And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2: 7 NKJV
She was young, probably twelve or thirteen most research tells us. A girl who had reached the age of puberty still living at home with her parents, yet promised in marriage to a man named Joseph. To everyone who knew her she was Mary, but to God she was the one He had chosen to bear His Son. I wonder what kind of child she was...what was it about this girl that caught the eye of God? What was it that made her His choice?
One day as this young virgin girl went about her daily routine, she was greeted by an angel, “Rejoice, highly favored one , the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” No doubt she found herself taken off guard and wondering what an angel could possibly want with her. The angel continued telling Mary not to fear for she had found favor with God and that she had been chosen to bear the Son of the Most High. And her response? She merely asked how this could be, seeing that she was a virgin and had not yet been with a man, with her betrothed. And then the angel spoke the words that would change her life forever. This baby would be God's. And then after telling her news about her cousin Elizabeth, the angel was gone.
What thoughts must have flooded the mind of this young girl? Did she hear him correctly? Was it a dream? What would her parents say when they discovered her news? Would they believe her story? And what about Joseph? Would he want her still? Would he divorce her or worse?
There was only one thing to do. God in His infinite wisdom knew that this young girl would need to have someone else in the world that would believe her, someone who could verify that she indeed would bear the Messiah. And so Mary journeyed for several days to her cousin Elizabeth's house. When Mary entered the house of Elizabeth, she greeted her cousin and immediately Elizabeth's baby leapt in her womb. This woman who was thought to be barren was now round with a child. At Mary's greeting, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and by the Holy Spirit, spoke the words that this young woman so needed to hear. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
There were the words that Mary no doubt needed to hear. The words of confirmation that she had heard the angel's words correctly. Words that strengthened her in her journey as she bore the burden and glorious blessing of bearing God's Son as a gift to a lost and dying world.
And then there was Joseph. He no doubt cared for Mary and had decided to divorce her privately when she told him her news. The news that she bore a child that wasn't his. But as he made plans to divorce her, an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him not to be afraid. Again the voice of an angel saying not to be afraid of what God had planned for one's life. The angel confirmed that Mary had not sinned against Joseph or God, but that she above all women had been chosen to deliver the Gift. And so he rose from his sleep and went to claim his bride. What this must have meant to Mary. This young frightened girl facing the ridicule and disbelief that would no doubt come from others as it had also come from Joseph. And yet now she was no longer on this journey alone with God, for God had chosen for her a man who would be her support and who would be the earthly father of his son.
And so they faced the road ahead together with God as their strength. They no doubt received the looks of scorn from their neighbors and friends. They were no doubt looked at as sinners who couldn't wait for their own marriage bed. Maybe their own families found the story to be too much to believe. After all, this was just Mary and Joseph who they had known their entire lives. They were no different and no better than anyone else. Why would God choose them?
And then the news came that they must journey to Bethlehem the city of David to pay taxes. And so this young girl bearing the weight of the baby within her, journeyed with her husband to the city of David, the city that had been promised to bring forth a king. But thou, "Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." And as the contractions began there was nowhere for her to go and give birth besides a lowly stable. And so it was that the days were accomplished, and the young virgin girl chosen by God to bring forth this most precious gift, laid among where the animals had been and delivered the Son of God. She didn't have a nursery or a new crib adorned with clean sheets and blankets. She simply wrapped the greatest present the world had given been given in swaddling clothes, and laid Him to sleep in a manger. That first Christmas night Mary wrapped a present that God had given the world. A tiny baby who would one day be the sacrifice for all, but on this night He was a baby wrapped and lying in a manger, fulfilling the promise of hope for all people.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:2-4 NKJV
It's the most wonderful time of the year...well, it's supposed to be anyway. It can be a very painful time of year. It can be a time of sorrow, of loneliness, and of depression. Yes, it is the season when we pause to thank God for HIs blessings and a time to rejoice for the giving of the greatest gift that was ever given. But there are people who are hurting. There are people that are facing struggles in their lives that they have no idea how to face, much less survive.
