Three Things to Remember if You’re Searching for the Perfect Christmas This Year

There’s this image deep in the recesses of my mind, that’s as much a feeling as it is a picture like you’d see on a post card. It changes a little every year, but underneath the trappings and trimmings somewhere, I see children that belong to me with clean faces and Christmas jammies. There’s hot chocolate and maybe popcorn and the tree is sparkling near the fireplace. Lights twinkle. The family is together and Christmas music is playing and we’re snuggling under blankets on the couch watching a movie or the kids are putting together puzzles on the coffee table while their affectionate Mama and Daddy look on. It’s cozy and there’s good food and no one fights or hollers and nothing is uneasy or unsettling.

Most of you probably know, if you have a kid or two, or honestly, if you’re just a human that spends any amount of time in the company of other humans, the idyllic pictures we can create for ourselves in our minds might be a possibility with some stretch of the imagination — but those picture-perfect moments never last long. Someone is going to spill the whole ginormous bowl of popcorn and someone is going to be upset because I wanted to put that ornament on the tree or because She is still looking at me or because He called me [fill in the blank] again. And while those sentences might make it sound like it’s the kids who wreak havoc on all visions of candy-cane-and-sugar-coated bliss, we know we grownups don’t make it much easier.

If you find yourself wanting to chew your nails off in dreaded anticipation of doing everything possible (and then some) to make Christmas perfect and still knowing it is going to fall hopelessly short of that Currier & Ives Post Card in your mind, I have a few thoughts that I hope will help change your mind about what the Perfect Christmas looks like.

1. It is Broken, and You Can’t Truly Fix It

If you read no further than this statement, let this be as far as you get:

We are imperfect people in an imperfect world. This is why we need Jesus. This is why Christmas happened.

If you find yourself wondering why you never feel settled, always feel like something’s missing, can’t create perfection no matter how hard you try, know that it’s because this world is flawed. Broken. Messed up. Troubled in a million ways. You weren’t made for this. We inherited sin and brokenness the day we were born. But this isn’t what we were made for.

We are homesick for these feelings of total comfort, total acceptance, and lasting peace, because somewhere inside our broken spiritual condition, there’s a part of us that knows things could be better, perhaps even should be better. Our nostalgia might tell us there was beautiful perfection somewhere in our childhood, and as adults we struggle to recreate it. Or, we lose a loved one, and with that loss feel as if there is a perfect piece of our lives now gone, never possible again. But the problem is deeper still.

C.S. Lewis described this “spiritual homesickness” in his sermon, “The Weight of Glory” like this:

“Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books and the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things–the beauty, the memory of our own past–are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself….Now we wake to find…[w]e have been mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us. We have not been accepted, welcomed, or taken in…

Our life-long nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation.”*

If it feels like something is missing in this world, in your life right now, it’s because Something is.

2. You Are Going to Mess Up, Too

We realize our kids are flawed. Our spouses, our family, our friends, they are all flawed. We cannot create “The Perfection” we seek without them — because without their presence it could not be perfect — but then, it can’t be perfect with their presence, either. They are humans, and so am I, so are you. And after a moment’s pause we might realize, even if we’re the only ones here, trying to create Pinterest-perfection for us to enjoy alone, we are still flawed. We will still fall short. This holiday season, days before the Thanksgiving turkey was even carved, I’d already let words fly out of my big mouth, already destroyed the attempts at the perfection I hoped for in time spent with family, already offered a half dozen apologies, already gone to Jesus sorry.

We all mess up.

Last year, I didn’t really want to send a Christmas card, partly because I was getting used to being a Mom of four, but also because I just couldn’t find a picture that felt “perfect.”

I felt like my poor newborn looked like a bald alien! (Perfectionist, much?)

So what are we going to do? Rake ourselves across the coals? Let our frustrations with all the ways things go wrong destroy any chance we have at “Happy Holidays”?

3. Nothing Kills Joy Faster Than Misplaced Expectations

That point following number 3 is not the whole truth — but perhaps it’s a very important part of it. We fool ourselves if we think we can work hard enough to make it all perfect right now. But our ideals about perfection can become the thing that keeps us from the connection that we need, that could help us a feel a little bit more at home in a broken world. We feel our home is too messy or too small or too something — and we avoid welcoming people into it. We want to extend our hands to people living in poverty, maybe not halfway around the world but maybe at least in our own town. But we’re afraid it won’t go well. We’re afraid we’ll get hurt, or do something dumb, or say something wrong. Or maybe the soup kitchen just doesn’t look like that Currier & Ives poster Christmas, so we’re not even going to attempt it.

