Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Impossible Gift

"For with God nothing will be impossible." Luke 1:37 (NASV)

The year of planning a wedding is busy and full of emotion, especially for the bride. She shops for the perfect dress that's "just her," the proper flowers to adorn the wedding party, the church and reception hall, chooses the gals who will attend her, helps decide who will be on the guest list and so much more. And, if any of this goes awry...the tears do fly.

For Mary, the betrothed of Joseph, her perfect wedding plans certainly went awry. Her wedding plans were unexpectedly interrupted by the angel Gabriel. While wondering why Gabriel called her favored by God, she was given a most impossible mission.

"Pregnant? I'm to become pregnant? With God's son? But how? I'm not even married?" she asked.

Yet, in the midst of this incredibly, unbelievable conversation, scripture does not depict Mary in any frenzy of an emotional breakdown. Instead, Mary pondered and humbly accepted God's word to be truth and that which was impossible He would make possible.

I'm sure there's more to the story than what is told in the lines of Scripture. Culturally, Mary was in danger of being stoned for being pregnant outside of marriage. Emotionally, she and Joseph were on the outs and her perfect wedding was now a nightmare. She fled to the hills, literally, to stay with her cousin Elizabeth, who was also carrying a miracle child. We don't know if her parents sent her there for her safety or if she fled on her own. But, what we do know is that she found comfort and confirmation of all Gabriel had spoken was true. She found that what was impossible, God was making possible.

We all face impossible situations in our lives, sometimes more than once. Our perfect plans are interrupted and go awry. We head off down the road of emotional frenzies and wonder how we'll ever see the end of it. We think the solution will never come or change is just impossible. But, God is always faithful to those who put their trust in Him.

His plans for us may not look like the perfect gift wrapped present dolled up with a flashy red bow but they will always be perfect and always made possible. The question is, will we be humble enough to receive from Him? Will we be like Mary who said, "I am the Lord's servant. May your word to me be fulfilled." (Luke 1:38)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

O Tannenbaum

"To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God." Revelation 2:7a

My daughter brought home a shiny red apple ornament with the year "1997" penned in gold paint across it from her second grade teacher. I thought it an odd symbol for a Christmas ornament but never-the-less hung it by its gold cord amongst the myriads of other decorations on our evergreen tree. It now adorns my daughter's tree in her first home.

I never knew until today, the significance of that ornament. According to my devotional, The Heart of Christmas by Hank Hanegraaff, the origin of the German Christmas tree began with the "paradise tree." The paradise tree was a freshly cut fir tree (tannenbaum) brought inside and decorated with red apples as a reminder of the Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden; the tree that promised eternal life in the presence of God.

The Garden of Eden also represents Paradise Lost with the entrance of sin through Adam and Eve. So why would we want a symbol of what was lost to adorn our Christmas tree?

The birth of Jesus ushered in God's plan for atoning our sin. Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension points us all toward Paradise Found. If we confess our sin and believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord, then we are promised eternal life in the presence of God.

Jesus points us back to the Tree of Life.

I'm not one to enjoy a tree with only one type of decoration adorning it. But I do think from now on my tree will include some shiny apples.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Jolly Old Saint Nicholas

"On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh." Matthew 2:11

One of my favorite scenes in the movie, "Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is where Christmas returns to Narnia. After 100 years of being "always winter with no Christmas" Father Christmas (the Anglican St. Nicholas) returns bearing gifts for Lucy (healing), Susan (trust) and Peter (tools of protection). When asked "I thought there was no Christmas in Narnia?Father Christmas answers, "The hope that you have brought (your majesties) has started to weaken the Witch's powers."

I agree that Christmas has taken a giant leap toward commercialism leading many people away from the true meaning of Christmas, as the coming of Jesus, God's son. But the original Saint Nicholas was a fourth century Christian bishop who lavished gifts on needy children on Jesus' birthday. He not only believed in the same Christ of the Christmas story, but he also showed God's compassion, mercy, grace and love to the children who had nothing.

