It seems like a benign question, “Are you ready for the holidays?” In fact just about every random conversation that you have with a perfect stranger or people you know will begin with this question. While it seems like a simple question, it is actually begs to go deeper than trees, and cards, food and cookies and gifts.
The “holidays” whether you practice Jewish tradition of Hanukkah or Christian tradition of Christmas are based on what God has called us to do. These traditions are all about God and what God has done, so getting ready for the “holidays” begins with getting our hearts right with God. Getting ready for the “holidays” calls each of us to prepare our hearts, and spend time with God, listen to God and do things that are in line with what pleases God.
So what pleases God? Caring for each other and reaching out to those in need. Bringing our our checkbook and writing checks to those who are serving the poor, or their communities. Doing a special good deed that brings a smile to someone’s face who is in a changed circumstance this season. Reaching out to those who are sad or suffering. These are things that please the very heart of God. As we ask over and over, “Are you ready for the holidays?” remember it is a call to prepare our hearts, and please God with our actions, our words, and our deeds.
When I was a kid the post Christmas season always seemed to be a let down. I was so excited about Christmas itself, that I often failed to see that part of the beauty of welcoming the Christ child was the process. We forget process in our day and age and go for the end goal. There is beauty in process…there is beauty in the journey.
Christmas is a time to remind us that there is much more ahead BECAUSE of the Christ child. Now that we have celebrated the light that has come into the darkness, we can BE that light in the world.
What does that look like for you, being the light of the world? Maybe it means enjoying the process and the post-Christmas celebrations. After all, we are actually still in the 12 days of Christmas. For the early Christians, Christmas day was just the beginning of the celebration. In our culture, Christmas day seems to be the end all. The Christian calendar defies that the season has ended, but encourages us to be part of the process.
What would it look like to just begin the celebration now, a few days after the day of Christmas. How can you enjoy the Christ child today and celebrate and reflect all that the Messiah brings?
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:1-5, NRSV.
We were in the Italian catacombs around the outskirts of Rome. Our guide turned off the lights that were shining on the myriad of tunnels—and it was dark, everything was pitch black. A full minute in the dark seemed like an eternity. I was ready to have the light shine on us again, especially in this place, a place where those of the early centuries had been buried. It was an eerie feeling. How do you feel when you are in pitch darkness?
Jesus was God enfleshed—the Word—the Logos—who came to bring light into the pitch black darkness of the world. Through Jesus life came into being, and that life was the very spark—the illumination that shines into that darkness. Like the catacombs in which I had stood, is there a part of your life that seems dark that needs the light of Christ shining in it? Is there a part of your life that needs new life—the spark of “being” all that God created you to be? Come to the manger. Let the light of Christ shine on you; Let the life of the newborn child flow through you.
Prayer: Jesus, Savior of the world. Shine on me, Lord, shine on me. Let my worries and concerns become smaller as your light and life grow bigger and brighter. Thank you for the gift of the Christ Child who gives me new possibilities in this life and beyond. Amen
I have always loved the traditional image of the holy family by the manger in a stable.
My parents have a beautiful glass ornament of that scene that I have coveted since I was a little girl. It’s a beautiful portrayal of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. Leave it to Bible study and seminary to smash this image in my mind forever, because for a multitude of reasons it’s probably not an accurate portrayal. Many scholars believe the holy family would not have been alone in a stable out back.
Archaeological digs have found that a typical First Century peasant home was usually just one main room with four windowless walls. This main room was divided into two areas with no wall between the two areas. One area, the larger of the two, was the main living area for the family. This was the place where the family ate and drank, entertained visitors and slept at night. The second area in the home was about four feet lower than the main living area. You would walk down some steps to get to it. And this smaller, lower area was a place where the family kept their livestock and animals. On the ledge between this lower area for livestock and the upper main living area for people, there were holes carved into the floor where feed would be placed for the animals. These were the mangers.
Where did visiting relatives and friends stay in a house like this? Frequently such homes had a guest room built on the roof of the house. This is where the guests stayed. But Luke tells us that at the time Jesus was born there was no room in these guest quarters. So in all likelihood Jesus was born in the main living area where Joseph and Mary were staying with the rest of the family. Then, when Mary gave birth to Jesus, she wrapped her son in strips of cloth and laid him in one of the mangers in the family living area.
This is why I say to you that Jesus Christ was born not out in a barn but in the heart of a home. God sent His son into a real world to be a source of light and hope for people.