Fear of things being even harder and even less perfect stops us from giving ourselves, giving our time, considering foster care, doing big things, and saying yes to Jesus in one way or another.

Two weeks ago I spent a morning at a Christmas play put on by adults with social, or mental difficulties. Although there were wonderful costumes and live animals and interesting lighting and effects, the play wasn’t perfect. There were long delays between scenes. Lines were not delivered by Hollywood actors and actresses. There was a hiccough or two along the way.

But I wept more than once, watching it all unfold, listening to these beautiful people put on a play that told an amazing story about God’s Plans — always so much greater than ours. From these humble and precious souls, a story of lives changing, and the story of Jesus unfolded side by side, and my heart pounded in my chest.

As the song “Mary Did You Know?” played, a man playing Jesus stood at the bottom of the stage, surrounded by other cast members. As the lines “the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again… the lame will leap, the dumb will speak the praises of the lamb….” so Jesus touched the people surrounding Him and they walked away joyful, changed, with lifted arms, and shouts of Praise God! escaping from happy voices.

I squeezed the four-year-old sitting in my lap a little tighter and absolutely wept.

This is the message. This is the beauty of the Christmas story. 

This is it: Jesus came. He left all the perfection of heaven to enter into our incredibly imperfect world. We fall so short. We are not as kind as we want to be. As gentle as we ought to be. As generous as we need to be. We hurt each other and we’re flawed and fallen and failing. We are NOT PERFECT.

But we can offer Him what we have. We can offer Jesus our broken, selfish selves, and say “Your will be done.” Mother Teresa prayed that Christ would constrain her in such a way that she would never, ever say No to Him.

We can also say Yes. And we can offer ourselves to Him, and be poured out to the world around us. Like the bread at the Communion table, Jesus can choose us, bless us, and break us to feed a multitude.

We should not expect a Perfect Christmas. Jesus didn’t come to make this life perfect. He came to change the world in such a way that when all is said and done, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and millions of souls will know He came to rescue them. He came to make all things new. He came to set us right with God.

How do we wrap all this up with a bow? What are our lives supposed to look like? Truly, we can only wrap our selves, our hearts up with a bow, and offer them back to Jesus.

Jesus, help me to follow you.

Jesus, I’m so scared, but help me not to say No to you.

Jesus, Yes. Help me say Yes.

Jesus, thank You.

——

From our home to yours, Merry Christmas, friends.

xCC

*Quotes from C.S. Lewis’s The Weight of Glory as found in Timothy Keller’s The Prodigal God.

One Great Way to Unwrap Presence This Christmas

Each year, with more little eyes and more little ears and more little feet padding their way around our nest, I’ve been hungry to find traditions that would celebrate this most wonderful time of the year with reverence and sincerity. The commercialism seems to get bolder. The advertising seems to get better. And a few weeks ago, my eldest asked if he could start working on his wish list with some help from Amazon. Again.

We do our best to do give our children some {read: not a lot of} meaningful, purposeful gifts this season (I’m planning another post to share some of our favorite useful/educational ideas with you) but what I don’t want Christmas to be all about at the Collie house is presents.

I keep asking this one thing:

How do we glorify the Presence and de-emphasize the presents?

We’ll hang lights and remember the Light coming into our dark world.

An ever-green tree will go up, and we’ll remember the One who died on a tree, and how that tree gives us ever-lasting life.

I’m hungry to communicate the greatness of this incredible Presence — the arrival of the Messiah. This changes everything.  This is why we want to lead lives that honor God. This is why we want to show kindness to the least of these.

book2

Years ago, I tried creatively placing the little elf around the house. It just wasn’t a good fit. I’ve watched in subsequent years as folks decorated with powdered sugar footprints, came up with creative stunts, and competed to post the best imagery of elf shenanigans on social media. For us, it continued to emphasize the presents. Be good for the presents. The elf is watching. I just couldn’t put so much effort into something that –for me– felt like it was pointing away from the place I was trying to direct these little hearts’ attention.

Could there be a bright alternative?

