When God Seems Silent at Christmas

Christmastime.

Smiling kids, bright lights and the piney scent of trees all dressed up for show. It’s a magical time of year.

IMG_3912

Sometimes. For some of us, it’s a struggle. I’ve had years like that as I’m sure you have too. The very idea of putting up a Christmas tree is exhausting. Or makes you sad.

The pressure to DO Christmas seems to build more and more every year. Along with the pressure, comes the stress stealing the joy in our hearts. In many ways, Christmas brings out the worst in us as we fret and buzz around.

So I hide. I don’t think I’m the only one. Sometimes the busiest people are really just hiding in their business. Others of us, really do become hermits.

Why would we want to hide at Christmas? Isn’t it the time of miracles? The most wonderful time of the year?

One reason I hide is to avoid the inevitable disappointment. There have been times I’ve looked for Christ at Christmas but all I hear is silence. Ever happen to you?

I walk away from the holidays disappointed with God. Isn’t that the anti-thesis of Christmas? When it rolls around in twelve months time, I hide again, Afraid that down deep I’m doing something wrong. Christmas magnifies our hurts tenfold, doesn’t it? So we hide.

Pretty depressing, right? Isn’t Christmas supposed to be joyous? Maybe in our fantasy lives. Because in real life, stuff happens. Suffering happens. It doesn’t miraculously stop for Christmas.

Christmas in real life is very different from all the Christmas feel good movies and stories. But the miracle is still there if we can be open to seeing it.

In fact, the story of Jesus’ birth is not all unicorns and rainbows. Have you noticed that? Mary and Joseph didn’t have a place to stay and she was ready to give birth. Can you imagine the almost heart attack Joseph was probably having? Mary was going to give birth amongst animals. Without a midwife or help of any kind. I.Can’t.Even. Not to mention the gossip that followed them like a black rain cloud. What? You think that stayed in Nazareth? Probably half the village had to go to Bethlehem too. The gossips probably travelled with them. None of this was easy.

When we look at the story of Jesus’ birth we skip over some of these very messy details. One often overlooked is the four hundred years of silence from God between the Old Testament prophecies of Malachi and the birth of Jesus.

Four hundred years. Of Silence. We get fretful and anxious waiting twenty-four hours. Imagine waiting four hundred years!

It’s not like God’s people were cloistered either during those years. Those four hundred years were busy times indeed.

Major ancient world events were happening. Palestine was ruled by five different nations; Persia, Greece, Egypt, Syria and Rome.1 Some of it was brutal.2

The Jews were forced to worship pagan gods.2  It was a time of unrest and revolt.

Not a word from God.  His silence must have echoed like the winds of a hurricane. Here were His people under pagan rule and he wasn’t lifting a finger. Where was He?

Silent doesn’t mean absent.

I don’t know why God remained silent those four hundred years. I don’t even know why  he remains silent in my own life or in the lives of those I love. But what I’m learning is just because he’s silent doesn’t mean he’s not present. It’s just the opposite.  He’s right in the middle of it.

He had things under control back then.   He was putting into place the events of His Son’s birth and life and ministry. For the New Testament Church.

“Many things occurred that made the time just right for Jesus’ ministry and the writing of the New Testament. For example, the Greek language spread throughout the world, providing a common language, and the Roman period provided a time of unprecedented peace, magnificent highways, and uniform laws that aided the spread of the gospel by the first century church.” Kids Answers website

God was working everything together to put His plan of salvation in place.  And later, to spread that Good News around the world. He was there and he was getting ready to send His Own to us.

“All of these changes set the stage for the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ, to come ‘in the fullness of time’ (GALATIANS 4:4).”1

In the fullness of time. It all rolled out just as God had planned. When everything was in place, God’s Son came down to earth to save us.  To be present among His people.  In the flesh.

Emmanuel. God with us. God may seem silent in our lives and maybe during the Christmas season but that doesn’t mean he’s absent. Look for his hands at work. Wait with expectation until you can see Him. But most of all know that He is with us, whether silent or not. Emmanuel. God with us. At all times.  In all circumstances.  In all joy.  In all suffering.  All.The.Time.  This is the miracle of Christmas.

