What could ruin the coming of Christ

This is a repost of something I wrote last Christmas. Last December was the hardest month yet with our daughter and her health; but the gems of truth I learned during that time have carried me through the various sorrows I am carrying into Christmas this year too. I hope this blesses you to read again as I know it blessed me.


There is so much to anticipate about Christmas. The time with family and friends. The presents under the tree. The vacation days. The special feasts that invite us to remember the incarnation with songs sung by candlelight. 

But with every anticipated event comes a certain amount of anxiety; for all of us. To get the shopping done on time. To prepare the food for the guests. To teach our children the meaning behind the celebration, and so much more. The anxieties include the small griefs associated with the plans foiled, the cookies we never baked, the gingerbread houses that were accidentally left in the garage, the advent calendar we didn’t remember to start until halfway through the month.

But sometimes these anxieties run deeper. Sometimes they are the deep fears that are the product of deep griefs. Sometimes the current of suffering and grief drive us through the holiday season at a pace that feels unnatural. It can be hard to sing a Christmas song when it seems like everything around us is wrong. 

Fear and anxiety should not be invited to take a seat at our tables during this joyful time of year, but yet sometimes it seems like they’ve pulled out the seat of honor and made themselves quite at home, always without our consent, and often without our immediate knowledge.

If you are worried about this Christmas, that something might ruin it. That the holiday stress will drag you down. That the traffic will make you angry. That the checkout lines at the shopping mall will frustrate you. Or that your family will be angry with you because you have to work…Fear not.

If you are worried that the grief over a loved one missing around the table will swallow you whole. If you are fearful that the constant suffering that plagues your everyday life might spoil Christmas. If you are alone this year and don’t know who you’ll celebrate with. If your spouse is in prison. If a loved one has cancer. If the budget is too tight for gifts for your kids this year. Fear not.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret; nothing can ruin Christ’s coming. Not then. Not now. Not ever. 

Jesus’ birth occurs in the context of a census taken by the Roman empire. The Jews were being taxed by an oppressive regime, who wanted to count and see just how many of them there were as if counting assets, not people.  He was born in a humble town, after a long on-foot road trip. A town so crowded that no one had room even for a very pregnant woman on the verge of giving birth. He was born in a stable, surrounded by the dirt and the hay and the feces of animals. Delivered by his teenage mother in the usual turmoil of the usual way. Caught by a man whom he would grow to call Father, though he himself had biologically nothing to do with him. Unless of course you considered that is was Jesus’ very breath of life that made Joseph’s own chest rise and fall. 

If I wanted to tell a story of a birth plan spoiled, I don’t have to look any farther than the birth of my own Savior. I wonder what Mary thought, in the midst of intensity of labor. I wonder if she held fast to the faith that all this was as God had planned it, or if she doubted, even for a moment, the way the Lord chose for this Savior to come. Did she wonder if his birth was being profaned by the dung and the dust in that moment? Or did she know with certainty that everything was exactly as it should be.

In the fullness of time, he came. Nothing could stop him. Nothing could ruin it. Every strange, painful, and difficult circumstance along Mary and Joseph’s way, only confirmed the prophecies that had already been spoken of Messiah. All of it was by God’s grace, for his glory. 

The maiden girl, the stall, the manger, was exactly the way he had to come.  It was apart of who he was as “Immanuel”, God with us

He was born to breathe that filthy air. Born to feel the pain of a scraped knee. Born to feel the sting of a harshly spoken word. Born to feel the wrongness of people’s anger towards him. Born to submit to the authority of human parents, though He alone was the ultimate authority in all the Universe. All of this before he even would begin his more official “ministry” among us.  And not one iota of those experiences could ruin his coming, because of course; that was why he came. He was born to feel in the flesh, the effects of the curse as far as it was found, even as he came to ultimately break the curse once and for all, forever.  

Nothing could ruin the miracle of his coming. No corrupt governments, no inns full to bursting, no filthy stalls. 

He came for the social outcasts, as well as those who were held in high esteem. The shepherds, who abandoned their flocks for a chance to touch his sleeping face, were just as welcome as the three kings bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

We were going to go cut our own tree this year. We’d been planning it for weeks. We thought we’d take some friends with us. We’d warm up with cocoa after. It would be the snowy family adventure we’d been longing for since the hot hot months of summer. 