Could we aim to de-emphasize the stacks of presents? Because this Presence — it’s the greatest present of all time!

Two years ago, in the days leading up to Christmas, we started a new tradition around the Collie house. One that draws a line from the Creation to the Cross, and sheds new light on the meaning of the manger.

book

Sometimes right after breakfast, sometimes when we’re back in PJs at the end of the day, we dive into Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp. Starting December 1st, we’re led through a lesson each day, right up to the 25th. As a tangible part of the experience, you’re invited to create your own Jesse Tree — a tree you’ve made, perhaps from branches in your backyard — where you can hang ornaments (more on those in a second) that relate to each of the daily devotions you’ll read as a family. The activities related to each lesson involve things like praying about ways your family can give and serve others over the holidays (and all year long) and making a list of things you’re grateful for.

Exactly as I’d hoped, it created these great opportunities for meaningful connection with our kids at Christmas.

Did we check every item off the list, accomplish every activity and turn it into a this.must.happen thing to add stress to the holidays?

Nope.

But when we took the time to sit down together, to be still and to think and to talk, it did facilitate meaningful conversations, and provide this illustration that I believe will be re-introduced to our kids each year, so that it will be ingrained in their hearts permanently, as the true reason for the season.

In the sitting still and reflecting I just felt like… this is what I want to do most in this season.

I want to point to the one thing I want my children to know in this season: Jesus is the Greatest Gift.

ornament1

Last year I hot-glued some felt to some cardboard to create the most awesomely rough-looking Jesse Tree you’ve ever seen… but my children love it.

tree1

I’m very excited to do this together again, as a family, this holiday season. Last year the kids loved the beautifully illustrated book, loved the thoughts to discuss and family activities, and loved coloring the paper ornaments (available for you to print for free from aholyexperience.com). I loved that it was all written to point to the significance of the coming of the Messiah, a constant encouragement to anticipate and celebrate the arrival of Christ.

book4

So friends, if you’re hoping to introduce some new traditions into your Advent Season, or if you’ve been on the fence pondering this book for a while, please consider this my whole-hearted recommendation. Unwrapping the Greatest Gift has been a gift to our family, and I’m excited to have found something to help our family truly celebrate the Savior this season. I’m genuinely excited to share it with you!

And? I’d love to hear from you! Have any questions for me? Are you hungry to put more meaning into your celebrations this season? What is your family doing to point to the Christ in Christmas?

xCC

P.S. In addition to Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Voskamp’s book, The Greatest Gift, was released two years ago. This devotional is about “Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas” and was written with adults in mind. It was named the Christian Retailer’s Devotional of the Year for 2014 and is absolutely worth considering in addition to the family celebration, or on its own. (They do cover the same themes and correlate to one another, but they are definitely not the same book.) The devotion draws you in to deeply considering the meaning of the lineage of Christ, and the love story of His coming. If you’re looking for something special for yourself in this season, perhaps for that early morning cup of coffee on the couch moment, I highly recommend this!


 

This post contains affiliate links, but I’m sharing my honest-to-goodness heartfelt opinions. When you click on those links to make your purchases, I receive compensation at no extra cost to you. I love it when you do that! Thank you for supporting With Love!

 

If You Need to Be Reminded That This, Too, Is A Season

Outside the window, it seems like yesterday, November’s naked branches were arching up toward the sky like arthritic fingers. I delighted in those dogwood flowers when they showed off their dazzling pink hues this spring, and smiled at the verdant life and color of the bright green leaves that shaded the grass beneath all summer. Fall came along and those leaves quickly dried and darkened, and quick as a flash, December arrived, trees gnarled and naked again.

I look forward to life coming to those branches once more, to looking out the window and smiling as the trees seem to blush like half a dozen bridesmaids scattered about our lawn in coordinating shades of pink.

There’s a bit of time that needs passing before we get there.

December. For some folks, it’s the most wonderful time of year. These are the days they count down toward, look forward to. You know the ones — the folks who have an extra sparkle in their eyes as October draws to a close. The first to get the tree up, the last to take it down.

christmas 002

For others, this is the most depressing season of all — the season that brings reminders of days that seemed warmer and brighter and happier in some distant past. Folks thinking of faces that won’t be gathering around the table this year. Traditions that feel broken because that certain someone’s not around to make them happen.

