Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Christmas Miracle

I have to admit, I don’t always have the best attitude when it comes to Christmas.  As a child, it was always excitement.  The holiday was all about getting gifts.  What from my list would actually show up under the tree?  Then, I had kids of my own, and it became special again for new reasons.  For a few years.  I was excited to see Christmas through their eyes, to relive the magic that had long since dimmed for myself.  But, after a while, that too faded.

This year, I wanted to feel different than the last few years.  I wanted to feel like a child again, counting down the days, getting more and more excited as time passed.  I wanted Christmas to be more than just a day, but more like an experience in my heart.  I prayed that God would open my eyes anew to the season.  That I would understand more in depth exactly what it was I was celebrating, and also, what I wasn’t. 

Here is what He has shown me:

When Jesus was born the whole world changed.  As Mary gazed down at her brand new baby boy, she wasn’t looking at just any baby, she was looking at God Himself.  A God who, out of His great and perfect love for His people, and never wanting to be separated from a single one of us, left Heaven.  He got down off of His throne, put on flesh, and came into our dirty, sin filled, world as a baby.  A helpless baby.  A baby that was going to have to depend on a human to care for him.  To keep him safe and meet all of his needs.  The God of the universe, capable of all things, now incapable of caring for himself.  Our holy and perfect God, free of all sin,  now cared for by a human,  and in a world, both totally infected with sin.  Mary and Joseph looked down upon their child, and gazed into the eyes of God in the flesh. 

That is a miracle!  No one had seen God face to face like this before.  Moses had seen God’s shadow and goodness pass by him, and Isaiah fell face down unable to stand much less look at God when he entered God’s throne room in a dream. But here, Mary and Joseph stare into the eyes of their newborn son, and look straight into the eyes of God.  And this, this very thing, the fact that He is here, Emmanuel, God with us, changes everything!  It’s a miracle.

The birth of Jesus places God in our world.  Living in our conditions.  Tempted by the same temptations as we are.  He is with us, living, breathing, working, serving, loving.  And this was just the beginning.  

Many other miracles happen at the time of this miraculous birth.  There were shepherds who were visited by an angel of God, telling them that their king, savior, and messiah had been born. 

“8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 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.”
Luke 2:8-20

Then the heavenly hosts declare the birth of Jesus.

“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men[a] from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose,[b] and we have come to worship him.”...And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:1-2, 9b-11.

A star so bright and big that it catches the attention of wise men in a distant land.  Men who studied the heavens seeking to gain an understanding of events on earth.  This new star, so bright and beautiful, suggested to them the birth of a new and great king.  So, these wise men pack up and plan their pilgrimage to seek out this new king and pay tribute.  Both the shepherds and the wise men have the same response when they set their eyes upon Jesus.  Worship and praise.  

Instead of trying to comprehend intellectually an angel visiting them, a bright star that just appears in the night sky, or how in the world (let alone why) God would come to earth in flesh, they all just fall to their knees in humble worship, and praise God.  They knew they were looking face to face with a mysterious miracle.  And for these men, it changes everything.

And it changes everything for me too.

Previous to that day, we (humanity) were trapped.  Sin kept us stuck.  We were stuck trying to earn our way to God. We had to follow very strict laws in order to be considered righteous.  Inevitably, the laws would be broken.  Then there were more laws telling us how to deal with the broken laws.  If we did all the right things, stayed away from all the wrong things, and followed all the rules we could be considered righteous.  This righteousness would lead to eternal life with God.   Here’s the deal: I can’t live a perfect life.  Heck! I can’t live a perfect day.  I just can’t do it.  Can you feel the weight of this on your shoulders? Does it feel hopeless? 

But then...a baby came...a mysterious miracle.

One day, I’m stuck, hopeless, and giving up.  The next day, I have hope.

Everything has changed.

Christmas is just the beginning, and that is what I am celebrating.  It’s about a miracle.  It’s not about celebrating gifts, menus, people, or decorations.  I am celebrating something so much bigger.   I am celebrating the day in which the whole world changed.  It’s a moment in history that drew a dividing line in the sand.  The world was one way, and then it was all changed the next day.  The moment a teenage virgin, gave birth in a dirty stable, because there was no room for her or her baby anywhere else, our world changed. 

Life may be complicated, but God’s solution to life’s complications is to send us a baby who is unlike any other baby who has ever been born: God himself in human form, taking on our flesh, experiencing life from our perspective, so that we are no longer alone.  He is forever Emmanuel, God with us,  And in his company we can cope with whatever life hands us.  Because he shares in our humanity, we can experience His divinity forever. 

