Advent

  • Love Came For Us

    It was Christmas 2006. I was visiting my parents for the holidays, but I was not much fun to be around. I was miserable. For a month I had been nauseated and puking. I had no energy and my joints seemed to constantly ache. The first trimester of my first pregnancy was proving to be difficult. I mostly sat around or slept. One evening, my dad announced he was going for a walk and wanted me to come with him. The fresh air would do me good, he insisted. Grudgingly, I pulled on my snow boots and coat and followed him outside. 

    It was snowing. The flakes fell softly all around. There was no wind. No typical town noise. Just the peaceful sound of snowflakes gently landing on my coat. We walked the streets in companionable silence, stopping occasionally to admire a Christmas light display. As we walked, my mind turned to the little person growing in my belly. What would it be like when he kicked for the first time? What would it be like to hold him? 

    Then, as we passed a nativity scene, I realized that God, thousands of years before, chose to enter the world the same way as the baby growing in me would. God, who is all-powerful and omnipresent, became an embryo that grew inside a woman and was born into the world as a helpless baby. When God entered the world, there was no room for him to be born in a house. There was no midwife present to help with his delivery. Instead, God entered the world in the lowliest of positions–a baby born in a barn.

    Why on earth would God choose to enter the world as a helpless baby born in a barn? The answer is so simple, yet so profound. Love

    As Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, “This is the staggering message of Christ’s incarnation: God’s glory became dirt so that we- the scum of the earth- might become the very glory of God.”  Because of His great love, He entered the world that way for us. And while it seems absurd to our human eyes, His radical love is what the Christmas story is all about. 

    Romans 8:38 sums it up beautifully. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    How do we know this to be true? Because God would never allow anything to stand in the way of His love reaching us. Through His birth as a baby, He proved He would stop at nothing to be with us. He left all the comforts of heaven, surrendered all his power to be with us, to know what it was like to be one of us. He chose to be dependent on a human mother to feed and care for him just like any other human. He learned what it was like to be cold, hungry, tired, sad, and completely reliant on others for his care. He wanted to walk with us, but he also wanted to understand what it was like to walk as one of us (Hebrews 4:14-16). 

    And if you follow the whole story of Immanuel, “God with us,” you know that the baby Jesus grew up, and used his time on earth to comfort the hurting, feed the hungry, and raise the dead. Then he walked right up to a tortuous cross. For our sake he carried our sin and bore our shame, dying on that cross so that he could defeat sin and death once and for all through his resurrection. His Spirit could now live among His people comforting and guiding them for all eternity. Now, truly, nothing can separate us from the love of God. His birth as a baby, his life on earth, his death at the cross, and his resurrection from the dead made sure of that. Praise God!

    As the baby in my womb continued to grow, my body changed and adapted to make room for him. My husband and I began to rearrange the house to make room for his crib and the many things a baby requires. Most importantly, our hearts grew to make room for the love we would have for the new family member coming into the world. As God entered the world, there seemed to be little room for him. There was no room at the inn. There was no room in people’s hearts for a miraculous conception. Instead, Jesus’ birth was surrounded by rumor and scandal. 

    I wonder if people really knew who was being born that day, would they have made room?  Would they have let him be born in a barn among the animals? If they knew that God was at work, would it have changed how they approached Mary and Joseph, or how they interacted with the new baby?

    God is always at work in the world, but rarely in ways that make sense to us. Often his works are as inconspicuous as a baby born in a barn, but as life-changing as the love of God living among us. The question is: Do we make room for the work of God in our lives? Or do we push the miraculous gift of Immanuel, “God with us,” to the outskirts of our lives? What if we arranged our hearts and lives so that we can be molded and changed by the work God is doing in and around us? 

    As we celebrate Christmas, surrounded by gifts from family and friends, let us not forget the greatest gift. The gift of love born in a barn thousands of years ago. A baby born to fulfill God’s deepest desire, to live and walk with his people, to be in close relationship with his people. His deepest desire is to walk with you in love. Let us make room in our hearts and lives for the gift that will never fade or disappear…the unfailing love of God.

    Read more

  • Experiencing Great Joy This Christmas

    Nothing about Jesus’ entry into this world was as we would have expected. The Messiah, the King of kings was born in a barn, in desperate circumstances to a young girl who was a virgin. Definitely not the typical situation, right? The first people other than his parents to know of the Messiah’s arrival were a group of shepherds–the most unlikely of people to hear this good news.

