sad that there is so little true wonder. Sure, we wonder where we put things, and how we’ll pay the bills. We wonder about the future…but it’s more like fear.

Listen to the conversations around us: everything is “amazing” or “awesome.” But is it really?

What makes you go “WOW!” Clear down to your toes?
What takes your breath away?
What causes you to shake your head when you try to make sense of it?

The Christmas story does that for me.

After 400 years of silence, of wondering where God was, he burst onto the scene in the most amazing and unexpected way.

A baby, a manger, a carpenter, a teenage girl in a small town.

Go figure.

Go wonder.

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Advent: From Our Fears Release Us

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In my quiet time this morning, I was reflecting on Psalm 3:

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Fear. Fear bordering on paranoia. Bullying.
I read a news clip this week of a teen who killed herself because her peers had been bullying her. My heart ached, for her, for her family, for those peers.
What if this psalm had been breathed into her? What if God, God who could enable her to lay down in perfect peace in the presence of her enemies–and sleep–had been made real for her?
How real is he to me?
Save us, God, from our fears.
The words to an old hymn are in my head now:

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. (Charles Wesley)

Oh that we could come to know the Perfect Love that casts out all fear.

Advent 2: Seek and Find

Yesterday we made reference to the childhood game of Hide and Seek as we considered the phrase: Ready or Not.

Is finding God like the childhood game?

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I don’t think so, and here’s why.

When I began my faith journey, two Bible references were laid into my foundation.

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near (Isaiah 55:6, NIV).

God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:27, NIV).

Our being able to find God is of primary importance to him. We were created for relationship with him–and with each other.

It’s so important, we’re so important, that the often quoted verse from John’s gospel tells us he gave his son for us to not only know who he is and how he is, but so that we could have that relationship–now and forever.

Jesus wanted us to understand this principle and made it clear in his teaching we refer to as the Sermon on the Mount: Seek and you will find (Matthew 7:7).

So in these season of focus, what are you seeking? Who are you seeking? If you are seeking God, you will find him.

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Advent Begins

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Ready or not…here I come.

Classic line from a child’s game, right?

I think it’s the perfect way to start our journey of Advent.

Readiness. How is one to get ready? Are we ever really ready?

We rush around getting ready for “Christmas” by buying, baking, and decorating. We’re experts in the “rush and hurry” department.

But in our hearts and minds, in our homes, and in our actions, have made room to receive this amazing give that is full of promise and saturated with peace?

He’s coming ready or not. Let’s be ready.

Loving and giving God, giver of all gifts. You know what is on our list, but you know what we truly need. In this season where the focus is often on the trappings and externals, we want to focus (oh how hard that is) and make room for the gift of your son, your self. May the mystery of what that is and how that is unfold and bring us into deeper trust and faith. Show us the path that leads to readiness and help us to walk in it. Amen.

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Emmanuel…God With Us

 

How interesting that while we have spent this entire waiting for Jesus to be born, for God to enter the scene…He has been with us the whole time.

His love has been present.
His grace has been active.
His power has been manifest.

He is Emmanuel. His name is the reminder that God is always with us.

That’s the best gift of all.

No matter what we face. No matter where we are. He is there.

He will never leave us or forsake us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39, NLT

PRAYER: Ever-present, all wise, and loving God, thank you for the gift of your Son…for what it meant and what it means. Help us to keep Christmas in our hearts and our actions all year long. And make us aware of you blessed presence everyday as we journey into another new year. Amen.

 

No More Waiting

And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world. But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. Galatians 4:3-5, NLT

 

We’re almost there. You have been so patient. I’m really quite impressed that you’ve stayed with me to the end.

I chuckled when I read this morning’s text. Who among us can’t relate to the fullness of this season? Our schedules are full. Our houses are full. Our bellies are over-full. About the only thing no longer full is our wallet or checking account. (Insert sad face here.)

But the fullness or right on timeness that Paul is writing to the Galatians about has nothing to do with this and everything to do with God’s perception of time.

We look at Christmas and I imagine our thoughts resonate with Joseph’s:

If we were in charge, we would have picked a different time, a different way…and we would have missed it…and messed it up.

God’s ways don’t make sense. But that’s probably because we don’t think like he does.

He knows best: when and how.

PRAYER: God, you who created time, who are over time, yet in and all the way through it…be born in us today. Amen.