And how should I respond?  The same way that the shepherds and wise men responded.  On my knees, in humble worship and praise.  I respond with a surrendered life to my God who lives with us.  I respond with thankfulness that I worship a God who loves and longs for me to the extent of living in my world, and in my brokeness, so I could be with Him forever.  A thankfulness because I have a God who knows sin and was tempted in the same way I am each day, yet was without sin so He could bridge the gap between me and Himself.  And because of that bridged gap, I can respond in obedience to His call on my life and to His Word.  I am thankful for this day that both hope and love were born.   And I worship Him because this was His plan all along.

"1 In the beginning the Word already existed.
    The Word was with God,
    and the Word was God.
2 He existed in the beginning with God.
3 God created everything through him,
    and nothing was created except through him.
4 The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.
5 The light shines in the darkness,
  and the darkness can never extinguish it
14 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."
(John 1:1-5, 14)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Next Time, We'll Sit a Few Rows Further Back

This weekend, besides recovering from the Flu, we headed out to our city's performance of The Nutcracker.  It was the first time the kids had been to a ballet.  As the show began, I wondered when they would ask when the dialogue would begin.  I was worried when they realized they were going to have to interpret what was happening on their own, they would quickly check out.  However, they were very still and attentive through out the show.  Paying very close attention to all that happened.

Very close attention.

During the final scenes, the main male dancer had some solo dances as well as a dance with the Dew Drop Fairy (I believe that's who it was?).   We were only four rows back, so our seats gave us a very unobstructed view of the entire show.  At one point, I noticed The Little Man leaning over to The Hubs and whispering something.  The Hubs quickly shot me a look, and I could tell he was swallowing back a laugh.  I had a feeling that I knew what was said, but wanted to wait to laugh talk about it later, with just The Hubs and I.

I didn't need to wait too long:

me: (On the ride home from the show) Did you guys like the show?
kids: YES!  That was really fun!
d: I loved seeing my friend there!  She did such a good job.  I know she saw me watching her. We locked eyes like seven times!
d: That guy at the end? his tights were really tight, right?
me: (Stifling back a laugh) Um, I guess.  I mean that's what tights look like, right?
d:  I know but it was like, put a skirt on that dude!  I mean, it was getting awkward.

The whole family roared with laughter at this point.  There was no holding back.  The rest of the way home, many jokes were made about men in tights.

Later, after we put the kids to bed, The Hubs told me that The Little Man had leaned over to tell him that he knew that the ballet dancer was a boy ballet dancer because, "He could just tell."

I'm still laughing.

So much for trying to add culture to our lives for refinement.

Oh well, we had a fun time as a family, and that's all that matters, right?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Some Stuff I Haven't Posted About Yet...

As we are at almost the half way point of December...GULP...I thought I should catch up on what's been goin' down:

I've been to some holiday plays and performances:
Here's The Little Man in a Thanksgiving performance

 We've done some super fun advent activities.  Favorites so far: Singing Christmas Carols together, an engraving art project, filling our Hope House stockings, tending to our growing grass, providing a treat to someone we've never given a treat to before, and hiding dollar bills as unexpected gifts at the Dollar Store.

I've put some silly kids to bed:

The Girl has had food poisoning...FUN!

My parents celebrated 40 years of marriage.

 I've gotten almost all of my Christmas shopping done, and I paid my kids $3 to stuff, seal, stamp, and send my Christmas cards.

The kids started Jiu Jitsu and L-O-V-E it.  I don't know why we didn't start earlier.
The Girl dragging her partner to safety

The Little Man practicing his new moves

 We've tried to make the new winter fashions look good:

We've learned so much about the heart and plans of God through His word and our advent devotionals.

The Hubs and I learned how important it is to have the complete address of a location where we were trying to get a couple's massage at.  Just missing one number can take you to a risky part of town!

We've started Basketball season.

We've looked into a different set of doctors for Scott.  Now the insurance battles can really begin!

The Little Man begins to battle Influenza B, and the rest of the family is praying we somehow will avoid it.
Awaiting the rapid flu test results.  Poor, miserable, dude!
If anything, December is consistent.  Consistently busy.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Oh, Advent, I Hear You Knocking. Please Come In.

After spending so much time focusing on things I'm thankful for, it seems only natural to transition into the Advent season.   I have been looking forward to this time for weeks, actually. 