    Shepherds were considered societal nobodies. They were looked down upon, were poor, filthy and smelled like sheep. They lived most of their lives outside and on the outskirts of society, missing out on most of the things in life that others enjoyed. Despite this, God chose shepherds to be the first to hear the joyous news that the Messiah had finally arrived!

    “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’

    Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”” – Luke 2:8-14 NIV

    The shepherds were going about their life and duties, trying to protect their sheep throughout the night, when the most amazing thing happened. An angel appeared out of nowhere to announce the best news ever. Can you even imagine what that would have been like for the shepherds? This wasn’t just any message brought to them by a courier, or word of mouth that eventually reached their ears long after it happened. No, this was the full red carpet experience rolled out before their very eyes. We tend to skip past the details of the messengers in this story to get to the message, but this was a wondrous and miraculous event of the shepherds experiencing the presence of God like few other people ever had.

    Not only did an angel appear to them, but it says that the “glory of the Lord shone around them”–we’re talking about a supernatural phenomenon. It would’ve been similar to the glow that surrounded Moses as he came down the mountain with the ten commandments after encountering God. To add to that, a heavenly host, the armies of God, joined the party! No wonder they were in awe and terrified!

    “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.’”

    Luke 2:10-11 NIV

    This announcement was one that the people of God had been longing to hear. For over 700 years, since the prophet Isaiah first prophesied the coming of the Messiah, the people of God had been anxiously waiting for the Messiah to come to rescue and redeem them. The good news that they had been waiting on in faith for generations had finally arrived! What joyous news! This was the announcement of the century and they got a front row seat to it.

    How blessed and honored by God these shepherds must have felt to receive this very special message from the Lord. It was the best birth announcement ever! They got an invitation straight from the heavens to witness the most miraculous event in all of history–the birth of the Son of God.

    “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him [Jesus], they spread the word concerning what had been told to them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” – Luke 2:15-20 NIV

    These lowly shepherds were chosen by God to become the first messengers of His joyous good news–that His son had come to bring joy to all people. Their joy was that they got to experience God’s good news even before they carried it to others. They received a glimpse that night that the world was really bigger and more amazing than they had even imagined. They got to see a greater reality, a window into the kingdom of God. This experience showed them that God had more for them than they even knew. Their lives would never be the same after encountering the glory of God that night and beholding their savior in the manger. I can only imagine that it was the joy they experienced that transformed them into people who proclaimed God’s amazing works and His good news that will bring joy to ALL people. For it is in Christ’s presence that we receive the fullness of true and lasting joy!

    In the Christmas song “O Holy Night,” the second line says: “Long lay the world, in sin and error, pining. ’Til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.” That night while watching their sheep, the shepherds’ world got turned upside down and they felt their worth in God. Their circumstances in life may not have changed, but they were changed. They were transformed by the coming of the Messiah. He brought them great joy that night, and we too get to experience that great joy!

    It is in the moment that Jesus was born, when He appears in the world, that our souls now know their worth. How joyous that God would become human for us–to exchange heaven for earth to endure hardship, pain, loss and all this broken world offers. He came for us! God’s great love sent Jesus for our sake–that is the good news that today continues to bring us great joy!

    Joy can be a difficult thing to have when life feels chaotic and busy. There are so many distractions that can steal our joy. But we can have the joy Christ brings no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in, because our worth lies securely in the fact that God chose us and loves us with a love that never fails.

    Father God, we are filled with such joy remembering the very first Christmas, knowing that you brought to us the best gift of all–Jesus! Thank you for your great love for us and for sending your Son to redeem us. We are filled with such joy over the good news of Christ!

    Read more

  • Peace in the Midst of Uncertainty

    I love Christmastime. All of it. The lights, the music, the decorations, and I’ve even grown to love the cheesy Hallmark movies (I’m talking about you, Knight Before Christmas). But I especially love the peaceful, quiet moments on my own or with family, remembering when Emmanuel, God with us, arrived so long ago. 

    My thoughts this time of year often turn to Mary, the mother of Jesus. I so admire her faithfulness and trust in the Lord. As a mama, I can relate to how she treasured things in her heart, or how uncertain she must have felt when Jesus was little and she was learning how to be a mama for the first time.  