1.  https://answersingenesis.org/kids/bible/years-of-silence/

2.  https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/what-happened-between-testaments/

What We Should Be Fighting For

Dear Bride of Christ (aka the North American Church),

The church is the beloved Bride of Christ.  God’s plan to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Yet here in North America, you make me sad. As the world continues to get more confounding, I find you do too.
IMG_2783

I don’t understand all the fighting. In case you aren’t active on social media, with Christmas Day falling on a Sunday this year, there has been a growing disagreement amongst believers in North America over going to church on Christmas Day.  In one corner, we have the Go To Church or You are Bad. In the other corner are the If You Don’t Go to Church You Love Your Family More. Does it really matter?

Is there a right or wrong here? You do what’s best for your family. If you’ve got twenty dinners to attend on Christmas Day and going to church is going to wipe you out, is it sinful to skip it? If going to church will make the day even better, does that mean you love your family less?

I admit, I started to get swept up in it too. It’s so easy to make swift judgements and proclamations. But why does it matter what someone else is doing? Why are we fighting about this? Is it really going to matter when we stand before God whether we went to church on Christmas?

It got me to thinking as I thought about this more…The fighting might be an issue. It’s a stupid thing to fight about and the joke’s on us. There are people who look at the church and chalk it up to one more thing Christians do that makes absolutely no sense. Especially at Christmas! Why would they want to come among a group of people to celebrate love and peace when those same people can’t seem to get along and aren’t very nice in the process? It makes me sad because the church was meant to be so much more. We are the Bride of Christ. Instead it seems in North America we tend to fight and judge and turn on each other too much of the time.

Now I’ve been in ministry long enough to know that this is not every church or every Christian. Some are doing it really well. But others….

If we are in a fighting mood then here’s what I think we as the church should be fighting for:

– all the children who are starving in the world. The children who forage in the dumps for a crust of bread. It might be the only meal for the day. If they’re lucky.
– the widows and orphans who are fighting to stay alive. Every. Single. Day.
– those who are alone, depressed, alienated and lost.
– those who are suffering because someone they loved is no longer here.
– those who are sick and hurting.
– all the people who live in nursing homes and never have a visitor.
– those who have so much stuff they can’t see what they really need.

Who’s fighting for them?

Beloved, we are the ones who have been given the task of bringing the Good News of God’s love for his people, to those around us. It’s inside us to give that gift not in a pushy, self-righteous, I’m right you’re wrong way. It’s inside us to give that gift in love, in relationship, in humility.

Christ left his Father in Heaven to come down and be here with us. This is astoundingly good news and yet we are fighting about whether it’s right or wrong to go to church on Christmas Day, among other things?

We are given the task to be the hands and feet of Christ. What would happen if we as the church actually did that on Christmas Day and on into the new year?

It doesn’t have to be much. Maybe it’s a kind smile along with helping to shovel snow for an elderly neighbour. Or some extra cash given without strings or a tax receipt to someone who needs it more than we do. What if it’s being kind to someone who doesn’t deserve it but probably needs a good dose of love right about now? Or putting down our phones, or work or books, and being engaged with our children? How ‘bout seeing someone who feels invisible?

Maybe, just maybe, could we set aside ourselves for a minute, and go, be the Bride of Christ to those around us? Mirror Jesus to those who are begging for just a glimpse of hope this Christmas and new year.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8 NIV

Choosing What’s Important This Holiday Season

Can you feel the pressure mounting? The expectations rising? It’s that time of year again. The Christmas season.

I never quite know how I’ll react to the holidays. Two years ago, I was ready early. I had the advent calendars made up and everything. It was a rare year. Last year, I barely got the tree up and really didn’t even want to think much about Christmas, I was at the other extreme. I usually sit somewhere in the middle. Both equally anticipating and dreading Christmas.

IMG_1039

A few weeks ago I read a blog I follow which turned my thinking upside down. The Inspired Room by Melissa Michaels is about making our houses into homes. She posted a blog entitled Simply Inspired Holidays: First Things First. (You can read it here, you won’t regret it.)

She writes: “I believe that if we begin this season with an intentional focus on gratitude, we’ll be inspired to create a special atmosphere in our home for celebrating.”