Then Friday night came with another auto-immune flare up in our little girl. We were up all night holding her, consoling her. Praying for her. Singing over her. Holding back her hair and wiping the tears from her cheeks. And when the new mercy light of Saturday morning finally came, I knew there was no way we were going to go cut our own tree. 

So we traded off taking naps and watching the kids. We ate leftovers. We cancelled our plans. And when four o’clock came around, I made my husband a thermos of coffee and sent he and our middle son out in the snow to find the perfect tree from a local tree lot. 

Ellie woke up to find them gone, and though she knew we would have been cutting our own tree if not for her flare up of illness, she took it as a kindness that the boys were out finding the perfect one just for us. Just to cheer us up. 

In the fullness of time; even if our timing seems off for everything, God is always on time. Nothing is by accident. All is for our good and his glory. That baby in the manger didn’t come because he wanted to be apart of some idyllic winter solstice celebration—he came because we are broken, and he wants to heal us. 

If you feel broken down and beat up by life right now: Christmas is for you. If you feel weighed down by the burdens of past hurts laid upon you by others: Christmas is for you.  If you are afraid of the emotional, or physical pain that you are experiencing and very well may continue to experience all throughout the Christmas season, Christmas is for you.

If you are tired of muddling through life in your own strength. If you have nothing left when the dawn finds you, then take heart! Christmas is for YOU. 


The holiness of this Holy Night of the Incarnation mirrors the holiness for which God has set us apart: the holiness is not clean and tidy like the stained glass images of the birth of Christ, but in the midst of the mess and the mud and the blood, it is set apart. And if you believe in Christ Jesus, then you are set apart, by God’s grace and for his glory. And nothing can take that away from you.

Glory. That’s what makes the more obviously sacred and the seemingly profane aspects of our lives  the same in the economy of God. Because God redeems profane people with profane pasts into the sacred work of his coming Kingdom. And the redemptive power of Jesus more than defeats the pervasive power of sin and shame. 

Nothing can ruin the coming of Christ.  Not then, not now, not ever.

Not the oppression of governments. Not abuse. Not job loss or relationship loss. Not homelessness. Not the diagnosis. Not school shootings. Not the death of a loved one. Neither height nor depth, neither angels nor demons, nor things present, nor things to come, nor anything else can separate us from the love of God, made incarnate, in  Christ Jesus our Lord. (Paraphrase from Romans 8:38) 

Fear not. No matter what trials your Christmas holds, the best gift of Christmas is always and already yours to hold; the very presence of God with you in the midst of whatever you are going through. 

You are not alone. If there’s anything I can be praying for you for this Christmas, please leave a comment below, or click reply to one of my emails if you are a subscriber. I’d love to hear from you; and I’d love to pray for you.

Gracie

{Photos shown in post, in order they appear  c/o Francois Pistorius, Dan Kiefer, Davidsonluna on Unsplash} 

This post is dedicated to my three youngest siblings, and all the survivors of the Arapahoe High School shooting on December 13, 2013. 6 years ago I didn’t know what to say. Now, I do. 

Advent: the waiting

Anticipation is half the joy. At least, when you know the thing that is coming is really really good. 

It was a week before Christmas last year that I learned I was expecting our third child. This child was something we had been hoping for and anticipating; even as the thought of going through all it takes to get a child here, and especially all it took to get our second child here, was more than a little terrifying. 

But still those two pink lines showed up exactly one week before Christmas, and as the waiting to celebrate the holiday and the significance of God incarnate ended, a new waiting began.

It brings fresh to mind the way we wait in the dark. So often. For someone or something. Sometimes we aren’t even sure which. Our lives can feel like a fog more often than not; but we have this secret hope, and this light on each and every step, and we take them. Even though we aren’t at all sure where it will take us, that hope carries us. 

The hope of Advent is ultimately the hope we all carry; the hope for a Savior. Every human heart, whether believing in Jesus as Lord or not, hopes for a future. For the fulfillment of longing; for the arrival of joy. It’s pregnant within us, and no matter how jaded and discouraged we get sometimes, I rarely dies. If it does, that’s when you know you are in real trouble. A human heart cannot live without hope. At least not here.