    But this year, as I read through the story of Jesus’ birth in the Bible, I noticed Joseph. While Mary has a whole song recorded in the Bible, we don’t have a single recorded word from Joseph. But his actions and character speak volumes and continually point toward faith and hope in the Prince of Peace.

    In Matthew 1:18-25 we see the story unfold. Joseph, who was engaged to Mary, suddenly found himself at the center of a scandal. Mary was pregnant and the child was not his. While an angel had already revealed to Mary that what was happening was the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, Joseph had not yet received any such reassurance. 

    In their time and culture, a person’s virtue and honor were paramount. If Joseph stayed with Mary, people would assume he was the father, bringing shame and dishonor to himself and his family. If he stated the truth that he is not the father, the blame lands squarely on Mary’s shoulders, and Joesph would have been within his legal right to have her put to death by stoning. For both Joseph and Mary, the stakes had never been higher. 

    It’s not hard to imagine the depth of grief Joseph must have felt. He thought he had chosen a woman of virtue, one who loved and followed God and would have brought honor and love, and beauty to his life. And now this? His entire world had just been turned upside down. And yet, Joseph was a thoughtful and just man, faithful to God’s law and dependent on Him for wisdom and direction. 

    As Joseph lay in bed, no doubt unable to sleep and agonizing about what to do, he decided that he would put Mary’s honor above his own and quietly divorce her. When he finally drifted off to sleep, an angel spoke to Joesph in a dream.

    At just the right time, in just the right way, God reassured Joesph that the events unfolding would not bring tragedy, but triumph–the beginning of a holy, redemptive work that would save all of humanity. 

    God didn’t give Joseph a lot of detail, or promise that everything would be ok. But God did comfort Joseph telling him not to be afraid. Then God told Joseph exactly what he needed to know to step forward in faith. I can only imagine the wave of relief, peace, and total wonder that must have washed over Joseph after that dream. I bet he took a long exhale when he realized this was all a part of God’s plan. 

    As he tried to comprehend all that he had been told, I wonder if Joesph recalled Psalm 29:11 to mind: “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.” 

    Joseph would need strength for the road ahead, strength to face the judgmental stares from friends and family who thought he had broken their marital laws, strength to love and care for Mary and baby Jesus, and strength to have faith that what the Lord said was all true. But Joseph would also need to lean into the peace that God promised as well. 

    The Hebrew word for peace is shalom and it means so much more than the mere absence of conflict. Shalom means to make whole, or complete. To take something that’s broken and complicated and restore it to order. Shalom can apply to damaged property being repaired, someone’s health returning after a season of illness, or a broken relationship being mended. To give shalom is to give wholeness, healing, and restoration. 

    As Joseph faithfully stepped into the role that God was calling him to, his trust in God’s ability to breathe order into chaos would have helped him to continue to be attentive to God’s instructions and to boldly protect, lead, and love his family well. Joseph took Mary as his wife, and just as the Lord had instructed, named the Baby Jesus.

    And God was faithful. He continued to walk with Joseph and speak to him through dreams, giving him the next set of instructions, and then the next. All along the way, God continued to give Joseph strength and bless him with peace.

    Maybe you are in the middle of a complicated situation that could use some healing and restoration, or maybe you are in a season that feels overwhelming and unpredictable and you need God to breathe order into your chaos. Maybe you aren’t sure how you are going to provide for yourself or your family and it’s hard to see how you’ll make it another week, let alone another month. Perhaps you feel called by God to step forward in faith to fill a role that feels impossibly hard and you wonder if you’re really the right person for the job.

    I’m sure Joseph experienced all of these feelings and while God may not send angels to speak to us in dreams the way He did with Joseph, He will give you strength and bless you with peace that goes beyond anything our human minds can comprehend. 

    Because Jesus is the ultimate source of true “shalom”. He is the Prince of Peace. There is no limit to the wholeness and healing that He brings.

    We will still be faced with difficult circumstances, but because of Jesus, our relationship with God has been restored and we are now called His children. We are heirs of an unshakable Kingdom that will never fall or fade. Because of Jesus, we can continue to put one foot in front of the other, following Him and leaning into His instructions, trusting in His ability to bring order to chaos, healing to what is broken, and wholeness where there is longing. 