We've always included St. Nicholas (Santa Claus) in our family Christmas traditions. We didn't allow him to take center stage, nor did we state that Santa was the reason for the season. We did allow the legend to take form by telling the story of St. Nicholas bringing gifts to children on Christmas Eve, how he placed them in their stockings and (we added) left one special gift besides.

However, we balanced all that with the reading of Jesus' birth from the Bible; celebrating Jesus' birthday by giving gifts and a birthday cake for Jesus.

Can a Christian family celebrate Christmas with Santa Claus? I believe they can. I believe a parent can use the story of St. Nicholas to infuse the Christmas message: that gifts are given because of the hope Jesus brought into the world by his birth.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fragrance of CHRISTmas

"Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life." 2 Corinthians 2:14 (The Message)

My senses are completely immersed in the Christmas season. I love the sound of Christmas carols playing everywhere; the lights twinkling through the long, dark afternoons; the red bows that adorn the greens around my home; the aroma of fresh baked cookies lingering for hours after the last batch has cooled. But, my favorite part of Christmas is the fragrance of a fresh cut evergreen tree. I especially love how it's scent fills every room of the house, even the bedrooms. It's the first thing I smell when I wake up and the last scent I remember as I fall asleep.

Aromas ignite our imaginations, awaken forgotten memories and move our hearts to respond.

Paul reminds us that we are an exquisite fragrance; the fragrance of Christ. We leave a lasting scent as we share our stories of knowing Christ with others, how we interact with our family and neighbors in our everyday comings and goings.

As we immerse ourselves in the scents of Christmas, may we be reminded of the One whom we are celebrating. May we be the exquisite fragrance of Christ that fills the rooms as we pass by. May those who don't know Him come to appreciate the fragrance of Christ through us and respond to Him when He calls them by name.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Prince of Peace

"'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests,'" Luke 2:14

The streets of Bethlehem were clamoring. Her inns were overflowing with hungry, weary travelers seeking nourishment and rest. Her stables welcoming to their tired beasts. Her skies were clear and full of stars, one burning brighter than the rest.

Shepherds in her fields were sharing stories by an open fire of the passing crowds they'd seen that day, content with the company of their sheep. "At least we will enjoy peace under the stars tonight," one of them chided. "Surely, those innkeepers will have no rest while meeting the demands of all their guests!"

Then suddenly the sky filled with light and an angel of the Lord appeared in their midst. "Don't be afraid. I have great news for you and all the people. Today, in Bethlehem, a Savior was born to you. He is Christ, the anointed One. You will know it is him when you find the baby who is wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger."

And, with that piece of news, the skies were brilliant with the glory of the Lord and thousands of angels singing, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests."

In the midst of chaos and turmoil, God entered the world with the promise of peace through his baby son, Jesus.

This promise was not just for the shepherds nor was it a universal proclamation of salvation. Rather, the angel declares peace would be given to anyone (Jew or Gentile) who fears God and on whom God bestows his grace.

Do you need God to enter your world of chaos and turmoil? Do you need His heavenly peace to rule in your inner most being today? It's there for the asking. It's there if you choose to believe in Him with all your heart. God doesn't promise to take the troubles away, but he does promise to bring a peace beyond all understanding.

Dear God, I believe you are the Great I Am, my God, my Creator, my Savior. I confess I've sinned against you and I ask your forgiveness through your son, Jesus. Now, in the middle of my mess, in the uncertainty of tomorrow please, show me your grace and grant me peace beyond all understanding. Amen.

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Everlasting Father

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."James 1:17

Growing up my family moved an average of every two years until I was eleven years old. That works out to be five houses from birth to seventh grade. It didn't matter much to me as a small child I suppose, because my family remained the same. But, by the time I was in middle school, friendships became important. That last move after sixth grade was the hardest. Not only did the familiar constant of my neighborhood friends change but so did the face of my family.

