What if There’s No Silent Night

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“And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

 – Luke 2:7, NASB –

For every weary and worn and worried…tomorrow is Christmas.

You may think that’s bad news, that Christmas is peeking over the edge of tomorrow and driving you distracted with to-do’s and undo’s and what-to-do’s.

Your Christmas won’t be like other people’s. You’ve known that for a while. It’s inevitable. You can’t just pretend that all the pain or trouble, sickness or grief, conflict or loss will just evaporate for one snow-covered day on the calendar.

And as much as you’ve struggled to identify with that serene nativity scene you unpacked a few weeks ago, maybe you can’t quite manage it. The silent night, calm and bright, is far away for you today. It is a whirring, bright, noisy day, and where on earth is the place where we can identify with that Child sleeping in the straw?

Not here.

While He sleeps in heavenly peace, you wish you could sleep straight through Christmas too.

How could you hope to meet Him here? Crazy life, rocketing stress, messes that make the Christmas glow grow dim. Hardly a quiet Bethlehem night. Hardly a place for a holy baby. Hardly a place for celebration, because the inn was full and life is full too…full of circumstances that crowd out the joy and the wonder.

They ring the bells on the corners and your head rings right along, because you’re flurrying toward Christmas and there’s no quiet space for a manger cradle and a silent night.

Christmas is coming for you, ready or not.

Not. Not ready. Not really sure how you could be. Not sure when things will be sane enough to be ready for a jolly day of cheer.

But you see….dear, dear friend, that’s the good news.

Because we’re never really ready for Christmas….So Christmas had to come for us.

And, so often, we get it all upside down and backwards, like we have to get something ready. We have to clean the inn and change the hay in the manger. We have to do something to make this Christmas a fit place for a King to be born.

dabkxsptaek-gareth-harper

But that’s the whole point, you see.

Jesus didn’t come for clean streets and silent nights. He didn’t come for the well and happy and put-together (Mark 2:17). He didn’t come so you could show Him that you’re worth it, that you’ve got it, that you don’t need Him desperately after all.

He came before you knew Him, before you could ever be ready for Christmas, before you could ever get yourself good enough, ready enough, or peaceful enough for a King’s welcome.

And He didn’t come into a silent night.

He came into packed-out Bethlehem in the throes of tax season. He was born to a teenage mother, into poverty (Luke 2:24) and pain and noise and racism and political tension.

That first Christmas was like yours. Loud. Bright. Certainly not quiet. Certainly not merry. Certainly not full of gifts and soft lights and warmth.

It was raw and broken. It was real. It was just like your life.

Because that baby in the manger was not just a royal guest. He didn’t come for all those things we think makes a perfect Christmas.

He came because your Christmas day, your every day, is broken and impossible and sin-stained. He didn’t come to make your Christmas perfect…He came to save you from yourself. The ceaseless driving, striving, never-satisfied you can come to rest in this kind of Christmas day.

God’s rescue plan commenced with a bloody, squalling infant laid in a mound of dirty straw.

Your Christmas may look a lot like that first Christmas so many centuries ago. There may be noise and tears and tension. There may be inadequacy. There may even be the aching question…

Is God truly Emmanuel? Is He truly in this mess with me?

But He came in blood and He died in blood, and He rose to wash us in the triumphant blood that says Yes!

Yes, Emmanuel is with us in all the joys and agonies of life, and He has made a way.

In this way, Christmas is not about the number of shiny ornaments or the quantity of gifts wrapped under the tree…or even if you have a tree.

Celebrating Christmas becomes an exhale into the grace of what God has done.

He did it.

Somehow, He took a mess and made it beautiful.  He took the worst of this world and flipped it on its head to win the day.

So, you see, tomorrow is your chance to believe that Jesus is making something beautiful. And He loves to use a mess to make a miracle.

For every weary and worn and worried…tomorrow is Christmas. 

Emmanuel.

God is with us.

Weary souls, rejoice. He is with us to drive out the dark. And so He will.