    And as Christmas day approaches, may we remember and celebrate Jesus coming to earth to be our Prince of Peace, and look forward with eager anticipation to when he returns, and shalom will be complete.

    Read more

  • Love Came Down

    Each year during the Christmas season, we find ourselves surrounded by songs, sermons, and scenes depicting Jesus as a baby in a manger. We sing carols about how he came to save us and to bring hope, peace, joy, and love – all incredibly powerful truths. But this year, as my family has been walking through the Advent season together, I’ve been pondering what it means that God came to earth, not mature and fully formed, but as a loud, messy, unpredictable baby. 

    This can be a difficult idea for our image-obsessed culture to embrace. Most of us prefer our lives to be relatively tidy, logical, and orderly – at least from the outside looking in. But how often does everything in our lives stay neat and tidy for long periods of time? How many of our intimate relationships stay neat and tidy for long stretches of time? Where there is life and growth, there are messes! So if messes are inevitable, maybe they aren’t as bad as we think they are, but perhaps instead we need to examine our responses to the messes that happen.

    In John chapter 3, Jesus explicitly referred to the growing-up process we all go through when He explained the Kingdom of God to the religious leader named Nicodemus. Nicodemus had come to Jesus under the cover of night, searching for more answers to his questions. They didn’t talk long before Jesus had revealed the secret of God’s kingdom to him, saying “you must be born again”  (John 3:3) 

    If you’re like me, you might read that verse through your “Christian filter” and it might sound pretty normal. But what might Nicodemus have thought when hearing that sentence for the first time? How unexpected it must have been! I imagine He had expected Jesus to share some sort of profound statement full of wisdom that would blow His mind. (And in fact, that’s exactly what Jesus did.) But at the time, I don’t think Nicodemus expected to hear that he needed to become a baby again! In the next verse, we can see that he responded quite literally to Jesus’s statement, exclaiming, “how can someone be born again when they are old? Can they enter into their mother’s womb a second time?” (paraphrase) But of course, we have the helpful perspective of knowing that Jesus didn’t mean literally, He was speaking metaphorically. So if we follow that metaphor to its natural conclusion, what do we infer?

    Well, first of all, we can first infer that becoming a spiritual baby who is learning everything all over again is not only OK, it’s actually a requirement!” You MUST be born again,” Jesus says. And yet this metaphor of birth and babies sure brings with it a very messy-sounding reality. Many of us, if we’re honest, might admit how uncomfortable it sounds. After all, who wants to go back to the baby stage of being helpless and vulnerable?! Isn’t it better to maintain the posture of being wise and respected? Shouldn’t that be of the most value in God’s kingdom?

    But God’s kingdom is not of this world. It thrives not in the pride of perfection, but in the simplicity of our humble, messy growth. The step-by-step stages of our spiritual growth and development may never feel easy or tidy; but over time, as we embrace God’s good plan to parent us, we grow from spiritual babies to curious children, to mature adults. This radical acceptance of God’s wisdom and timing sets us up towards sustained maturity and great wisdom through our dependence on Him. Meanwhile, there is so much more grace for our messes and mistakes than we think there is! God is not surprised by them, and just like every good parent, He will help us – teaching us and loving us unconditionally through it all.

    We will all continue to make messes and mistakes throughout our lives, but because of Jesus, they don’t have the power to define us or to change our identity. Messes and mistakes are a normal, even expected result of our growth and development as people and Christ-followers. We must remember that as children of God, we desperately need Him to parent us to maturity. 

    In Psalm 40:2, David describes God’s mercy this way: 

    “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”

    Psalm 40:2

    From a muddy pit to a firm and strong foundation, God’s love for us, through the life of Jesus, brings help, hope, and redemption to even our worst messes!

    This Christmas, I encourage you to spend time remembering that Love came down as a baby. It wasn’t easy, quiet, or tidy, but it was good. Let’s give thanks to God for sending Jesus into our messy world, to redeem it and restore it. No matter what messes might be present in your life, you can take heart knowing that God will not leave you there in your mess, but lift you up out of it and set your feet on solid ground. We can give it all to God, the redeemer of our messes, and proclaim like the angels in Bethlehem so long ago, “Glory to God in the highest!”  Love has come.