For the next seven years shadows of the people I loved the most shifted in and out of my life as divorce moved in. My constant of family dissolved.

Staying put in that apartment was the greatest gift my mother gave me in the midst of that lonely, soul-shaking time. Staying gave me a core of support; a group of friends at school and at church that pointed me toward normal. That time is when God became my constant. He gave me the foundation and passion for family that my husband and I live by today.

It is a miracle for any child of divorce to accept God as an Everlasting Father. To that child, nothing is everlasting, especially a parent (father or mother). But, God promises He will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31: 6, 8, Joshua 1:5); that He is everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 41:13); the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

The birth of Jesus, God's son, ushered in the beginning of our inheritance. Jesus' life, death and resurrection allows us to be called "children of God." We are given the gift of an Everlasting Father whose shadow never shifts; whose presence never leaves us; who will never forsake us.

As you ponder the birth of Jesus today, won't you consider making Him your constant?

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mighty God

"The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves." Zephaniah 3:17b

Part of the joy of being an interim preschool teacher last year was relearning the old Sunday school songs of my childhood (along with the motions) and teaching them to my granddaughter. The tunes were simple but the message was powerful. One song was "My God is so Great." It goes like this:
My God is so great, so strong and so mighty

There's nothing my God cannot do. (Repeat)

The mountains are His.

The valleys are His.

The stars are His handiwork, too.

My God is so great, so strong and so mighty.

There's nothing my God cannot do...

For you!

Children will believe most anything you tell them, including that God is a Mighty God, strong and powerful; able to do the impossible. For some reason as we grow older so does our cynicism and our doubts. People we love have disappointed us, let us down with the simplest of requests or needs, so we assume God will let us down, too. Sometimes we believe we're not significant enough for God for him to care about our needs (big or small). But Scripture tells us differently.

Zephaniah draws a picture of God as a mighty warrior who not only fights for his children and saves them from harm but also takes delight in them by singing over them. There are few parents who wouldn't do anything in their power to save their own child from harm, fight for them when they're in trouble, sacrifice themselves so they could live. That willingness comes from a heart of unconditional love. And, that's how God feels about His children; those of us who place our belief and trust in Jesus for our salvation.

Isaiah prophesied that this child, Jesus, would be called Mighty God. The One who saves. The One who is strong. The One who created the mountains, the valleys. The One who put all the stars in their place and knows them by name. The One who takes delight in us. The One who will do anything to save us, even die for us.

Do you need a Mighty God, today? I sure do. His name is Jesus.

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wonderful Counselor

"And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6b

I find it kind of funny that I am facilitating a mentoring training group at my local church. For years I have yearned for a woman of wisdom to come alongside me for encouragement, accountability and to pour God's wisdom into me, all to no avail. I've had tidbits of wisdom lent me from godly women from time to time but not one willing or able to make a commitment of time I've wanted so badly.

I became discouraged as time spent seeking this relationship slipped into years but God whispered, "Am I not enough for you?"

This Sunday, our pastor's message was on "The True Meaning of Christmas." He used the example of this in Christmas movies like "The Christmas Story" and "The Grinch that Stole Christmas." The true meaning of Christmas isn't the stuff but family; a place where we feel loved. He shared how most of those who come to him for counseling yearn for this place of belonging, of loving relationship but that there is little he (or anyone else) can do or say to create that place in the midst of brokenness. But, he can offer them Jesus.

Isaiah prophesied the birth of Jesus 400 years prior to his birth. He said this Christ child would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. What more do we need if we have Jesus in our life? Who can offer us to be all that Jesus is?

What situation in your life calls for a Wonderful Counselor? Who can listen to your endless stories without cutting you short of time? Who can offer you the wisdom of time and experience? Who knows you better than yourself because He created you? Who gives wise counsel?

Jesus. Jesus is my Wonderful Counselor. He is the great I Am. He is enough