We have been studying 1 Corinthians with the Women’s Bible Study at church, an just a few weeks ago we talked about how there won’t be hope in Heaven. Because all our deepest longings will have been fulfilled, we won’t need hope. There won’t be faith either, because our faith will be sight. You don’t need faith to believe in something when it’s right there, in flesh and blood, staring you in the face. 

Strange as it may sound, I think it took a little faith to know that Isaiah was going to be such a good gift. It seems foolish I know, for all children are a gift and I believe this to be true. But I didn’t know it enough. I knew it because I believed it, but now I have seen his eyes sparkle in good humor. I have smelled the sweetness of his breath. I have heard the iridescent sound of his laughter. I have kissed his face until he shrieked for joy, and I myself felt my heart full to absolute bursting with it. 

The waiting takes faith. The anticipation of the coming is joyful, but we rarely know enough of what the coming will look like to anticipate it properly. I couldn’t have known what a precious gift Isaiah would be, without knowing him. I couldn’t have known how redemptive and healing his birth would be, until I experienced the very real presence of the Lord during that laboring time, and he continued to lavish gift upon merciful gift, to me. We carry our hopes and our dreams, but we try not to let them carry us away, because we don’t want to be disappointed. And in a broken world, where God’s ways are so much higher and wiser than our own, I think it wise to hold our own plans loosely. But we need to learn this perspective; that we cannot even begin to fathom the joy that is to come.

Did Mary even know? As she carried this child and this promise for nine months in her womb. As she was given confirmations and signs from Elizabeth and Joseph. As the Lord prepared the way for his son to come into the world, in the most unusual way. 

I have seen birth in the hay before. Just this past April, my goat Carmela kidded in the straw of our loafing shed. It had been warm the day before, but that particular day it was windy and cold. The fresh straw smelled clean, but even still i couldn’t get her to lay down in the cleanest spot. And she just kept pawing the ground to make a space for her babies, but all she was actually doing was making things dirtier. I myself was 20 weeks pregnant, and I kept thinking how much I admired her zen…chewing her cud between pushes and contractions. But I did not at all envy her job of giving birth in the straw. Even with all the spare towels I could muster the whole scene was a gory mess when all was said and done. 

I’m sure this scene would not have been the one that Mary pictured for herself when she imagined giving birth to the son of God, even if she was a poor girl from Nazareth. Even a poor girl from Nazareth could have done better than a filthy stall. 

But that was how he came.

When the waiting was over, the way Jesus came was stranger and more wonderful than anyone could have imagined. He came in the lowest of ways, because he is the King of the lowly. And if a King stoops low, we all ought to stoop low.

It was the incarnation of the upside-down Kingdom of God. The world wasn’t expecting a Messiah to show up. The Israelites were expecting a Messiah, but they didn’t recognize him in the way he came or the way he carried himself. 

Jesus, never in a hurry. Never in a rush. Jesus slow and steady. Jesus eating with sinners. Jesus, the King of the Universe, and of the lowliest of sparrows. Jesus dying a torturous death in our place. We couldn’t have imagined how wonderful he was, until we were staring him straight in the face.

We still can’t can we? 

But just like my precious son Isaiah, the longer that we spend time with Jesus, the more we see what an incredible blessing he is. He doesn’t just save us, he heals us. He sees us. He knows us. And he leaves no stone unturned in the pursuit of redeeming every last broken piece of our hearts. This is the ultimate gift of the with-ness of Jesus. Of Immanuel. 

We still don’t get it. Not really.  But someday, we will.

Someday we’ll understand fully, but for now we wait. We hold onto hope; onto faith. And just like you might stare at the ultrasound picture and imagined what it will be like,  you can stare into the scriptures and catch angles of him. Glimmers of him. The more you look, the more you make out the shape of him. 

So let the anticipation build, let it be pregnant within us. Let it mold us and make us, even as it unmakes us all together. Someday, we will see him face to face. But in the advent of his second coming, as in the advent celebration of his first coming, we wait.  

{Featured Photo c/o Anton Darius on Unsplash}

Last Night We Rested

It’s Sunday morning, and the sun is streaming like gold to color the bookshelf, the wall, the baby swing, in the most heavenly of light. 