My brain clicked on and started to work as she asked three questions. The first was what matters most to us this holiday season and the second “What are you most grateful for? Ask yourself how gratitude can help you shape your holiday plans and expectations.”

I stopped there. What? I had never looked at Christmas through the filter of gratitude. Not really. Not beyond the we should be grateful for the baby Jesus and let’s try to manufacture that feeling this holiday, amid all the spending, and frenetic hype. Not very inspiring. Instead it was just another thing to do on my getting-longer-by-the-moment TO DO list.

But Michael’s questions made me focus. I couldn’t actually answer it right away unless I wanted pat answers, which I didn’t. I’ve been mulling these over for weeks. What am I really thankful for and how does that translate into making Christmas more meaningful? How does it look in my house? These were significant questions because frankly I haven’t been feeling very grateful lately. Christmas was just going to make me feel more guilty for my less then stellar attitude. The answer had been to avoid the holiday. But maybe I could change my perspective.

Baby steps. I thought to myself. I can do this in baby steps. Embrace the holidays but not the consumerism. Not the should do’s and must do’s. I will do what is best and important for me and my family. Because my husband is a pastor, he’s already busy this time of year, I don’t want to add to it.

These are the things I’m grateful for this year. They may seem simple but hopefully in these small things, I will come alive to the bigger things.

I am grateful for the rich colours at Christmas time when it can be dreary and grey. I love red so I am thankful for the deep, rich tones that are woven through this season. I want to colour up my house this Christmas because I love bright, colourful things. It will help my mood stay more cheery.

I am grateful for twinkling lights. – Christmas lights on houses, on trees. Candles burning. They are warm and inviting when it can be cold and dreary. When we feel frosty and grey on the inside the lights invite us into their warmth. They point to the Light of the World who is also inviting us in. I need that reminder some days. I also want my kids to feel like their home is warm and inviting.  That they are accepted here.

I am grateful for the many blessings we are given here in North America. I am grateful we are privileged and have the ability to share with others who are not as blessed.  I want to focus on sharing.

Speaking of gifts, I love giving good gifts. I worked in a gift shop after I graduated from university and it was a great lesson in giving. I appreciate when someone has thought about the gift they want to give. We’ve all been there when we’ve purchased something quick and easy. It happens but I don’t want it to be the norm. Nor should we stress about buying the perfect gift. Because it’s not about that either. But a little thought can go a long way. For some, a gift card is the perfect gift. For others it’s about time spent with the person or being given the gift of time for themselves. As I said, it doesn’t have to be complicated but maybe this year we can take a few minutes to think of the person we love and are thankful for before we buy. Most times we are more touched by the fact someone actually thought about us than the gift itself.

 

Those are the things I’ve chosen to focus on this Christmas. Every year we look to make it meaningful and more times than not, I, at least, come away feeling empty and guilty because I feel that way. Maybe my focus needs to change. Maybe as we pick and choose what matters most and filter it through the lens of gratefulness, we will be pointed back to greatest Gift given.  The only Gift we ever really need.

IMG_0161

Luke 2:11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. NASB (emphasis mine)

The Scandal of Christmas

It’s nothing new.

As I sat listening to my husband preach on Sunday (yes I do listen!) about Jesus loving all people and how we should follow His example, I was struck by the whole scandalous nature of Christmas. It’s nothing new. People have written and preached lots, on the scandal of Christmas over the years. I am probably not telling you something you don’t know but these were some thoughts that came to mind about loving all, even those you don’t like, and the scandal of Christmas.

Some people think it’s appalling that Christmas has been hugely commercialized. They are offended by Santa Claus and the whole secular version of Xmas. Others are scandalized by the fact the world is trying so hard to take Christ out of Christmas. Happy Holidays! (As if anyone can really take Christ out of Christmas!) These are concerns for sure but the real scandal of Christmas lies with the one who created it.

The whole nativity story is ripe with scandal. For some of us, we know the story inside and out, but let’s not let the well known facts get in the way of the actual story and real meaning of the birth of Christ.

