18 Days. Are You Ready?

CUPCAKE

Yes, it’s that time of year. Parents are cleaning, baking, and working hard to ensure their children experience a magical Christmas. But maybe this year, instead of the perfect tree, we can pour our efforts into figuring out how to keep Christmas real. Maybe this year, we can reclaim Christmas with a Christmas prayer deeper than pretty ideas of snow and sleigh bells. This prayer doesn’t involve Santa slipping down the chimney or leaving out cookies and milk. This is a prayer for a white Christmas where my loved ones and yours might wake to discover a covering of white sent to erase a lifetime of stain.

The miracle isn’t on 34th Street, the miracle is how God made it possible for every weary soul to rejoice, truly making this the most wonderful time of the year. As you strive to find that perfect gift to give your loved one, ask yourself: Have you received the perfect gift that God gives you at Christmas? Because He loved us first, God came for us. God’s love is from everlasting to everlasting. Chosen before the foundations of the earth, before one day came to be, He chose His people. God gloriously displayed His love that first Christmas when He rent open the skies and a multitude of angels spilled over the edge of heaven proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest!”

This Christmas, listen to the greatest love story ever told by the God-child who came to pursue you. He came to reach you. He is greater than any Grinch or Santa Claus, and He left his kingdom in Heaven to pursue you on Earth. He came to dwell with you in your loneliness and alienation and give you the courage to reach out and take God’s hand.

 

How a Weary Soul Rejoices

Maybe it is the busyness leading to Christmas: parties, gatherings, rich food and late nights. Maybe it is the additional responsibilities: tree decorating, baking, shopping, wrapping, budgeting, and cleaning. Maybe you are like me, and you feel a little bit weary.

The pace this life requires, the pace this season requires, is not one maintainable through fleshly strength. Maybe you feel a bit of that weight yourself. Maybe verses like Galatians 6:9 “And let us not grow weary of doing good…” press the air from your lungs. You just can’t do one more thing because you are weary right through to the bones.

Christmas is for the broken and weary

God’s call on us to sacrifice self in service to others is costly. It stands out in sharp contrast to the perfect holiday pictures of perfect smiling families with perfect yearly reviews flooding your mailboxes. But Christmas isn’t about us making the hard seem jolly and bright.

Christmas is for the brokenhearted. It is for those with shredded insides. It is for those missing loved ones. It is for the imperfect who need Perfection Personified to exchange the weary weight into an easy and light burden.

God knows about weary soul-crushing brokenness. For us to find a way through, He had to take on our weight of sin. That means that Christmas is our way through. Christmas makes a way out from under the heap of wrath poured onto all sinners and Christmas proves that God knows about our wearisome need.

God rips open the heavens, and the angels proclaim that salvation has come. The flesh wrapped Deity came to bear the heaps of wrath suffocating you and me. He came to piece our brokenness back together with His perfection.

The easy and light gift of Christmas

Matthew 11:28-30English Standard Version (ESV)

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

We can surrender our heavy yoke of slavery and receive Christ’s lighter yoke of worship. We trade our heavy yoke of pursuing faith by works and take His lighter yoke of meekness and surrender. “It is the proud heart that tires of doing good if it finds its labor not appreciated; but the brave, meek spirit finds the yoke to be easy” (C.H. Spurgeon).

Maybe that is why Paul writes at the end of Galatians 5, if we live by the Spirit let us also walk (keep in step) by the Spirit – which is living and walking empowered by the Spirit. Maybe that is why Paul first writes of the power to live in the Spirit before he writes about doing good – especially “to those who are of the household of faith.”

I cannot live out this life on my own strength, but God has provided his strength through the power of his Spirit. This is how we can “not grow weary of doing good.”

Christ has come, and this weary soul rejoices. The weighty pressure for the perfect Christmas, the perfect tree, house, photograph, and gift is exchanged for the easy and light burden. This burden tells me none of the glitz and glamour of the holiday matters as much as the perfect lamb in the manger.

Stop and Breathe

Stop wrapping, baking, cooking, and cleaning and do some good for those in the household of faith. Pray for your brothers and sisters in the faith. Pray for your pastors and leaders and their families. Pray for your heart to be satisfied in Jesus. Pray for your children to know contentment and know the forgiveness of sins. Pray for the world to pause the parade of holiday events and kneel at the manger and follow that baby’s footsteps to the crosswhere a weary world can finally lay its burden down.

I pray your weary soul will repent, turn to Christ, and take up His yoke, rejoicing with Him. This Christmas, may your burdens be easy and light.

img_0461

 

The Miracle Isn’t on 34th Street

It’s a holiday classic. The story begins with the Macy’s Christmas Parade and Susan, a six-year-old skeptic, watches from above. She doesn’t have faith in things she can’t see.

We are much like Susan.

Kris Kringle, a friendly and impressive department store Santa Claus, eventually wins Susan’s heart. Sadly, her enchantment fades when Kringle fails to deliver her heart’s desire.

How quickly does our devotion fade when God fails to deliver what we desire?

In the movie’s climactic final scene, Kris leads the family to Susan’s gift, and she eventually believes.

Our happily-ever-after isn’t as neat and tidy as that Hollywood classic because our miracle doesn’t involve God granting every wish like a cosmic Santa. Our happily-ever-after comes at great expense, a cost our Lord willingly paid, accomplishing the greatest miracle.