    Read more

  • Joyful in God

    When I was in second grade, an older kid on the playground tried to push me off the swings. I hollered and protested but to no avail. Thankfully a sixth-grader named Tony heard my pleas for help and crossed the playground with what seemed like a single stride staring down my opponent with a look that no one dared challenge. My bully slinked away defeated, and I was overcome with triumph and pure joy as we celebrated the victory with a triple-under-dog push on the swings. To this day, I don’t remember the fear or trouble of the conflict, only the joy of having found such a friend and defender. 

    Often in the Bible, we see that joy and trouble seem to hold hands. It’s easy sometimes to think that joy is the natural response to everything being alright in our world. But if that were true, we would hardly ever experience any sense of joy. Even though we may have seasons where most things are going right, it’s rare they stay that way for long. Joy doesn’t come only in the absence of trouble but is made all the more meaningful and more pronounced by the presence of trouble.

    But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; Let those also who love Your name be joyful in You.”

    Psalm 5:11

    In times of trouble, those who put their trust in Jesus have reason to rejoice—not because the battle is over, but because they are sheltered in the midst of the battle. God doesn’t always eliminate the trouble, but he does give us protection and will defend us in the middle of it. He is faithful to hear our cries and works powerfully on our behalf when we call His name for help. 

    In John 16:33, Jesus acknowledges that there will be trouble in this life, but in the same breath, He reminds us to take heart because He has already overcome anything we could ever face. We can trust Jesus to know what we are going through and to help us in our need. In fact, in the very next chapter, Jesus prays for all believers. That includes us! 

    Let that sink in for a second. Jesus prayed for us. And with Jesus praying for us, there’s no trouble in the world that could dim the joy of being loved by the ultimate Defender, Savior, and Friend. 

    Yes, life is hard. Impossibly hard at times. We can go through seasons where the trouble never seems to end. But when we choose to turn our hearts toward the source of our salvation, instead of focusing solely on our situation, that same trouble and turmoil can serve to push us into the open arms of Jesus where real joy lives. We can rejoice again because God is worthy of our trust. We can shout for joy because we are His children and He defends us. 

    Whatever you are facing today, I pray that you know you are not alone and that there is joy waiting in the arms of our Savior Jesus. Let Him hold you close as He restores your heart, and renews your joy.

    Read more

  • Hope for the Hopeless

    A few years back I was rehearsing with my church choir for our annual Christmas program. To be honest, I didn’t want to be there. My Christmas spirit had up and left. It was difficult for a spirit of joy and anticipation to thrive in my mental state of mind on that day. There was just no place for joy to take root in my spirit of negativity and self-doubt. I had been fighting intrusive, negative thoughts most of the year and I was tired. Tired of not being good enough. Tired of the world being a broken place to live in. Tired of fighting to put one foot in front of the other. And that tiredness was manifesting itself into hopelessness. I was starting to believe things would never get better.

    Then, we sang the first verse of “O Holy Night”: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks, a new a glorious morn.” 

    These words spoke directly to how I was feeling. Pining means mental and physical decline, especially because of a broken heart. That explained my heart exactly. By allowing negative intrusive thoughts to rule in my life, my heart was broken, and it was hard to feel joy. When I read the news headlines or ran into an unkind person in the store, it added to the sense of brokenness I felt. But “O Holy Night” revealed what God did to help that broken heart.

    “Till He appeared…” Those living in the times of Jesus, were living in a broken world as well. They were under a harsh Roman rule. There were high taxes. Roman soldiers on every corner watching you. The religious leaders had created a law that was impossible to follow. It indeed appeared hopeless. Those that tried to throw off Roman rule were killed. Those that didn’t follow the man-made religious law, were outcasted. Their one lifeline of hope was the promise of a Savior. The promise of the Messiah, God’s anointed.

    “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices…” One evening some 2000 years ago, the long awaited day arrived. The promised Messiah, our hope of salvation, entered the world. Luke 2:10-11 describes the angelic birth announcement:

    “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.’”