IMG_1416

IMG_0161

I’m sure Mary’s claim to have been visited by an angel after four hundred years of silence, raised a few eyebrows. Scandal doesn’t even begin to describe Mary’s pregnancy in a day and age when she could have been stoned for such a crime. The Nazareth gossips were probably in a tizzy trying to get all the salacious details. A pregnancy outside of marriage brought shame down on not just Mary, but everyone she loved.

Joseph had the “right” to divorce Mary. He was an innocent party in all this. But God asked him to give up those “rights” and marry Mary. God asked Joseph to raise and love the God child, a son who wasn’t his own. It was outrageous God would even ask that of Joseph. What would people think?

The thing that shouts loudest to our selfish “you’ve got rights” society today, is the scandal of God asking Joseph to give up his “rights”. Rights to divorce Mary. To lead a normal life. Joseph, in view of the world, could walk away, scandal-free. He chose not to. Instead he dived right into the mess. Joseph obeyed God rather than claiming his “rights”. It’s downright scandalous in today’s society that someone give up their rights and privileges.

The bigger offense? God isn’t concerned about our rights and privileges. He’s more interested in our hearts and our eternal future. What would have happened if Joseph had claimed his rights and walked away? Oh God would have taken care of Mary and His Son. Another way would have been provided. But what would have happened to Joseph? It’s a sobering thought.

Then there were the shepherds. Wasn’t it an affront to the religious leaders of the day that they were the ones who received the news first of the new born Saviour? These guys were the lowest of the low in society. Yet they witnessed one of the grandest shows in the sky this earth has ever seen. And then they got to see the new born Saviour! It was more than any Jew could have asked for! Especially a shepherd.

It was not just a scandal but also a tragedy that Herod killed off so many children in his egomaniacal attempt to find the one who threatened his power.

It was scandalous that men from the far East came to worship this new King. Francine Rivers pointed out in her book, Unafraid, that they were probably Gentiles. I had never thought about that. It would have broken every rule for these men to step inside and be near the toddler King.

But the biggest scandal of a story ripe with black marks in the world’s view, is that God, the creator of the world, loved us so much that He gave up His one and only Son for us. He loved all. Mary. Joseph. Their families. The town gossips. The lowly shepherds. Herod. He sent Jesus to earth, to save us all, even those who wanted nothing to do with Him. Who wanted him dead. It’s still the same today. The scandal of the cross should rip our hearts apart because it represents the outrageous love He has for us. Because in the end, we are all the same. People who live in sin, hate, lust, apathy, etc. We are no better or worse than anyone else. He loves us all. As we are. It’s scandalous.

IMG_2783

This Christmas will we accept His scandalous gift of love?

New Insights From An Old Story

My Mom passed me a book the other day on Mary.  Unafraid by Francine Rivers.  It’s a novella about the mother of Jesus.  It’s biblically based but there is some literary license to fill in some gaps.

I like the title.  It’s not a characteristic that we normally associate with Mary, at least I don’t.  We think, wrongly, how perfect she must have been.  How holy.  How meek and mild.  I think we’d all agree that Mary was definitely a woman after the heart of God and lived a holy and righteous life.  She bore a perfect son but she wasn’t perfect.

Was she meek and mild?  Humble yes, but I don’t think she was any shrinking violet.  That’s just my opinion. Accepting God’s call to be the mother of His Son was going to be a hard journey.  God needed someone who was up for the job.  Full of faith.  Strong in the Lord’s strength.  Someone who wouldn’t let fear be her master.  I see this as I read the book.

Rivers brings some interesting points to light.  The gossip and scandal.  She indicates that it probably never really went away.  If you’ve ever lived in a small town, you can understand this concept.  There’s always that lifted eyebrow or whispered explanation whenever that person’s mentioned.  Mary and Joseph’s reputations were probably ruined.  Tainted, at the very least.  In that ancient society, how would you ever come back from it?

Rivers brings to the surface the danger that this small family was in at all times.  They had a physical enemy in Herod but also in the spiritual realm, Satan was watching and waiting for his chance to strike.  Did the danger ever really go away?

Reading Unafraid has caused me to stop and think much about things I thought I knew or took for granted.  What has really stood out for me is in the midst of all the danger, is God did not let the birth of His Son, the Saviour of the world, happen in secret.  Yes, it was a quiet birth in a cave.  No palaces or paparazzi.  But God still announced his birth.  As the shepherds crowd into the cave, Joseph says to Mary, “The Lord has announced Jesus’ birth, Mary.” (p. 32, Unafraid).