Nearly three years ago I spent a week wandering in and out of a hospital room where my Dad lay barely breathing. The days stretched long with spritzes of hand sanitizer and transitions to the lobby to nurse a three-month-old, more hand sanitizer and transitions to a room to stare at one of the most important people in my 30-some years of life as he lay dying. I ran into a precious old friend whose Dad had a heart attack the same day, was lying in a bed one floor up. We marveled that we were experiencing the same sufferings.

A few days later her Dad was home, healthy and recovering.

A few days later, my eldest son, just four, was laying my bright yellow tulip on the casket for me because I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

I watched that friend of mine’s Dad dance at her wedding last year. He’s a kind-hearted and gentle, good man. I was happy to see him again just a few weeks ago. I’m thankful her story was different.

Mine was a season for grieving, hers was a season for gratitude.

babyswinging

Swinging by the tree

Our precious little fourth bundle of joy arrived seven weeks ago, just a few days after a friend, due two days before me, lost her precious little fourth bundle of joy.

And from far-off corners a dear old friend of mine and I chat over Skype, me introducing baby four to her eighteen-month old, and us grieving together the loss of her second baby at just ten weeks on the inside. Her voice quivers just a little in the telling of it – they don’t know if it was a boy or a girl.

But this she knows and this she says: I could feel God with me through it, and it’s amazing: I’ve never been angry.

Words don’t come easily for me, as we chat away my afternoon in North Carolina, her evening in Stuttgart.

Now is a season of grief, and now is a season of gratitude.

And Advent is the season of the coming — and, for us folks in the northern hemisphere, perhaps it’s no coincidence that this coming takes place very near the absolute shortest, darkest day of the year. The Light of the World showed up when things were at their darkest — and these days, when our world and our lives are at their darkest? They’re the days when we stop to celebrate the coming of the Light.

He arrived during a period known as the Pax Romana — a time when the Roman Empire reached its peak in terms of land area and population, and experienced about 200 years of economic prosperity and peace.

For the people benefiting from Roman rule it was a season of peace, but for those oppressed under Roman rule? Perhaps it wasn’t.

christmastree2011

 

He arrived into peace that only lasted for a season, peace that only existed for some — to bring about peace that will be everlasting. Good News of great joy for all men…

If yours is a season of comfort and joy, good tiding and life and light, be sure to share that goodness with others, for whom the season isn’t so Merry and Bright. Down the street or halfway round the world, or both — celebrate the coming of the Light by shining it wherever you can. Know that this, too, it just a season — share and love and bless and trust that when your season changes others will do the same for you.

If yours is a season where the branches feel naked and gnarled, a season that feels more like grief and less like gratitude, know that it is still exactly this: a season. And right at the start, when the floods dried up and a season of great, worldwide devastation came to an end, a promise came with it:

“While the earth remains,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
winter and summer,
and day and night,
shall not cease.” {Gen. 8:22}

God promised the seasons would keep coming, and they have. They surely have.

So whether these days feel merry and bright, or you’re feel hard-pressed and discouraged, know that, this, too, is a season, and as a good friend of mine reminded me the other day, we are a weary world, rejoicing.

If yours feels like a weary world, you can still stay in the story, you can still do some rejoicing.

The Good News to all men isn’t just that He came, it’s that He’s coming again.

xCC

If You’re Hungry for the Presence this Christmas

Each year, with more little eyes and more little ears and more little feet padding their way around our nest, I’ve been hungry to find traditions that would celebrate this most wonderful time of the year with reverence and sincerity. The commercialism seems to get bolder. The advertising seems to get better. And a few weeks ago, my eldest asked if he could start working on his wish list with some help from Amazon. Again.

How do we glorify the Presence and de-emphasize the presents?

We’ll hang lights and remember the Light coming into our dark world.

An ever-green tree will go up, and we’ll remember the One who died on a tree, and how that tree gives us ever-lasting life.

I’m hungry to communicate the greatness of this incredible Presence — the arrival of the Messiah. This changes everything.  This is why we want to lead lives that honor God. This is why we want to show kindness to the least of these.

Gifts 005

A few years ago, I tried creatively placing the little elf around the house. It just wasn’t a good fit. I’ve watched in subsequent years as folks decorated with powdered sugar footprints, came up with creative stunts, and competed to post the best imagery of elf shenanigans on social media. For us, it continued to emphasize the presents. Be good for the presents. The elf is watching. I just couldn’t put so much effort into something that –for me– felt like it was pointing away from the place I was trying to direct these little hearts’ attention.