“There’s a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll
In the hills of Kentucky, all quiet and cold
And He’s kneeling in the garden, as silent as a Stone
All His friends are sleeping and He’s weeping all alone

And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain but the breaking does not”

 – from “The Silence of God” by Andrew Peterson

 

The God Revealed By Christmas

snow-and-flowers

Christmas never saved anyone…but without Christmas, salvation would have never come.

Christmas–that is, the events of Christ’s birth that many people celebrate on December 25th–broke a 400 year silence from God. Since His last words in the book of Malachi, He sent no prophecies and added no revelation.

Then, one day, that all changed..

An angel appeared next to the altar of incense in Herod’s Temple. And the silence was broken, as it had been so many times before, with the news of an unexpected birth.

“Impossible!” the startled Zacharias said.

I can just see the angel narrowing his eyes. “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was He who sent me to you with this good news!” (Luke 1:19, TLB)

Maybe miracles had been hard to come by lately. But that was about to change, dramatically.

God the Father, in eternal communion with His Son and His Spirit, sent down His Son Jesus to this lonely world, to be one of us.

And that event, more than anything else up to that point in history, told us a lot about the God that we serve.

  • God keeps his promises

Since the promise of a Seed who would destroy the serpent (Genesis 3:15), God had been making promises of a future heaven-sent deliverer (Isaiah 11:1-5). Christmas shows us that God means what He says. In the form of hundreds of prophecies, He promised a the arrival of a certain kind of man, a certain God. And every single one of them came true.

  • God controls history

Only an all-powerful God with a perfect sense of timing can make unchanging promises. To be truthful, by necessity He must also be in control of history. And that He is…and demonstrated at Christmas. An unheard of thing–a virgin girl having a child (Isaiah 7:14). A hectic Bethlehem tax registration…just in time to bring the pregnant Mary to the city predestined to be the Christ’s birthplace (Micah 5:2 ). A hurried escape to Egypt–just as He said “out of Egypt I have called my son” ( Hosea 11:1).

  • Social class does not impress God

While God certainly does not bar the rich or the powerful from His kingdom, the Christmas story does not star many of the world’s elite. In fact, the story is full of common–even disadvantaged–people. Peasant parents, middle-class innkeepers, shepherd guests…a baby born in a barn among the animals. From His birth on, Jesus seems to go out of the way to appear to the poor, the medically isolated, the ethnically outcast, and the religiously deficit. He did not come for those who thought they were enough, but for the ones who–in God’s grace–were humbled enough to see that they could never be enough (Luke 5:31).

  • God reveals Himself

A star blazed the trail for hopeful astronomers. Angels shouted glory over the hillside. An angel appeared to both Zacharias and Mary with special birth announcements. Joseph and the Magi both dreamed of what they should do. Zacharias, his wife Elizabeth, and Simeon at the temple all prophesied through the power of the Holy Spirit, telling of the Christ’s coming and His messenger, John the Baptist.

After so much silence, suddenly light broke over the darkness. If God was whispering before, now He was shouting.

Here’s the truth: if God had hidden Himself, we would have never seen Him. We would have missed Christmas. It would have been too high for us, going right over our bent heads and right past our blind eyes. Even with a cast of angels, prophets, and a cooperative star, most Israelites missed out on the significance of this far-from-silent night. Aside from a passel of shepherds stunned by the glory of God, the newborn Son of God had no adoring visitors. I wonder if any children stirred in their beds at the shouts of the angels. I wonder if the light of the star kept anyone awake.

But God is good and gifted some with the capacity for comprehension (John 1:5). In His purposes, someone saw the light. Someone saw the angels. Someone saw the baby enthroned on the cow’s trough. And soon, such glorious things were done in Israel that the world could not contain them.

  • God identified with us through vulnerability

Jesus, beginning in the stench of hay and barn, loves us enough to live the barest, most humble life. He was a baby, a refugee, a peasant, a citizen of a conquered nation, a blue-collar worker’s son.

In His humanity, Jesus endured every pain and temptation that the rest of us endure. He felt the cold biting his skin. He was ripped by the claws of betrayal and scalded with scorn. He understood the keen pull of temptation, because He too endured the siren song of the Evil One.

He does understand.