Not sure what has been going on with me these last few years.  I keep blaming it on the weather, or our schedule, life circumstances, or a myriad of other things.  The truth is, I just haven't been able to get into the Christmas spirit until right up to the day of, or sometimes not until after.  Last year's advent was awesome.  I loved it.  However, I didn't connect the Advent to the celebration of birth of our Savior in my heart.  There was still something missing.  The heart was there, the activities were certainly not missing, the prayer before, during, and after was definitely present, but the connection to Christmas was kind of missing.

This year, we are trying something different, yet similar.  I wanted to try to remedy some of the disconnect from last year yet keep the activities, prayer, and heart.  So, this year we will follow a devotional as well as have service oriented activities.  Also, sometimes, we will be doing things that connect us as a family, as well as with the heart of God.  Some people might say these activities are "filling up our own cups".  Those people would be me, so I'm OK with that.  And that is exactly what we are doing.  Activities that refresh and renew so we are more excited and able to give and serve with a heart full of love.

So, this year, we are following Ann Voskamp's Jesse Tree Devotional.  I got it here, for free last year.  I love the idea of starting our journey in the Old Testament and rediscovering or maybe even seeing for the first time, how this baby in the manger, Jesus, was the plan all along.  I have been able to use some of her activities, as well as integrate some of our own, to match the heart of the devotional each day.  Just like last year, I'm not too concerned with photographing each and every day, nor getting to the blog each day to document.  It's just too overwhelming, and, if I'm honest, it sucks the joy out of the time I have with my family when I am too focused on documenting things "just so". 

Here's what we'll be up to this year:
November 29
Plant grass seeds for kindness.  Every time you do something kind, plant another seed.  On December 25th we’ll cut our grass and use it as straw for Jesus’s manger.
November 30
Write a letter to a friend.
December 1
Sing Christmas Carols together as a family. 
December 2
Go to the $1 store.  Hide dollar bills as an unexpected gift for someone to find.
December 3
Bring treats to someone you’ve never given treats to before.
December 4
Smile all day.  Look for 3 opportunities to make 3 different people laugh.
December 5
Write down 10 different ways that God has provided for you today.  Put your paper underneath our Jesse Tree.
December 6
Tape money and a note to vending machines/candy machines.
December 7
Leave a small gift along with our tip for our waitress or waiter.
December 8
Art Project: Engrave your names on the palms of His hands.
December 9
Fill up Hope House Stockings.
December 10
Collect carts and put them away in a parking lot.
December 11
Play with someone new at recess.
December 12
Put Christmas goodies in the mailbox for our mail person.
December 13
Light a candle and pray for family members who don’t know Jesus.
December 14
Put together a care package for a special family.
December 15
Encourage a friend.  Go to the Nutcracker at and watch a friend perform!
December 16
Pass out care packages to homeless people.
December 17
Give a treat and a special note of thanks and appreciation for your teacher.
December 18
Put together a care package for a special family.
December 19
Go through your toy room and donate your toys to a toy charity.
December 20
Surprise someone in our house with a special gift or service.
December 21
Repentance.  Turn on your lights on the Christmas tree in your room.  Spend some time with Jesus repenting.  Thank Him from turning your heart from darkness to light.
December 22
Take 10!  Spend 5 minutes in prayer and quiet with God.  Spend another 5 minutes doing something with someone else, giving them all of your attention.
December 23
Go on a carriage ride in the mountains.  Enjoy hot cocoa and time with your family!
December 24
No matter what the weather is today, go for a walk with your family and sing at least one Christmas carol.
December 25
Cut the grass that you have grown and make a soft place for Jesus in the manger.  Invite Christ into our home and to stay here all year long.

My prayer this year is that I (and my family) would draw nearer and nearer to the heart of God each and every day.  I want to anticipate, with the excitement of a child, each day as we get closer and closer to the day we celebrate the the birth of my Savior and King.  I want to barely be able to sleep at night on Christmas Eve because my heart is so full of joy and love it might burst.  I want to see this Christmas season with a fresh new set of eyes.  A set of eyes that doesn't care what the temperature is out side, or that isn't frenzied by enormous to-do lists.  Instead, I want my eyes to be firmly set upon the face of Jesus, my Lord, King, and Savior who came down from His heavenly throne, put on flesh, lived in our polluted world, and became"God with us".  So we could be with Him forever.

Just like He had always planned.