Could there be a bright alternative?

Could we aim to de-emphasize the stacks of presents? Because this Presence — it’s the greatest present of all time!

Last year, in the days leading up to Christmas, we started a new tradition around the Collie house. One that draws a line from the Creation to the Cross, and sheds new light on the meaning of the manger.

Gifts 003

We dove into Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp and I was so, so glad we did. Starting December 1st, there is a lesson each day, right up to the 25th. As a tangible part of the experience, you’re invited to create your own Jesse Tree — a tree you’ve made, perhaps from branches in your backyard — where you can hang ornaments that relate to each of the daily devotions you’ll read as a family. The activities related to each lesson involve things like praying about ways your family can give and serve others over the holidays (and all year long) and making a list of things you’re grateful for.

Exactly as I’d hoped, it created these great opportunities for meaningful connection with our kids at Christmas.

Did we check every item off the list, accomplish every activity and turn it into a this.must.happen thing to add stress to the holidays?

Nope.

But it did facilitate meaningful conversations, and provide this illustration that I believe will be re-introduced to our kids each year, so that it will be ingrained in their hearts permanently, as the true reason for the season.

It all to points to the one thing I want my children to know in this season: Jesus is the Greatest Gift.

Gifts 002

I’m very excited to do this together again, as a family, this holiday season. Last year the kids loved the beautifully illustrated book, loved the thoughts to discuss and family activities, and loved coloring the paper ornaments (available for you to print for free from aholyexperience.com). I loved that it was all written to point to the significance of the coming of the Messiah, a constant encouragement to anticipate and celebrate the arrival of Christ.

In addition to Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, last year Voskamp’s book, The Greatest Gift, was released. This devotional is about “Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas” and was written with adults in mind. It was named the Christian Retailer’s Devotional of the Year for 2014 and is absolutely worth considering in addition to the family celebration, or on its own. (They do cover the same themes and correlate to one another, but they are definitely not the same book.) The devotion draws you in to deeply considering the meaning of the lineage of Christ, and the love story of His coming.

loved getting up in the morning before the kids, sitting on the couch where I could stare at the Christmas tree shining bright in the still-dark morning, and just beginning my days thinking about how precious this season is, and why. {Whether that will be entirely possible with our new little kitty cat on the scene this year remains to be seen — but here’s trusting I’ll squeeze it in somewhere.}

Gifts 004

So friends, consider this an invitation from me to you to consider welcoming some new traditions into your Advent Season. I’m excited to have found something to help our family truly celebrate the Savior this season and I’m excited to share it with you.

I hope to be able to write and reflect on the glorious goodness of the Savior throughout the season, but I wanted to share this with you now, because there’s still time to grab a copy of one or both of these wonderful books, and allow them to bring your family into some meaningful conversation about the Presence, that might draw focus away from the presents! Don’t worry if you don’t jump in on December 1st!

And? I’d love to hear from you! Have any questions for me? Are you hungry to put more meaning into your celebrations this season? What is your family doing to point to the Christ in Christmas?

xCC

 

Just so’s ya knows — This post was not sponsored by Ann Voskamp or Tyndale Publishers. I bought both books and was excited to share them with you in case you’d like to create some new traditions with your family this season. The links to Amazon are affiliate links. You might also find the books priced well at christianbook.com — we just found it cheaper with free shipping at Amazon. 🙂

If You’re Bumping Your Head Against Christmas

One morning a few weeks ago, I couldn’t stop bumping my head.

Literally, you ask?

Yes, literally.

We normally have a pretty relaxed morning routine around the Collie house — breakfast, coffee, kids play, kids get dressed, middle kid goes to preschool, little one piddles around the house or colors or does puzzles while Mom and the oldest rock the homeschool.

But that particular morning, we were running a little behind on that routine and when we got to preschool, I wasn’t sure if the doors would still be open on the drop-off side, so I walked TigerTank into class instead while the other two waited in the car. Only, TigerTank didn’t want to stay at school when I walked him in. It was probably a combination of a long, long weekend full of fun activities with a special uncle and his girlfriend, who were in town, plus a few nights of getting to stay up more than a little past bedtime with all the holiday excitement surrounding Thanksgiving, plus this one ornament he discovered on the back of an old coloring book that he really wanted to cut out and hang on the tree.