  • He is God of the everyday

“It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God—but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people—and this is not learned in five minutes.

—Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest”

In his birth, Jesus made the commonplace holy. His humble beginning shows me that my everyday living does matter. My “small things” are still important to Him. My years of normal living, unmemorialized by men, can please Him. After all, He is God, and only about 10% of his earthly life made it into the Bible. What did He do in those 30 unrecorded years? Small deeds of absolute faithfulness and love. We’re not called to live in the spotlight, at least not all the time. He will take my small days and small hours with pleasure, if I give them to Him in love.

  • God deals in relationships

“Jesus does not turn away from the world, but turns to face it. Jesus came down. He turns toward. He makes his face to shine upon. He shows compassion. He sits with. His with-ness is so important that every time we say his name, we declare it—Immanuel, God with us.”
― Emily P. FreemanSimply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World

Not only is our triune God in close communion with Himself (Mark 1:11), He delights in pouring out His love on His children. Unlike the gods of lore who seem to poke at their creations with a long pole, not caring to be near to them, our God is a God of relationships. This is clear in the Christmas story. He is the God who cared enough to tell Mary, “Do not be afraid.” He is the God who came to earth to actually enter into the closeness of human living, alongside us.

“I no longer call you slaves, for a master doesn’t confide in his slaves; now you are my friends, proved by the fact that I have told you everything the Father told me.”

– John 15:15, TLB –

  • Our God is a God of great joy

“At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.”

– Luke 10:21 NIV –

I do not usually think about the joy of our God. But it only makes sense. If we are to become like Christ, Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 3:1). The Spirit of Christ in us produces joy (Galatians 5:22-23). Jesus, “for the joy set before Him, endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

If we creatures can be full of joy, then think how much joy must be contained in our uncontainable God! Christmas shows us this mind of the Father for rejoicing:

“The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people.”

 – Luke 2:10, CEB –

Our God certainly understands the longings of our hearts.

“Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
For He satisfies the longing soul,
And fills the hungry soul with goodness.” – Psalm 107:8-9, NKJV

Christmas was the beginning of the end of Darkness. Over thirty years later, the Darkness would be permanently dethroned from its hold on the world. Over thirty years later, the red-faced infant would be a bloody-faced convict, still suffering for the world He had borne and been born into. Over thirty years later, He would become the only man whose own power was too great for Death to keep Him in its grasp. His rising would become the pattern for our own resurrection day.


 Christmas is almost here! Take the time to read the stories our Savior’s arrival again, and think about what our God shows us about Himself in this season.

Christmas certainly does not save. But the Christ of it does.

I think that calls for a celebration.

“Who can add to Christmas? The perfect motive is that God so loved the world.
The perfect gift is that He gave His only Son.
The only requirement is to believe in Him.
The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life.”
– Corrie Ten Boom –

Christmas for Real People

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“Blessed is
The season which
Engages the whole
World in a
Conspiracy of love.”

 – Hamilton Wright Mabie –


I adore Christmas. I really do.

But I am also a girl becoming more and more an adult…and I’ve seen things this year that make me look at Christmas differently.

I’ve made decisions that have rippled their effects through my future.

I’ve stared into the eyes of a laughing girl–eyes that laugh to hide how deep the often-inflicted pain has scarred her.

I’ve held other hands and prayed for peace to come at last, after dark days and frightening nights.

I’ve known pain, especially the pain of others.

Becoming an adult, ever so slowly, means I can’t help but see Christmas differently.

But “differently” doesn’t mean that my love of Christmas is dimming. In fact…maybe I am just beginning to understand. I think I get it now.

Christmas is for real people.

Christmas is not made up of fake, perfectly-cast families that you see on the Hallmark Channel. Christmas is not flawless decorating. It is not smooth ornaments and trees without bare spots and everlastingly-cheerful radio music.

Christmas is made of real people. Chipped china and deformed gingerbread. An undercurrent of stress combined with the wonder. People who get tired and cranky and who don’t always get along. People who hurt and love and want to know if Christmas is really for people like them.

Just like we create false ideas of God in our minds, I think we create wrong ideas of the purpose of Christmas.

