There are a lot of things I love about the Christmas season. A lot of them have to do with twinkly lights, chilly weather, happy smiley faces at shopping malls, pretty window displays, and peppermint mochas at Starbucks. But what I want my heart to be about in this season has nothing to do with a lot of that, and I feel like being halfway around the world again this Christmas is another opportunity for my heart to learn to focus on the real meaning of the season.

Sure there will be an opportunity for books…

Bears and Books

And toys…


and even a little sparkle and twinkle…


But as I was reading in Exodus yesterday and today, I was reminded of what really distinguishes the people of God as the people of God: His presence. We celebrate Christmas because Christ has come. And we celebrate the fact that because He has come, He is present with us, dwelling in our hearts, directing our steps, and changing the world through us.

In Exodus 33, Moses was kind of at his wit’s end. He was up on Mt. Sinai for forty days receiving the commands of God, and the people got sort of “impatient” waiting for him…and then things got ‘rowdy’ and ridiculously out of hand. They’d basically decided “Forget Moses…he’s been gone a long time and who knows what happened to him? Let’s find a new god to worship, and have some fun!” Moses and the Lord had a long chat about this unfortunate situation, and God decided He would still give the people the land He promised them, but He wasn’t going to be with them when they went to inherit it. I think He was so mad He thought He’d just wipe them off the face of the earth if He spent any more time with them.

Moses was distraught. He said to the Lord, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.” The Lord had given other people groups land. The Lord had blessed other people groups with promises. But the covenant sign that Moses was seeking was the mark of God’s presence in the lives of His people. If You aren’t going with us… I don’t wanna go!

Moses found grace in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord promised to go with them. And as the story continues into Exodus 34, we find that the being in the presence of God is so unmistakably incredible that when Moses returns to talk to the people, after speaking with God, his face and skin shines so much they have to put a veil over him. There is beautiful, changing power when we get into the presence of God.

So this Christmas, I am looking forward to the things that make my heart a little happier and my step a little lighter, but more than that, I want to celebrate Emmanuel — the God with us, who came to this Earth so that we, like Moses, could find grace in the presence of God, and be transformed. Tis the Season for a lot of things…but for His Presence most of all!