I’ve read the story so many times, it’s become mundane.  I hadn’t really thought about it that way.  The Angels’ song was a declaration of the birth of God’s Son to those who were seeking Him.  Who were willing to look for it.

The real WOW factor?  For me, even though there was a murderous king who wanted Jesus dead and Satan was on the prowl, God didn’t put this announcement on the back page.  He proclaimed the birth of His Son with a musical extravaganza that would beat any Broadway musical.  Not just an angel but a host of them. They shouted it from the skies.  No, God rejoiced in the birth of His Son and he let all who wanted to, know it.  Even Satan.  Herod may have been fooled but Satan knew exactly what was happening.

I was surprised as I read.  It’s fiction but it makes you think.  It makes you want to examine scriptures a little bit more deeply.  Take a second look.  As we mature in our faith, we need to really look at scripture and understand the context of many of the stories.  The historical context.  The religious context of what was happening.  They become so much richer when we know what’s really going on.  It expands our knowledge of who God is and what He is capable of doing. Our faith grows.

Mary, Joseph, Jesus.  Their lives weren’t easy.  Shouldn’t they have been?  I mean they were raising God’s son.  You’d think God would want to make it easy for them.  Wouldn’t He?

He didn’t.  Their lives were fraught with danger, pain and confusion.  Should we expect anything less?  God doesn’t run from a battle.  From danger.  From a mess.  But He doesn’t make us go it alone either.  He never took His eyes off of His Son or Mary and Joseph.  He is present.  Even in the danger.  The mess, the fear or the confusion.  Don’t back away from it.  God is right there in the middle of it.

Emmanuel.  God with us.

 

PS (If you have a little extra time this season, get a copy of Unafraid by Francine Rivers.  You won’t regret it.)  

 

The Celebration of Christmas

Two weeks until Christmas.  Are you freaking out yet?  I am not. That’s not to brag.  It’s more a statement of pleasant surprise.

Other years I was overwhelmed and ready to hide out somewhere.  It’s not that this Christmas season is any different.  In fact I am planning a birthday party for next week.  The.week.before.Christmas.

My youngest celebrates his birthday the day before New Year’s Eve.  We haven’t done many birthday parties, in part because of it being in December.  This year I got on it instead of procrastinating.  My son is low key. He just wants a few friends over to eat pizza and watch a movie.  I can handle that!  I was tempted to make it an over the top affair but that wasn’t what he wanted.  Frankly, it would have stressed me out.  So we went with low key.  Low key, I can do.

I’m learning that low key is okay.  Low key is better than nothing.  I used to do nothing because I couldn’t do it perfectly.  I’ve learned that perfect is a hard task master.  He’s been booted out.  Instead low key, not perfect, is perfectly fine. 🙂

It’s still busy this Christmas.  Last week got a little too chaotic for me and I was near freaking out.  Which is why we learned that boundaries are a necessity for our family.  It’s part of our low key way of life.  So although it’s busy it’s not breaking us!

We’re doing a little advent activity this year but again, low key.  (Also not a brag statement.)  I bought this book a few years back when the boys were little.   It’s called The ADVENTure of Christmas by Lisa Whelchel.  I never used it.  It was one more thing to do and I couldn’t do one.more.thing.

IMG_1035

This year I have room for this one thing.  I sat down and looked at it and decided it was perfect for us.  I’m not doing all the little extras.  There are some days we just read and talk about it.  I don’t feel guilty either.  I was tempted but then I remembered that I had booted perfectionism to the curb.  A few days we’ve done the extra little activity.  It’s a mix of low key and full out celebration.  Without the pressure.  Because celebration can be both toned down or full out.  Neither is right or wrong.  They’re just different.  Like each of us.  We were given the Christmas season to celebrate the birth of Christ.  In our hearts, minds and physical beings.

Lisa Whelchel writes; “I recently learned that celebrating Christmas is not far from the heart of God, either.”  She wanted to teach her children the true meaning of Christmas and thought she had to change her ways. This was His reply to her prayer.  “I was caught off-guard when He simply replied, “Don’t do anything differently. Look in the middle of the celebration and you will find Me.”