Christmas is not for the people who have no problems and gather together to celebrate flawless lives.

Christmas is the beginning of God’s expression of love, a response to all our outcries for help and deliverance. When the angels proclaimed Jesus’ birth to the nearby sheep herders, what did they say? “We bring you good news of incredible joy which will be for all nations.” (Luke 2:10-11, my paraphrase)

Good news–after centuries and centuries of waiting. At last, good news!

“Like cold water to a thirsty soul is good news from a far country.” (Proverbs 25:25)

So God spoke from the Far Country, bringing at last the refreshment, the consolation–both to Israel and, through them, to the world.

He didn’t bring Christmas to the King Herods entranced by their own power, to the religious right impressed with their own piety, to the well-satisfied in their own prosperity.

“The well [at least, those who think they’re well!] have no need for a doctor–the sick are the ones who need the doctor.” Jesus would one day say. “I come to call sinners, not the self-righteous. “(Mark 2:17, my paraphrase)

Christmas is for those who see the bare truth of their own powerlessness, sinfulness, and emptiness apart from a God who opens the way for redemption.

I’ll tell you the truth–I’m having to re-think Christmas in my own heart. I’m having to consciously remember that it is not  a holiday made for the perfect and put-together. It is a holy day because God came down to our level–pitiful and impoverished as we are– and made all days holy, because He is with us in them.

If you don’t feel up to celebrating Christmas…

If you feel too empty, too broken, too needy, too much like a refugee from the wounds of life…

If you don’t feel worthy, or capable…

If you think you have nothing to give…

Remember–this is why He came. He came for people like you, “to bring good news to the suffering and afflicted. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted, to announce liberty to captives, and to open the eyes of the blind. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of God’s favor to them has come, and the day of his wrath to their enemies. To all who mourn in Israel he will give: beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning; praise instead of heaviness. For God has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for his own glory.” (Isaiah 61:1-3, TLB)

He came for real people, giving real, satisfying love, and will eventually bring real wholeness to the entire earth.

My inadequacy, my scars, my falling-short–these are not barriers to celebrating Christmas. Since Jesus came, my barriers are now the very reasons I can rejoice in this season. Because Jesus came to bring healing and true joy at last. Because Jesus’s birth and life, death and rising, mean that this world’s suffering isn’t meaningless. Because this good news is for me, too.

I learned a lot about myself this year…and that changed the way I look at Christmas.

I think, maybe, I’m starting to understand.


“The more unworthy you feel yourself to be, the more evidence have you that nothing but unspeakable love could have led the Lord Jesus to save such a soul as yours. The more demerit you feel, the clearer is the display of the abounding love of God in having chosen you, and called you, and made you an heir of bliss.”

 – Charles Haddon Spurgeon –

 

Repost: Why We Must Zakar

Nativity-4

Last year, I wrote this post as a reminder of why celebrating Christmas is something I hold dear. This time of year, people are especially hungry for love and meaning in their lives, giving us a great opportunity to share the gospel. So, whether you celebrate this season or not, please take time to remember the coming of our Lord and reach out to those around us who have no hope. Because we have hope, sisters! This day, and everyday, we have joy in the most precious gift ever given: God Himself coming to pay the price for our salvation. That, truly, is cause for celebration.


“He was created of a mother whom He created. He was carried by hands that He formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy. He, the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute.”

 – Augustine of Hippo –

Zakar is Hebrew for remember.

Some things must be remembered.

One set of people holds these things dear by celebrating them all year long, because these things permeate all days, not just one or two.

Others recognize this, but also value a set-apart day–needing a reminder of the wonder, a day to refresh all the year’s living.

One of these days is Christmas.

We’ve always celebrated it at our house. And yet, dear friends choose not to. It’s okay, really. One of those things God lets us choose—let those who celebrate the day, do it to the Lord. And those who don’t—they do it for His glory as well.

And truly—Christmas. Christ with us. Emmanuel, always—not just on one holly-decked square on the calendar, but forever.

It’s the same with other days.

