There are a lot of things I love about the Christmas season. Like the twinkly lights, chilly weather (when we’re in the northern hemisphere), happy smiley faces at shopping malls, pretty window displays, and treats that combine the magic of chocolate and peppermint or chocolate and pretzels…well basically chocolate and anything.

But what I want my heart to be about in this season has nothing to do with a lot of that, and I think a few years of being halfway around the world at Christmas created some opportunities for helping my heart to learn to focus on the real meaning of the season.

I still love the trees…


And look forward to eyes lighting up at new toys like they have in years past…


And I will most certainly treasure a new set of eyes taking in all the sparkle and twinkle for the first time…


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 everybody 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 a par-tay!”

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.”

Translation? “I’d rather be in the wilderness with God, than in the best land on Earth without Him.”

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!

Eventually Moses found grace in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord promised to go with them. And as the story continues in Exodus 34, we see a hint of what Moses seemed to already know: that being in the presence of God is unmistakable and incredible.

When Moses returns to talk to the people, after speaking with God, his face and skin literally shines so much they have to put a veil over him.

The presence Moses was after was more valuable to him than the present – the gift of a Promised Land.


There is unmistakable, incredible power in God’s presence, and when we get into it, it marks our lives and sets us apart as the people of God.

Life-changing, transformational stuff happens in the presence of God that won’t happen anywhere else.

So this Christmas season, I am still enjoying 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 so that we, like Moses, could find grace in the presence of God, and be transformed.

Lord, help us, like Moses, to focus less on the presents and more on the Presence. You came to give us abundant life — help us to receive it, and give our lives back to you.

Tis the Season for a lot of things…but for His Presence most of all!


–adapted from the archives