I seriously think he was worried we’d do it without him.

He was so upset, obviously tired, and a hot mess, and I had two kids waiting in the car. I gave up on convincing him to stay at preschool and decided to just bring him home.

We never have an issue like this at the drop-off spot, so the next few mornings, I was extra-eager to get everyone together and into the van to take TigerTank to preschool in a timely fashion, so that we could follow the normal routine and drop him off.

Our house was filled with

Why aren’t you dressed yet!?!

Get your shoes on! C’mon!

Where is your book bag, for goodness sake!?!?

and

If you want to come, you have to come now. We are leaving now.

Oh, the world of hurt that we could avoid if we never tried to hurry.

christmas 002

I hurried. And plopped a baby girl still in PJs into her car seat, and scurried round the van to squeeze buckles around a toddler’s puffy winter coat.

And that’s when I whacked my head — hurrying to get into the van and get the kid buckled. I didn’t coordinate my entry into the van and the step up to reach into the back and buckle the kid.

Whack.

Oh my stars, it hurt. My head throbbed throughout the drive to preschool.

Perhaps less than an hour later, I was trying to hurry my way through a Math lesson. It was a simple review lesson that I wanted to just hurry through so we could move on to “more important” things.

The Belle was piddling around, and found a little box of dominoes, which she promptly opened up, and turned over, meaning Dominoes spilled everywhere.

I huffed with frustration at the kid who didn’t want to move through the math lesson at my pace and the baby who wanted to get into everything.

I bent down under the table to pick up some dominoes and bang — I whacked my head. Yes, again.

And oh my stars, it hurt. Again.

After the second bump, I slowed down to think about what was going on. Like old Rafiki told Simba, The past can hurt, but you either run from it, or learn from it.

Since I didn’t want to bump my ahead again, I decided to pay attention.

A week later, I was still thinking. I can be a slow learner.

But here’s one conclusion:

I have an idea in my mind about what’s important.

That idea is often wrong.

I was rushing through getting the kids in the car to keep in time with my agenda for the day. And I was rushing through that Math lesson because I had a Christmas agenda and I wanted to get on with it. We had a library trip planned that afternoon and I wanted to bring our friends at the library cookies.

Sure, showing people you appreciate them is good, and thoughtful at this time of year. But is it more important than loving my kids, and handling them in a way that shows them that they matter, that they have value, and they are more important than how I feel if I have to arrive somewhere late?

Is getting the kids into the car to get them there on time more important than slowing down and looking them in the eyes and telling them you love them before sending them out into the world?

We’re here, Christmas is nearly here — and we’re celebrating the coming. And what does this coming mean? Before Jesus came, a few things were holy, a lot of things were common, and some were downright unholy.

But what did Paul say? Whether you eat or drink — whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.

I bump my head when I fail to remember: this too, can be for the glory of God.

Sweeping streets or building cathedrals: it all has potential for glory.

This is the Good News: Ready or Not, He comes.

Will we make room? Be a space that welcomes the unexpectedly glorious?

We don’t need to be in a hurry. We don’t need to have everything prepared. Nothing we do or leave undone will change the fact that Jesus has come, He does come, and He will come again.

When we’re bumping our heads, He comes to remind us to slow down, enjoy the moments we’re given instead of hurrying through them to get to the next thing.

His glorious goodness arrives into the humble Bethlehem stables of our souls. And He whispers the truth we so desperately need to hear in our brokenness:

God is with us. Though we fail and fall short. Though we hurry and fuss and holler at our kids. Though we get angry in traffic. Though we’re selfish, prideful, and pretty much a mess.

God-with-us comes to find us. Comes to do for us what we can’t do ourselves.

Grace to be still. Grace to keep going. He comes with great grace.

And the whole incredible story starts so small, like a single candle being lit, one tiny flame growing brighter.

Like one tiny little baby being born in a remote corner of the world.

Be still for a moment, friends. Expect to see Him in unexpected places. Take a deep breath, be ready to make room. Let the good news that your performance isn’t make-or-break soak in.

Soak in this: He is the Gift from the Giver Who Keeps on Giving, and He is with us.