It’s impossible to cram into one day the wonder of His rising, of His death-quenching. It’s ridiculous to think it can be stuffed into a hundred thousand Easters. Millions of Sundays would not suffice.

A day of Thanks—as if all the other days were to be full of complaining? Not at all. But something in the soul is refreshed that the idea is important enough to have a day of remembrance. A day when the whirling-away  and the head-spinning and the busy commercialization must stop so that thanks can snuggle deep into the soul.

Just as a friend is every bit as special the rest of the year as she is on her birthday. Just as special. But to have a special day to say it? This is good. Maybe your friend knows you love her all the time. Friendship—her life—is just as much to be celebrated any other day. But that one day is for you—not her—in a way. Yes, on that day you thank God for her. But really…who is it that needs reminded of the wonder of having a friend? She may get presents on that day, but it is you who receive the greater gift. You are reminded of just how much you have, on her birthday.

Isn’t it the same for His birthday? The date does not matter. The tinsel does not matter—neither do the molasses-dark cookies shaped like pudgy men or the lights twinkling or the cinnamon drifting from the kitchen or the gifts nestled under an everlastingly-green tree.

The Tree

Ah—but the tree can remind us, help us Zakar. Some call it pagan. Whoever, ages ago, worshiped a tree or chronicled it as a symbol of paganism—this man did not corrupt God’s trees. The trees on this planet still lift leafy faces to the heavens. They don’t hang down or die away because their purpose has been stolen away. Not at all. Still, tree crowns grow high, pointing skyward to a Creator enthroned beyond our glory-stealing schemes.

And that one spicy pine or fringy spruce or musky cedar with which the halls are decked–its green fades a bit when the life is cut off at the roots. The holder of lights, stretching out limbs to cover everything, guarding the secrets till the Christmas dawns. An everlasting tree dying. Something like an Everlasting God-Man dying, cut off to be the gift. The Holder, Maker, Shaper of light, stretching out His limbs to cover it all, to flood every sin with bloody grace.  The great Secret of the ages, foretold in a host of whispered, echoing prophesies, now shouted out to the world. Emmanuel! Emmanuel! He’s here, with us. With us!

The Gifts

The gifts remind us. Those oddly-shaped packages swathed with way too much metallic wrapping paper. The little tucked-in-the-stocking goodies. Every tiny sneaked-in item that a relative crept around the store with, trying in vain to keep secrets on a mass shopping trip where every family member ends up hiding, arms full, in a separate checkout line.

“Christmas is based on an exchange of gifts, the gift of God to man – His unspeakable gift of His Son, and the gift of man to God – when we present our bodies a living sacrifice.”

– Vance Havner –

Gifts remind us that God stepped down out of splendor to be curled and vulnerable in a womb. Christmas is a refresher course in generosity, a day when prayers seep in deep and stinginess can seep away. A special set-aside time when a hunted-for gift is placed in quivering, open hands and delight begins its ecstatic dance in two pairs of eyes. Close your eyes and remember. Zakar for a while.

“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given…”

– Isaiah 9:6 b –

The Nativity

Okay, so the wise men weren’t really there that first night that the angels proclaimed the royal birth. But a glance at the manger, at the faces bowed in awe, they too can help us Zakar.

“He lived among us…He made a throne out of a manger and a royal court out of some cows. He took a common name—Jesus—and made it holy. He took common people and made them the same. He could have lived over us or away from us. But He didn’t. He lived among us.

He became a friend of the sinner and brother of the poor. He touched their sores and felt their tears and paid for their mistakes. He entered a tomb and came out and pledged that we’d do the same. And to us all…He shared the same message. “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me….I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also’ (John 14:1,3)

Some pretend that He doesn’t exist….Others hear Him, but don’t believe Him. It’s not easy to believe that God would go so far to take us home….But then a few decide to…venture out of their corners….”

– Max Lucado, from When Christ Comes –

While the contagious laughter rises around you and the coffee mugs clink together in the sink and the lights on the Christmas tree twinkle off the glittering ornaments, remember why He came. To seek and save the lost, so they could come home. Isn’t Christmas a foretaste of a forever-home?