I have always loved this time of year. I never understood how anyone could be depressed or sad during this holiday season of family, thanksgiving, and celebration of the birth of Christ. And here I am at the close of the year 2013, and I understand. I find myself in a place I have never been before. I find myself stripped of who I thought I was and left to figure out who He means for me to be. I find myself in a place of not feeling completely safe anywhere, at least not safe enough to bare my heart. I have lost trust in many, and find myself truly alone with some things known only to God. The girl who loves Christmas and puts up too many trees, doesn't care if she has even one. I am broken.
So what does a Jesus girl do when she feels this way yet knows that this season was made to celebrate Him? She sits up until two in the morning, cradled in her Daddy's lap, and cries. She reminds Him how she once loved this season so dearly. She reminds Him of what He has taken and what He has allowed Satan to take. She reminds Him that she has tried to live for Him, and yet He seems to have forgotten all that. She reminds Him that she can only take so much and yet the arrows continue from all directions . Then she cries some more and she remembers that there is nothing she can do to be good enough to deserve even a look in her direction from the Most High God, She remembers that God gives and He takes away. She remembers that Satan is real and powerful and that God allows human choice and human love is not like God love. She remembers that the Bible promises that Satan will make things difficult for someone determined to serve her God, and so she stops crying long enough to pray for a hedge of protection around her children to shield them from Satan's attack, to at least give them some time to heal. She prays that she herself can protect them in her own strength in some ways, while praying for God's protection in all areas of their lives.
And then He speaks....quietly and tenderly. He whispers 2 Corinthians 1:2-4. He reminds me that He is my God, the God of all comfort. He whispers that He has always been there for me and that He will continue to be my Hope and Strength. He then whispers that I will be comforted and am required to comfort others with the same comfort that He has given me. He reminds me that this year of loss, this year of hurt and confusion, this year of unexplainable loneliness, has taught me many things. He reminds me of His strong arms that held me through each and every heartache. And then He tells me to take what I have learned and give to others the comfort and love that I so want for myself. He encourages me to look around me....really look around me and see the pain. He wants me to see those who are lonely. He wants me to see those who are suffering the loss of a loved one this holiday season. He wants me to see the abused and hurting child. He wants me to reach out to the wife who feels alone and to the one who has been left alone. He wants me to love the widow and the elderly. He wants me to notice the woman who is just struggling to keep her head above the water, and the one who seems to have it all, but knows that she is coming apart.
And so what did I learn? I learned that my Father wants me to give what I need. I learned that my own healing may come from my trying to help others to heal. And so in the wee hours of the morning, I made a commitment to the God who formed the universe and who dries my tears. This holiday season will be the year of 100 gifts. Not the ones already on my list, but other gifts to other people, some who would never find themselves on my Christmas list. Not necessarily a physical gift, but probably in some form. A gift to someone who is hurting or experiencing a stressful time. A gift that says I'm thinking about you or you are in my prayers. A gift that says God loves you and I am glad that you are in my life. A gift of comfort. friendship, and kindness.
And so I face this holiday season with its insecurities and pain. I am determined that I will celebrate this wonderful time of year. I will not let Satan rob me of its joy. Yes, it's been the hardest year of my life. But I serve a God who loves me and cherishes me, and during this season of remembrance of His blessings I will celebrate even among the tears. This will be the year of 100 gifts as I celebrate the greatest Gift of all.
What shall I render to the Lord
For all His benefits toward me? Psalm 116:12 KKJV
What can I give God to repay Him for all the things He has done for me? The truth is that I can never begin to repay Him for what He has given me, but there is something that He wants, and that is my heart. He wants me to give Him my life.
As the holiday season approaches, our hearts and minds tend to turn more toward serving others. The approaching holidays cause us to think of others and what it is we can do to help. It is often during this time of year that we turn our focus to where it should be all year long.
Sometimes we find ourselves so stressed and busy during this time, that we miss what this time of year is really all about. This year I have found myself facing the holiday season in the middle of so many changes in my life. This has always been my most favorite time of year, and yet so many things are different. I could easily sit back and make excuses why this year I am taking a year to rest, but I can't. You see, God has blessed me beyond measure. He has continued to have His hand on my life not only in the good times, but also in the most difficult. So in the words of the writer of Psalm 116:12, "What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me?"