IMG_1009
Thank you Pinterest!

 

I loved this.  It freed me to celebrate in ways that I could handle.  It freed me to find joy in the festivities. Sometimes it feels like you have to be Scrooge to be Christian enough to experience the true meaning of Christmas.  Instead of celebrating, I’ve felt guilty for many reasons.  The Christmas spirit got trampled in the “I didn’t do’s”, the “I should’ves” and the “I can’t’s”.  I don’t think God ever intended for Christmas to be about that!

This year is different.  With the help of this little book and permission (which I gave myself) to celebrate how I want to, we are enjoying all aspects of Christmas.  The book gives a little history on the things we love about Christmas.  Lights, trees, greeting cards, etc.  Guess where most of it comes from?  Men and women of faith who wanted to honour God in some special way.

IMG_1039

Whether it’s small and quiet or full of noise and laughter, Christmas is about celebrating the greatest, costliest gift ever.  It’s about gratitude, praise and honouring God in a special way that unique to each of us. Low key or not.

Where Advent and Christmas Really Reside

About this time of year, I usually feel like a failure.  Advents and Christmases past, have passed me by like a race car, leaving me in their little wisps of dust.  Gone before I could even get a handle on it.

For many years, I haven’t enjoyed the Advent or Christmas season.  I felt overwhelmed by all the things I should be doing.  I felt guilty about all the stuff I wasn’t doing.  So I didn’t do much of anything.  Overlaying it all, was a general sense of anxiety that it was never gonna change.

I wanted to enjoy these momentous days of advent, and Christmas.  Instead it felt more like an endurance test.  Just get through it.  Hopefully in one piece.

If you’re feeling like you’ve already behind with advent or you’re too tired to even think about it, I want to let you know you aren’t alone.  It’s okay.  Jesus did not come to enslave you to a rigorous advent or Christmas schedule.  Buying a chocolate advent calendar with Disney characters on it, won’t cost you your salvation or make you a bad mom.  Baking one batch of sugar cookies (not iced!) and calling it your Christmas baking is fine.

These got iced but many years they did not!
These got iced but many years they did not!

My mother always tells me there are seasons in life.  I appreciate this bit of wisdom more now, because there are times when the kiddos are teeny or busy or are in crises regardless of age, that take over Advent or any holiday.  There are years where we are too tired emotionally, spiritually or physically to do much more than the bare minimum.  All is not lost.  Jesus came for those of us who do not have it all together too.

It’s great to be able to celebrate in style but it’s not necessary to experiencing Christmas or more importantly, having a rich relationship with Christ.  He totally understands where we are at.  What’s really going on in our homes, our emotions, our spirits.  He doesn’t need all the fussy decorations, the elaborate cookie trays, to speak to us.  Some years slapping a tree up and buying some presents are all we can manage.  Does that mean Christmas is a bust?

IMG_1450

No.  Christmas happens in our hearts regardless of all the other events going on.  You can do up your house, have people in to visit, drink eggnog and read an advent reading all twenty-four days and you still miss Christmas.  Still feel empty.  Christmas belongs to God and if you miss Him, you miss the point.  God is all about our hearts.  Where they are focused.  He’s not about appearances.  Good or bad.  Decorated or not decorated.

If you are barely hanging on, grab hold of Him this season.  He can do the impossible in our lives, offering hope that things can change.  He was the good news over two thousand years ago.  He is still that today.

IMG_1416

For the first time in many years, I have some clarity.  My brain fog has cleared.  Over many months even a year, things changed.  I changed.  I have taken a few steps away from the bare minimum.  Amid the busyness, I found the energy to plan some Advent activities.  Nothing elaborate.  I was tempted but I kept it simple. And I did it!  It hasn’t been a chore.  It’s been a joy.  In doing so, there is the truth and hope that seasons and lives can change.  For the better.  That life in abundance, which is being present and living rather than standing in it’s dust, is possible.

IMG_1417

Whether it’s about surviving the holidays or embracing as much as you can, I pray your heart will find hope and a sense of home in the One who gave us Christmas because He loves us unconditionally, whatever season of life we find ourselves in.