“Some pretend He doesn’t exist.” That He never came. That Christmas is about hullabaloo and December 26th sales, chubby mall Santas and seasonal eggnog.

“Others hear Him, but don’t believe Him. It’s not easy to believe that God would go so far to take us home” (emphasis mine).

Zakar. God did “go so far to take us home.” Remember this, savor it with all your might. He came once. And He will do it again.

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans–and all that lives and move upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused–and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.”

– Sigrid Undset –

For this Christmas, and every other, remember all His goodness.

Zakar. Always.

Thank you to Atalie with Atalie Bale Photography for today’s lovely Christmas photo!

Earth’s First Noel

rowan-in-the-snow

“Every year, people sing songs like “The First Noel” at Christmas, and many wonder what a “noel” is. In French, joyeux noel means “Merry Christmas.” Our modern English word comes from the Middle English nowel, which Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defined as “a shout of joy or Christmas song.” The roots of the word are the French noel (“Christmas season”), which may come from the Old French nael. This, in turn, is derived from the Latin natalis, meaning “birth.” Since Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ, it was natural for people to refer to the celebration as the “nativity” or the “birth.”

– “What is the meaning of Noel?”, gotQuestions.org

I wondered about this word “noel.” So when I did some research and found that one of its meanings is “shout of joy,” I knew I wanted to explore that idea further. Beyond the Christmas carol, Christians carry this spirit of Noel with us all year long. The coming of God’s own Son to redeem us is truly cause for us to shout with joy.

Will you join me in shouting of His love today?

“This is Christmas: not the tinsel, not the giving and receiving, not even the carols, but the humble heart that receives anew the wondrous gift, the Christ.”

– Frank McKibben –


The beginning wasn’t anything to take you by surprise.

A woman laboring hard, her husband by her side,

A child birthed into a world of filth and noise and sin,

A countryside asleep and a country dead within.

 

Of all the ways for a God to be born, in a stable out of sight,

When He could have split the heavens, he could have lit up the night.

But he lay inside a trough, a sight reserved for the least,

As the shepherds paid their homage to the birth of heaven’s King.

 

Earth’s First Noel broke forth, a chant over the trees,

While the sheep looked on in wonder, the shepherds fell on their knees.

A royal birth announced with a song that Christmas night.

Earth’s First Noel was a cry of joy, a glimpse of coming morn,

“The God above wills good to men, and the promised Christ has come.”

 

Across the sands, across the years, I think of the height,

Of the love of the God of ages, only hours old that night.

I smile at the caroling, full of wonder, full of peace,

Wond’ring if I’ll hear someday the song that bid the shepherds to the feast.

 

When the Last Noel breaks forth, a trumpet through the trees,

While the world looks on in terror, the saints fall to their knees.

The royal King announced with a song of piercing light

Earth’s Last Noel, a cry of joy, the birth of eternal morn,

“The God above wills good to men, and the promised Christ has come.”


“For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”

– Isaiah 9:6-7, NKJV –

The Way of Communion

winter-church

“He [Jesus] was born in a barn to show what God thinks of human pride, of human ambition, of human loftiness,
of human hardness…of those who turn to religion only because of what they think it can do for them…
of those who always insist on having a place at the high table and are miserable when others are put before them…
of those personal jealousies and those family feuds that mar the fellowship with God.”

 –Handel H. Brown


God with us. Emmanuel. 

Of all the powerful, wonderful names for our God, I think Emmanuel is my favorite. Encompassing His limitless divinity and His incredible humanity, Emmanuel is the name of the Savior who came to the undeserving and undesirable, to make us His.

When Christmas comes each year, I love celebrating His coming. But this year, I keep thinking about how Emmanuel is the way to communion. 

But, what is communion?

Communion, much like our word community, stems from the Latin word communionem, originally derived from the word for common.  Communion means “fellowship, mutual participation, a sharing,” according to this etymology site.

Today, we call the Lord’s Table “Communion,” but in reality, our taking of the bread and cup are only a tiny of piece or symbol of the true communion we have because of Christ’s death and resurrection. We remember that we too are “crucified with Christ, but nevertheless” live (Galatians 2:20). In Christ, our body of sin has been conquered and we have been raised as new creatures.