There is a song entitled "Light Your World" that is sang by New Song. The chorus is as follows:
"Light your world, let the love of God shine through
In the little things you do, light your world
And though your light may be
Reaching only two or three, light your world."
I think what God wants most from us, other than to be saved, is to demonstrate His love toward others. I believe that God asks us to show Him our gratitude for the things He has given us by sharing his love with others. I also believe that He calls us to get out of our comfort zone and reach those that frankly we would rather not. I believe sometimes it isn't enough to just drop a toy or two into the donation box, but to get our hands dirty in the helping.
So this holiday season, how will you show God gratitude for all the blessings that He has bestowed on you? Will you give of your time? Will you get out of your comfort zone and be the hands and feet of Christ? Will you be like the little boy in the song and visit a widow? Or maybe God is telling you something like He is me,...start celebrating this holiday season by blessing those who have hurt you.
I encourage you to pause and ask God what it is that He wants from you. Ask Him what you can do to show His love. Whatever He asks, do it. Be a person who says yes to God. You will find that if you follow His lead, the blessings will be too many to count and you find yourself asking the question, "What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me?
nor give place to the devil. Ephesians 4:27 NKJV
It's hard to even post the picture for his entry. It is the one thing I allow Satan to have a place. It is the one thing that I allow him to prod me with over and over. It is the one thing that no one understands completely, except for him and God. It is the one thing that he can hurt with me with the most...and he knows it.
Christmas....my absolute favorite time of the year. As a young girl, I fell in love with Christmas. I learned early how to hold Christmas in my heart and live it throughout the year. I spend hours thinking about that first Christmas night....about what it was like. About that young girl who had been chosen by God to carry His only Son. We don't always think about it, but how alone and afraid she must have felt. And Joseph, a man taking a wife who was pregnant knowing it wasn't his, just because God told him to go ahead. Those shepherds, the poorest of the poor, being the ones God chose to announce the birth of the Messiah. Wise Men traveling for months to worship a promised king....a baby in Bethlehem.
The miracle of Christmas...the story of God pausing for all of humankind. The story of God taking the time to wrap the most precious gift the world has ever been given and send it in the form of a baby.
The night when Love was born. That was the title for the drive through nativity last year. It came from one of the most beautiful Christmas songs I have ever heard. It was perfect heading for the telling of the story. The hours I spent trying to develop scenes that would show the world the story of that beautiful night. My personal offering to God. I would walk around just before it started and pray at each scene that God would use it, that He would let those people in those cars see the miracle of the first Christmas night. It wasn't just a Christmas program, it was my Christmas offering to a God who had shown me what it means to hold Christmas in your heart and I wanted to share it with everyone else.
This year brought changes and I am no longer directing a drive through nativity. Of all the changes in my life this year, it is the one that Satan helps me hold onto...the one thing I manage to let him use most. I know that God has other things in mind for me, for my family. I know that He is leading us. But there is this empty space...this part of my heart that craves the chance to share that story in a visual form. There is a part of me that aches to see a little boy so excited because he saw the Baby Jesus on the other side of the church and his parents are taking him around for the third time. There is a part of me that wants to see a church come together and do its very best to tell the greatest story ever told.
It came from somewhere this weekend...I can't find anywhere I would have read it, so maybe He told me. Sometimes you have to put something down so you can pick up something greater. God, I am trying to put it down, but it's almost November and these arms feel so empty. God, even as I sit here typing, the tears won't stop flowing. It is so hard to put something down that meant so much to so many. I know that if You gave me the ministry to start with, You can always give it to me again or maybe something different. God, help me to be grateful for the opportunity to witness the beauty of it while I held it. To be thankful that it was, even if it is no longer. And God, please never let me lose this childlike wonder of Christmas....the manger, the shepherds, the teenage girl and her husband, the singing of angels, and the Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. Let those pictures of that first Christmas forever remain in my mind and my heart. May I always close my eyes and see the night when Love was born.