    Luke 2:10-11

    Isaiah 9:1-7 shares the hope the Messiah would bring to broken, hopeless hearts.
    “No more gloom for those who were in distress.” (vs 1)
    “People walking in darkness will see a great light.” (vs 2)
    “He will increase their joy.” (vs 3)
    “The yoke that burdens the people would be taken away.” (vs 4)
    “He will establish justice and righteousness.” (vs 7)

    The Messiah was coming to take away the hopelessness and replace it with joy. He gives us hope that brokenness is not a place we have to live in any longer. In the gospels, we see time after time how Jesus shared hope with others. Jesus, forgiving the sins of the lame man on the mat, gives hope that living in the depth of sin is no longer a reality we have to live. Talking with an outcast woman at the well, He gives us hope that despite our past choices we can receive love and acceptance from Jesus. Jesus’s death and resurrection secures our victory over death giving us hope that no matter what happens in this life, we will rise to an amazing eternal life with a loving God.

    The gospels show Jesus offering and proclaiming hope to those who believe, so why was I living as if Jesus never came? I struggled with living in the hopelessness that I am not good enough. That God will never fully accept me because of my shortcomings. That there is no hope for my brokenness or my broken world. As I lived in my false sense of hopelessness, I found myself giving up, becoming a recluse inside myself and my house. I realized, that is exactly where Satan wants me to be–living a life disregarding the fact that Hope has already entered the world, ignoring that Hope had chosen to live inside me though the Holy Spirit. When I live that way, I am unable to use the gifts and talents He gave me to bless the broken world I live in. But I don’t have to live in hopelessness and neither do you! God already gave the remedy for it–He sent Jesus on that “O Holy Night.”

    “Yonder breaks and new a glorious morn…” The Christmas story reminds us of the ‘hope to which we are called’ (Eph 1:18). Hope came into the world, but we have to claim it. We no longer have to live in the darkness of hopelessness, but we can choose to stand in the light of a new morning filled with the hope and joy that we are loved despite our faults. To live in the joy that God still works and lives within us, transforming us into his vessel of hope and joy. To live in the truth that no matter what happens we have victory over sin and death, and a promised eternal life with God. Beloved, I hope that this Christmas you will be able to lay down any burden or hopelessness you carry and run like the shepherds did, to the presence of Jesus and rejoice.

    Read more

  • Guiding Us Toward the Path of Peace

    I love reading the Christmas story with my kids each year. We curl up on the couch in front of the fireplace, all cozy in our fuzzy blankets and jammies, each night before bed and read about when our Lord came to earth as a baby (out of his great love for us) to bring us hope and joy and peace.

    And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

    Luke 1:76-79

    These words were spoken by Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, when he saw his miracle child. Zechariah was a priest, and he and his wife, Elizabeth, had just given birth to their son, named John. Zechariah and Elizabeth had been childless for many years and were well past child-bearing age when this miracle happened to them.

    John was the one prophesied to come before Jesus and sent to prepare a way for Him, announcing His coming. Up to this point, the whole world had been waiting in the darkness for the light of hope to come. This story of John ushers us into the very beginning of the Christmas story–a story of when the light of the world came to “guide our feet into the path of peace”, to bring us hope in salvation and forgiveness of sin. John’s role was to point to Jesus and go ahead of him, giving the people hope that the one whom they have been waiting for, for so many years, is finally here!

    Jesus is “the rising sun”, shining light into the darkness in order to guide us into his peace. As we allow the light of Jesus to illuminate the dark places in our life, the peace of Christ comes to us and replaces all fear and doubt with rest and assurance.

    Father God, we ask that you help us see the areas of our lives where we need your light to shine forth in darkness. Bring your everlasting peace to our hearts and souls, replacing all fear and doubt, and helping us point others to you, the Prince of Peace. We long for true peace that comes only through your son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

    Read more

  • Peace of Christ

    Peace.

    This evening after work, my husband discovered a leak in the very old hot water tank of our newly purchased home. So instead of enjoying the relaxing evening we’d planned, curling up on the couch with our kids and the latest Mandalorian episode, we raced the clock to pull up wet carpet and subfloor, buy and install a new copper pipe, cook supper, and get everyone fed before bedtime … all while trying to stay calm and be nice to each other.

    It almost seems laughable how frenzied we all became so quickly. It became increasingly difficult to give each other grace and margin for our disagreements and different priorities throughout the evening.

    Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

    John 14:27 (ESV)

    I don’t know about you, but this promise from Jesus to his disciples sounds almost too good to be true. Especially right now. I’ve been a Jesus-follower for a number of years now, and I’ve heard this particular passage more times than I can count. But I have to be honest: after a year like 2020 I feel as if I’m reading these words for the first time. How can Jesus make such bold statements? Is His peace really so accessible, even today? How can we keep our hearts from being troubled and afraid of the pain and chaos around us? How do we gain access to God’s incredible gift of peace?

    Let’s look a bit further down in John 16 where Jesus is once again speaking to His disciples about peace:

    Jesus asked [His disciples], ‘Do you finally believe? But the time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

    John 16:31-33 (ESV)

    This one hits hard. Jesus is describing His upcoming betrayal and abandonment from the very people he’s sitting next to – His best friends. I cannot imagine a worse scenario to foresee. If anyone had foreseen the tragedies of 2020, would they have been able to handle the grief and the apprehension? Would they have been able to hold the tension of gracious acceptance and brave fortitude? Jesus saw the future as God revealed it to him and He spoke of supernatural peace, even in the darkness of those events. What mattered most was not actually the events themselves, but more so Who was still present and offering peace in the midst of tragedy.

    Jesus confirmed over and over again throughout the Bible that life on earth will be hard, with trials and sorrows guaranteed to come our way. But the trials and the sorrows aren’t the end of the story because God is present through it all, and His promises stand firm.

    Let us open our hands this Advent season, to give Jesus our pain and sorrow and receive His supernatural gift of peace.

    Read more

  • Treasuring Immanuel

    And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 

    “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

    When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:8-19

    There have been times in my life when there’s been a plot twist so big that words fail me and I’m left to ponder in quiet stillness. This uncharacteristic calm is something that still surprises me, especially since I’m typically the kind of person that processes things out loud. But sometimes there are just events or circumstances in life that are so big, they are beyond our comprehension. In those moments, I find the only way to make sense of things is to sit with the Lord and let Him make sense of it for me. 

    So I’ll steal away to a quiet, comfy place in my house, or to a coffee shop where I can write and think and pray. Inevitably, as I sit with the Lord, I am overwhelmed with a feeling of safety and peace. He is my safe space, my refuge. He’ll never judge me for feeling like my thoughts are chaotic and scattered. He is patient with me and helps me lay out all the pieces of the puzzle so that I can begin to process and see where God might be at work. Without fail, He leads me gently to a place where, even if I can’t see the whole big picture, I can at least see Him. 

    I imagine Mary had several of those moments in her life where life took such a big turn that words just failed her and she had to just sit with the Lord and take it all in. I wonder if that’s what Mary was experiencing in Luke 2:19 when it says,  she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” 

    In this part of Mary’s story, she had just given birth to Jesus, in a barn, after days of traveling. She would have been beyond tired, and this was likely not the birth scenario she had imagined. Sitting in that barn, looking at this little baby who was fully God and fully human must have felt so surreal, so beyond comprehension. In these moments after Jesus’ birth, she would have been busy caring for her newborn, focused on his needs and on resting and healing herself.  Having strangers suddenly drop by may not quite have been what she envisioned. But when a group of shepherds show up at the stable after an angel of the Lord tells them of Jesus’ birth, Mary is gracious. Instead of shooing them away or recoiling at what may have felt like an intrusion, Mary is generous with her time, with her heart and with Jesus. 

    As the shepherds stood there amazed at the foot of the manger, they recognized that this baby was the Messiah. Maybe it was in that moment that Mary zoomed out and saw a bigger view of an even bigger picture. Perhaps it was then Mary realized that she and Joseph were not the only ones who believed that what God said would happen, was now finally happening. Immanuel, God with us, had arrived. 

    As the shepherds left to go tell everyone what they had seen and heard, Mary was left in the stillness, in a quiet moment of solace to ponder and marvel at all God had done, was doing and would do in the days to come. She knew they were on the edge of something big, and even though she couldn’t see the whole big picture, she could see God in the face of her newborn baby.

    In our lives we experience many twists and turns. We experience events when time seems to stand still, whether for better or worse. We too can sit with the Lord in safety and peace, and see his face in the midst of whatever we are going through. He was then, and is still, our hope, our comfort, our Immanuel, God with us. 

    Read more

  • Quiet Confidence

    As we enter into this advent season, my mind often turns to the women who played such an instrumental role in the Christmas story and what it must have been like to see the life of Jesus unfold firsthand. 