But, long before land, water, grass, daisies, diamonds, or time, there was communion.

God, as three distinct persons, communed with Himself. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit had an eternity past of unceasing pleasure, power, and majesty, exulting in each other’s company.

But God purposed to institute boundaries in the boundlessness of eternity. He spoke time and light and matter into being. He shouted out for planets to spin into motion and stars to begin their ages of twinkling. He called for birds to stretch newly-spoken wings and fish to dive in newly-wet seas.

And then He breathed on dust. Worth sprang from worthlessness, all because of His exhale. He shaped an image-bearer, one made to find ultimate satisfaction only in His presence. Then, because He could and wished to do it, He made another image bearer, a woman this time. She, too, was made to find joy in God.

But, even from the beginning, God set into motion the breadth and depth of communion: not only was mankind made to be with Him, but each human was made to be with other humans. Just as the Trinity fellowships eternally, God created His people to do the same.We were made for community.

Sin, however, destroys communion.

Think about it. In pride, I set myself on a pedestal. In greed, I push anyone out of the way to get what I want. In desire, I trample the needs of others to satisfy my own lust.

Do you see our isolation?

We all seek our own way. Marriages crumble. Siblings stop speaking. Friends turn traitors. Churches split apart. We run to our rooms, our homes, our shopping malls, our entertainment and shut out the world–because it’s just too hard to fight for togetherness when the world is so full of sin.

So we give up. We stop trying. We let the relationships fade. We let the doors slam. We lock our own doors and think “Good riddance.”

This is why God sent His son into the world: to save the sinners driven away by their own self-destructing natures.

This is why there is Christmas.

Jesus came to the wandering and the lonely and the lost and He made a family for us: His Bride the Church.

The work that he completed 33 years after the first Christmas took away the power of sin to isolate us. God’s presence is no longer closed off to us. We have access to Him, and through Him, the means of communion with one another.

So, we are to be about our Father’s business, bringing others into this communion:

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

– 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, ESV –

Our culture is drowning in isolation. For them, commercial Christmas is full of gap-widening greed and memories of lost relationships.

But true Christmas–true Communion–is God’s grace breaking down the walls of isolation we’ve built for ourselves. Abiding in Him, we extend our fellowship to fellow believers. And, just as Jesus came to us, we have to go out, bringing in the lost and lonely into communion with the God who is with us…Emmanuel.


“We can never hope to capture the Christmas spirit and make it our own unless we understand that God is so much greater than we ever thought He was. We thought we knew all about God. The incarnation proved us wrong.”

Dan Schaeffer

Why We Must Zakar

Nativity-4

“He was created of a mother whom He created. He was carried by hands that He formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy. He, the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute.”

 – Augustine of Hippo –

Zakar is Hebrew for remember.

Some things must be remembered.

One set of people holds these things dear by celebrating them all year long, because these things permeate all days, not just one or two.

Others recognize this, but also value a set-apart day–needing a reminder of the wonder, a day to refresh all the year’s living.

One of these days is Christmas.

We’ve always celebrated it at our house. And yet, dear friends choose not to.

It’s okay, really. One of those things God lets us choose—let those who celebrate the day, do it to the Lord.

And those who don’t—they do it for His glory as well.

And truly—Christmas. Christ with us. Emmanuel, always—not just on one holly-decked square on the calendar, but forever.

It’s the same with other days.

It’s impossible to cram into one day the wonder of His rising, of His death-quenching. It’s ridiculous to think it can be stuffed into a hundred thousand Easters. Millions of Sundays would not suffice.

A day of Thanks—as if all the other days were to be full of complaining? Not at all. But something in the soul is refreshed that the idea is important enough to have a day of remembrance. A day when the whirling-away  and the head-spinning and the busy commercialization must stop so that thanks can snuggle deep into the soul.