Merry Christmas.

xCC

 

She Was Born in a Barn

Story has it my grandmother, born this very day almost a hundred years ago, was born in a barn. It was so cold that night, the pail of water they had nearby was frozen. I faintly remember her telling me the story when I was a child. I think long and hard about that arrival, the second daughter, to be followed by a son.

No matter where a person gets started, there’s really no telling where they’re going.

I don’t know the story of my grandfather, the one who gave my Dad his last name and not much else. They married young, she was pregnant fast and it was just too much. My six month old Dad — I’ve read letters that he was bright-eyed, happy and brown as a berry. That’s a complement in the South. Whatever he was, it wasn’t enough for his Dad to stay.

He took off, wrote letters here and there, sent a gift here and there, but started a new family halfway across the country. I met him for the first time, and felt incredibly uncomfortable, at age 12. My Dad picked me up from school to have lunch with him. I don’t remember asking many questions, except if I could go and get my peanut butter and jelly sandwich out of the car.

Sometimes Dads don’t stick around.

Enough times it happens, that some call it an epidemic for this generation: Fatherlessness. They say it’s at the root of so many other issues, and I agree: Men who choose not to be present, not to be fathers, to children that are rightfully theirs.

But there’s another story.

There’s this other barn — this place where the animals stayed, 2,000 years ago and halfway around the world.

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I imagine him there, holding the hand of this frightened young girl, who understands something miraculous is happening and she is a part of the story — but does he really know? When the shepherds arrive? When the Wise Men bring gifts? Does he see the star, too?

What will become of this baby, born in a barn?

No matter where a person gets started, there’s really no telling where they’re going.

This was a place where a man decided to do the opposite of what so many do — he said, “This baby isn’t mine. But I’ll stay, I’ll be present. I’ll be the father here on earth.”

From the very beginning, this is the Gospel that turns our upside down world rightside up.

In a world where fewer and fewer men are staying when they should, God’s story shows a man of character who stands in the gap and stays, when the world might say he shouldn’t.

In a world where teen pregnancy is a hushed and shushed troublesome issue, God chooses to birth Someone miraculous.

I wonder what rumors floated around. And I wonder — if this couple was from Bethlehem, did they have no family there still to stay with? Or were the people there unwilling to welcome them in? An indictment in a culture so renowned for hospitality, what was at the root of this — the woman about to have a baby being given room at the barn?

He was born in a tiny corner of the Roman Empire, which stretched further than it ever had before, or has since, so that it was called Terraram orbis imperium — the Empire of the Whole Earth.

This is the story for the whole Earth, turning rightside up the upside down ways of the whole earth.

Giving fathers to the fatherless.

Did he come from wealthy parents? Would the shepherds find him in the finest home in Bethlehem wearing the nicest robes a baby could wear? No — he arrived to parents so poor they could not afford to make room for themselves, promptly wrapped in swaddling cloths, perhaps best translated as torn and tattered rags, with a feeding trough for a crib.

Was he born into a reigning kingdom? No — to a people, now recently subjugated to Roman rule, so that he was rather less like a citizen and rather more like a subject of whom tribute would be required.

Not even born in the great city of Jerusalem, where the kings of Judea long presided? No — in humble Bethlehem, The House of Bread, comes the Bread of Life. From the City of David, as it was also known, from the lineage of David, came the humble servant who is the King of Kings.

Jesus — the name means God saves. Emmanuel — God with us.

God is with us — and He saves.

And nothing about the story seems like the story most of the world would write for the arrival of the King of Kings.

In fact, it mostly seems like the opposite.

We craned our necks to see what Kate might be wearing on her wedding day, the day she became royalty. And the magazines follow the little prince George. What is he wearing, where is he traveling? What a glorious future awaits an earthly future king!

But this is the story of the King who left all the perfection of heaven to come to a humble birth on Earth. A peasant, a tribute and tax paying subject. A babe the world wouldn’t make room for. Who came not to be served but to serve.

This upsidedownrightsideup story is just so beautiful — so gloriously different from what the world expected, which makes it infinitely better.

You might still be hustling and bustling with gift lists and parties — your list longer than a strand of Christmas lights, filled with things to do.

But know that the Savior of the world came to do the things we couldn’t: and we can rest in the receiving of this, our Greatest Gift.

The striving can cease. That most important, eternal thing that needed doing has already been done.

Let Him whisper words of rest to your hearts today friends. In the stilling and the listening, you’re being the people who make room for the most unlikely King.

xCC