This weekend was crazy for us, as I’m sure it was for many of you if you live in the United States. Giving Thanks with friends and family always takes an extra bit of effort, but it’s worth it. 

Our Sabbath preparations this week looked different then. We drank coffee, seriously considered eating pie for breakfast, and then packed up our kids bags to head up to Fort Collins. It wasn’t Black Friday anymore, which meant that fewer people were on the roads and in the stores, and we did make a couple pit stops to glance around for presents at stores in Denver where we don’t normally have the chance to shop. We stopped for lunch.

By the time we were nearly home, my husband was feeling more than usually exhausted. We thought he might be coming down with something. So because of wonderfully thoughtful inventors of gluten-free and sheep cheese frozen pizza that I recently discovered,(Capellos!) we made one final stop and then headed home for a Sabbath evening, even if we couldn’t have the whole day.

I told the kids we were going to have a pajama party. We all got in comfy clothes and pulled out some old quilts, because there are now too many of us to sit all on the couch with a comfortable elbow room between us. And we ate pizza and snuggled and watched The Santa Claus because it’s finally after thanksgiving and there is nothing holding us back from watching any Christmas favorites anymore. 

Partway through the movie, I felt a nudge from my tired husband. I looked at him, and he looked at me with such love in his eyes, that I knew that every part of tonight was exactly how it should have been. Our children were snuggled under a quilt eating pizza on wooden trays over the carpet. We were drinking tea with honey, and our baby boy was nursing happily. I think it was even snowing outside a little. 

It took a little serving on my part to make everything right, but don’t worry, I left the dishes for this morning. And Sabbath can sneak in in those beautiful moments when we slow down enough to do just exactly what our family needs.

I went to bed early, the suitcases splayed open on the floor and most of their contents displayed haphazardly on the floor in the search for the tooth brushes. The bathroom too was left quite a disaster, as the after-movie bath left half the floor flooded because of some rather *ahem* exuberant splashing on the part of my three year old.

But that is all okay. 

I think I learn a little about the heart of God in Sabbath as I help to create it for my family, as well as enjoy it myself. He calls us to lay all the things down for awhile. To stop and rest and be.

He makes us to remember that He alone is God. And that the world does not need my activity to turn it. He calls us back from our idols of work and productivity, a clean house and even from an easy next day sometimes. As variable as our idols are, the Sabbath is designed to help us root them out. 

My sister asked me on Friday what I thought about someone saying that Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath. (In reference to no longer needing to practice this part of the law.) 

And here is the essence of the thoughts I gave her, more or less: Of course. No one has to keep perfectly the law to be saved. That was the whole reason why God gave the law in the first place, to show us that apart from him we cannot keep the law and that we desperately need a Savior to make us right before God. But just because we don’t have to do something, doesn’t mean that it isn’t God’s heart for us, or that it wouldn’t benefit us. After all, Sabbath was a part of God’s design before sin even came into the world at all. On the Seventh Day God rested from all the work that he had done, and he called it Holy. I personally believe that the Sabbath is a provision from God, one that we are wise to accept and embrace for the sake of fruitfulness in our personal lives as well as continued zeal for the ministry to which God has called each of us. 

I’d like to dive into this more. The “Why?” behind Sabbath may just be the thing that is keeping you from practicing what I believe to be, one of the most fruitful habits of all.

The garden is under the weight of frost and snow. The goats have dried up from their milking. The darkness comes earlier each evening and stays longer each morning as the winter solstice approaches. And it’s time to rest. 

In the midst of Advent, rest may just be the thing that keeps us grounded and centered on the true meaning of Christmas, which though it has very little to do with Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause, has everything to do with being invited by a loving God into a season of joy and feasting as we reflect on how our God is a God who provides exactly what we need: and what we need more than anything is him with us. Immanuel. Rest can help us slow down enough to tune in to all these truths. 

Today we go to Church. And Isaiah will probably take a nap on my lap again. And when we get home we’ll probably take it slow for the second afternoon in a row, and that is perfectly good. Jesus was never in much of a rush, and you don’t have to let the hustle and hurry to celebrate his coming capture you more than his radical love for your precious soul does. 

Blessings on you this First Sunday of Advent. May you rest in the one who gave everything to make you his.