Just as a friend is every bit as special the rest of the year as she is on her birthday. Just as special. But to have a special day to say it? This is good. Maybe your friend knows you love her all the time. Friendship—her life—is just as much to be celebrated any other day. But that one day is for you—not her—in a way. Yes, on that day you thank God for her. But really…who is it that needs reminded of the wonder of having a friend? She may get presents on that day, but it is you who receive the greater gift. You are reminded of just how much you have, on her birthday.

Isn’t it the same for His birthday? The date does not matter. The tinsel does not matter—neither do the molasses-dark cookies shaped like pudgy men or the lights twinkling or the cinnamon drifting from the kitchen or the gifts nestled under an everlastingly-green tree.

The Tree

Ah—but the tree can remind us, help us Zakar. Some call it pagan. Whoever, ages ago, worshiped a tree or chronicled it as a symbol of paganism—this man did not corrupt God’s trees. The trees on this planet still lift leafy faces to the heavens. They don’t hang down or die away because their purpose has been stolen away. Not at all. Still, tree crowns grow high, pointing skyward to a Creator enthroned beyond our glory-stealing schemes.

And that one spicy pine or fringy spruce or musky cedar with which the halls are decked–its green fades a bit when the life is cut off at the roots. The holder of lights, stretching out limbs to cover everything, guarding the secrets till the Christmas dawns. An everlasting tree dying. Something like an Everlasting God-Man dying, cut off to be the gift. The Holder, Maker, Shaper of light, stretching out His limbs to cover it all, to flood every sin with bloody grace.  The great Secret of the ages, foretold in a host of whispered, echoing prophesies, now shouted out to the world. Emmanuel! Emmanuel! He’s here, with us. With us!

The Gifts

The gifts remind us. Those oddly-shaped packages swathed with way too much metallic wrapping paper. The little tucked-in-the-stocking goodies. Every tiny sneaked-in item that a relative crept around the store with, trying in vain to keep secrets on a mass shopping trip where every family member ends up hiding, arms full, in a separate checkout line.

“Christmas is based on an exchange of gifts, the gift of God to man – His unspeakable gift of His Son, and the gift of man to God – when we present our bodies a living sacrifice.”

– Vance Havner –

Gifts remind us that God stepped down out of splendor to be curled and vulnerable in a womb. Christmas is a refresher course in generosity, a day when prayers seep in deep and stinginess can seep away. A special set-aside time when a hunted-for gift is placed in quivering, open hands and delight begins its ecstatic dance in two pairs of eyes. Close your eyes and remember. Zakar for a while.

“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given…”

– Isaiah 9:6 b –

The Nativity

Okay, so the wise men weren’t really there that first night that the angels proclaimed the royal birth. But a glance at the manger, at the faces bowed in awe, they too can help us Zakar.

“He lived among us…He made a throne out of a manger and a royal court out of some cows. He took a common name—Jesus—and made it holy. He took common people and made them the same. He could have lived over us or away from us. But He didn’t. He lived among us.

He became a friend of the sinner and brother of the poor. He touched their sores and felt their tears and paid for their mistakes. He entered a tomb and came out and pledged that we’d do the same. And to us all…He shared the same message. “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me….I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also’ (John 14:1,3)

Some pretend that He doesn’t exist….Others hear Him, but don’t believe Him. It’s not easy to believe that God would go so far to take us home….But then a few decide to…venture out of their corners….”

– Max Lucado, from When Christ Comes

While the contagious laughter rises around you and the coffee mugs clink together in the sink and the lights on the Christmas tree twinkle off the glittering ornaments, remember why He came. To seek and save the lost, so they could come home. Isn’t Christmas a foretaste of a forever-home?

“Some pretend He doesn’t exist.” That He never came. That Christmas is about hullabaloo and December 26th sales, chubby mall Santas and seasonal eggnog.

“Others hear Him, but don’t believe Him. It’s not easy to believe that God would go so far to take us home” (emphasis mine).

Zakar. God did “go so far to take us home.” Remember this, savor it with all your might. He came once. And He will do it again.

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans–and all that lives and move upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused–and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.”

– Sigrid Undset –

For this Christmas, and every other, remember all His goodness.

Zakar. Always.

Thank you to Atalie with Atalie Bale Photography for today’s lovely Christmas photo!