The Real Miracle

When God first came to His people, no parades were held in His honour. He quietly slipped into human skin one star-filled night. God peeled back the heavens, and the angels declared His glorious birth. A holy, all-powerful, uncontainable God allowed Himself to be temporarily contained within human skin. He gave His life for ours and ascended into Heaven so the one greater then he could reside in human hearts. This miracle didn’t happen for one girl on 34th Street. It happens inside all who believe.

Transformed Heart

Miracle on 34th Street is quaint, funny, and it warms my heart. But the real Christmas miracle doesn’t simply warm my heart, it transforms it. It turns it from a heart of stone into a heart of flesh.

May your Christmas and mine never be reduced to a jolly old man who grants every desire. May it always be centred on a Sovereign God who knows ours desires and gives far more than we can ask or imagine. Perhaps not what we wish, but always what we need.

This year, I’ll grab my warm afghan and a steaming mug of hot chocolate. I’ll settle down in front of the fire and watch Miracle on 34th Street. But not until after I’ve pondered, praised, gave thanks and rejoiced over the real miracle—Christ with Us.

 

How to Keep Christmas Real

It’s that time of year. When the busyness of the season threatens the heart of Christmas, when we are so caught up in the what that we neglect the who and our adversary twiddles his fingers in glee.

As Facebook trumpets the countdown of shopping days, as Pinterest overflows with exquisitely decorated homes, as Instagram brags of polished, perfect families, we are easily sucked into trying to portray a flawless Social Media Christmas.

Our children’s smiles are photoshopped over the wails. We post pictures of artfully decorated cookies and delete the pictures of dozens burnt or deemed unworthy of sharing. We slave over the tree, unable to let our children assist because they don’t understand each branch need 3 ornaments, working from the largest out to the smallest ornament. We are consumed with portraying the perfect Christmas image, and we make an idol of the holiday.

Idolatry is coveting anything other than God.

If any of this rings true in your heart, it’s time to reclaim Christmas. It’s time to repent, fix our mind on Christ, and set our hearts on Him.
img_0423

Hear, Oh LORD, my plea: listen to my cry. Give ear to my prayer – letting it rise from lips free of deceit.

 Examine me from the inside out and make my heart right with You. 
May my steps hold to Your path and may my feet not slip as I strive to honour You this Christmas.
I call on You, Oh God, for You will answer me, give ear to me and hear my prayer.
Show the wonder of Your great love. You save by your right hand those who take refuge in You.

Watch over me, hide me in the shadow of your wings, protect me from the wicked who bombard me with wrong images of Christmas, protect me from the mortal enemy who tries to remove from me the joy of Jesus, protect me from my own sinful heart that has made this holiday an idol.

Unrepentant hearts are calloused. Unrepentant mouths speak with arrogance. The enemy tracks me down and surrounds me with unrealistic expectations. He throws me to the ground in busyness. Rise up, Oh Lord, as I repent. Confront my foes, rescue me from the external wickedness and the wickedness within.

You will still my hunger. You give me plenty. I will seek Your face this Holiday. When my family awakes on Christmas morning, may we be satisfied with You. You are the gift. You are my Lord. Help me reclaim this Christmas for You.

*from the archives

First Love

“Let us make man in our image,” they said, “in our likeness.” The triune God, foreknowing the cost, gathered dust and breathed life.

Years pass. Years of shame and disobedience accumulate, years of creation groaning under the strain of brokenness, years of turning away from the One who loved us first. Years that, in His sovereignty, He foreknew, so He made a way.

He commands an angel to announce the arrival of Him. God the Father sends the message of hope, conceived by the Spirit, wrapped up in His Son. He sends hope, foreknowing the cost.

A baby cries breaking centuries of silence, piercing the dark with His light, born to die, a perfect gift destined to be nailed to a tree.

“He cancelled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross with His Son.”

Because He loved us first, God came for us. God’s love is from everlasting to everlasting. Chosen before the foundations of the earth, before one day came to be, He chose His people. God gloriously displayed His love that first Christmas when He rent open the skies and a multitude of angels spilled over the edge of heaven proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest!”

The Weary World Rejoices

I’m weary. Paris seems weary. The families of the men in those now famous orange jumpsuits must be weary. How does a weary world ravaged by sin rejoice when this season of white turns blood red and gets darker every year? But it was into that darkness that God, in His mercy, birthed Light. Into lowly, desperate, scandalous conditions came Jesus.

Perfect. Holy. Prophesied.

It was revealed through the law and the prophets that Immanuel would enter our darkness bringing new mercies of God. Under a blanket of stars, cradled in straw, Mercy cried His first breath. God ripped open the heavens and a choir of angels proclaimed, “Rejoice!”

Rejoice! Our Saviour has entered our weary world, lived a perfect life, died a substitutionary death, and rose to life—forever beating death and darkness. Rejoice! He came for you, came to enter your lowly, desperate, and scandalous life offering the gift of regeneration to those who believe. Rejoice! Your Saviour is coming again to right every wrong and wipe every tear.

Rejoice!

Only His redeeming love makes joy in a weary world possible.

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining, it is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining,‘til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

 *John Sullivan Dwight’s version of “O Holy Night”, music composed by Adolphe Adam and lyrics by poet, Placide Cappeau, in 1847.