    Often we focus on Mary, the mother of Jesus, and understandably. A teenage, unwed virgin bearing the Son of God warrants noticing. But I’m also struck by her older cousin Elizabeth, who’s own miraculous story is intricately woven into the beautiful tapestry of the Christmas story.

    The name Elizabeth means “God is my oath” and it couldn’t be a better fit for her. In Luke 1:5-60, we learn that Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were well along in years, but had no children. In Elizabeth’s day, a woman’s value was wrapped up in her ability to be able to bear children, and not just children, but a son to carry on the family name and her husband’s legacy. With each passing childless year, Elizabeth and Zechariah’s disappointment would have been profound. But where faith might falter for many, they instead leaned into the Lord’s faithfulness and continued to pray for a child. They continued to serve in the church and in their community. Elizabeth’s years of disappointment deepened rather than destroyed her faith. 

    Imagine her surprise when an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah to tell him that they would be parents to a son and they should name him John. And he wouldn’t be just any son, but great in the Lord’s eyes, a joy and a delight and one who would help prepare the hearts of all Israel for the coming Messiah. 

    I can only imagine the flood of emotion and wonder that must have rushed over Elizabeth in that moment. Even though she was well past her childbearing years, she would be having a son! In her joy, she praises God, saying “How kind the Lord is! He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.” (Luke 1:25 NLT)

    What I love about Elizabeth is that she is a picture of calm, and quiet confidence. She appears to be unruffled by life and seems to take everything in stride. No doubt she experienced all sorts of emotions and feelings, but when we see her described, she is not ruled by her emotion, but by her faith. That quiet confidence came from her relationship with God and her heart being open to the Holy Spirit guiding and helping her. Her confidence was in God, because He has always been faithful. And now she was literally living out a miracle in her own story. 

    Because Elizabeth knew God, she didn’t question how He was working. She was secure in who He was, therefore she was secure herself. This translated to many different areas of her life: how she dealt with disappointment, grief and possibly shame during her childless years, as well as how she interacted in her relationships. Establishing her identity and confidence in the Lord, positively impacted her relationship with her husband by helping solidify their faith as a couple. It rippled out into her extended family and to her friends and neighbors as they shared her joy when her baby was born (vs. 58). Her God-confidence influenced how she navigated the unexpected surprise of a baby in her later years and how she related to her younger cousin, Mary, when she came to visit with the news that she too was pregnant with a miracle.  

    This interaction between Mary & Elizabeth is perhaps my favorite part of Elizabeth’s story and such a beautiful example of God’s provision of community. As baby John leaps in her womb upon hearing Mary’s voice, Elizabeth immediately recognizes that Mary is the mother of the Lord. It makes sense that she would recognize God’s handiwork having just experienced a miracle of her own. The joy and wonder she and Mary share as they marvel at how the Lord is at work in their lives, and through the lives of their children is a treasure.

    What a gift God gave them in being able to relate so deeply to one another, even just to process together all that was happening and unfolding.  It is such a beautiful example of God’s perfect provision and timing. John was going to prepare the people’s hearts for Jesus’ arrival. Had he come when Elizabeth had first prayed for a child, too much time could have gone by between John’s teaching and Jesus’ arrival, and the hearts of the people may have again grown cold. Perhaps God was preparing Elizabeth all this time, knowing that Mary would need a caring and wise, mature mentor to help her navigate the difficulties that lay ahead in her own story. Whatever the reasons, Elizabeth’s quiet confidence and mature faith, no doubt blessed Mary more that we can even know. 

    As we reflect on the Christmas story and the anticipation of Christmas itself, I want to encourage you, in your own season of waiting. Maybe you are bringing your own persistent prayer ever before Him or you’re eagerly awaiting the day when the Lord returns and sets all things right again. Perhaps you are experiencing the chronic disappointment of life not going at all the way you had hoped or planned, or you’re reeling from a sudden, unexpected change you didn’t see coming (good or bad). Know that the same God who loved and provided for Elizabeth, loves you and will provide for you too. He sees you and knows your needs. As you lean on Him, you can trust wholeheartedly that He will cultivate in you a faith that leads to joy and security in any situation. Because of your relationship with God, you too can have quiet confidence that God is working powerfully in your circumstances, and that the story He is writing in your life will also be one of His perfect provision and profound love. 

    Read more