What does this mean for us today? First of all we are dealing with a personal God. When God chose to take on the body of a little baby and be born upon this earth, God chose not to be born outside in a barn but right in the middle of a home — a family. Jesus chose to be born not outside away from people but inside with people like you and me. The point is that Jesus wants to be right in the middle of your life as a personal God. He wants you to have a close and intimate relationship with Him. He wants your heart to be His home.
How will you welcome Jesus into your heart and home this year?
Loving God, how amazing is it that you come right into the middle of our world, right into the middle of my life. Help me remember the birth of Jesus that I may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and worship of the wise men. Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come into every home with every gift and good desires with every greeting. Amen.
2 Peter 1:16-21
Mary rejoices over God’s choosing her, a humble servant girl, to be the mother of the Messiah. While news of her pregnancy as an unwed young girl sets Mary’s life into a tailspin, she nonetheless endures the hardships and recognizes God’s great mercy in all that is taking place. She gladly accepts her mission to serve God even though the course is not clearly laid out for her. She is willing to be the servant and glorifies God for who God is and praises God for the fulfillment of the covenantal promises God had made to Abraham.
Like Mary, we see the great compassion God has for his people and rejoice in the promise of a Savior. As we look upon the manger this season, let us remember our need for this Savior sent out of God’s great love for us. We as sinners can stand before God with all of our flaws and rejoice that Jesus is the One who has come to restore us to our rightful place in the kingdom of God and all we need to do is humbly walk as a servant of the living God.
Savior of the world,
Thank you for coming for us, to offer us grace and mercy in ways we had never known before. Empower us to be your living servants. Amen.
It was 1971 and our family learned that my cousin was unmarried and pregnant. She and the child’s father would be married right away. Not only was her immediate family embarrassed by her actions but it spread to her extended family. I still remember another cousin remarking that this cousin had shamed the family. I remember feeling sorry for my cousin and her situation.
Two thousand years previously, a young virgin was engaged to be married and is visited by an angel. She is told she has been chosen by God to be the Messiah’s mother. I’m sure her family was shocked and embarrassed by the news and probably didn’t believe her story. The only person who immediately believes her is her cousin, Elizabeth, who exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear. Blessed is she who believed that the Lord will fulfill his promises to her.
Mary is then filled with joy and God’s love and she sings “The Magnificat” or Mary’s Song. Her soul rejoices in God for choosing her to be Jesus’ mother. She praises God for all he has done and all he will do in the future.
There were probably many times when Mary recalled that song during the difficult times in her life. Perhaps when she went to the well for water and heard the snickering behind her back, or when she had to hurriedly pack and travel to Egypt to save her young son. Maybe Mary even found comfort in her song when she watched her son being tortured and crucified.
Is there a challenging task you need to undertake or is life so difficult right now you can only take one step at a time. If so, think of Mary and her trust in God and her joy in undertaking what God asked of her. Allow God to show you His love, peace and grace this Christmas.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank you for your love and peace. We praise you for always being with us in our journey and helping us in difficult times. Amen.
We all come to the manger this season carrying something different. We can carry the stress of the Christmas season and all of its preparations. We can carry the joy of seeing loved ones and being with family. We can carry the sadness and emptiness from a difficult time or loss. We can carry sickness, worry and doubt. Our hearts can be filled with so much joy, or so much angst from so many things that we can often lose focus. It can be difficult to keep focus when our hearts weigh heavy. It can be difficult to keep focus when our minds are on the material items this season. As we light the candle of love, we receive a powerful reminder that love is at the center of the season. This season is more than our sorrow, more than our material things and more than the weight we carry.
Psalm 113 encourages us to praise the name of the Lord always. This Advent season, we shouldn’t have to carry the weight of the world with us to the manger. We believe in a God who simply loves. He loves us in our sorrow, our joy, our weakness and our strength. This season, we should come to the manger with praise. Praise for the one who created us, praise for the one who sent us His son because of love. A love that we should carry with us, and a love that should rule our hearts. When we let love and praise fill our hearts, our journey to the manager brings us closer to the one who can fill our hearts with so much more than sorrow and angst.
Prayer: We thank you, Lord, for your love this season. We ask that you help keep us focused on you so that we may praise you for your incredible love. Help us focus on your love, and not what weighs heavy on our hearts, as we journey to the manger. Amen.