The greatest gift of the nativity

One of the most cherished aspects of the Christmas season are lights. Twinkle lights, tree lights, luminaries, lanterns tied up with evergreen and bows, and especially candlelight.

Light was an extraordinary part of the first Christmas, too. Historians confirm that the time at which Christ was born was very dark. Among the Jewish people, doubt was overwhelming since they had not heard from the Lord in 400 years. 

Doesn’t sound far from the current social and mental state of things, does it?

2020.

2021.

Perhaps never before has this generation experienced so much brokenness, so much tumult, so much hopelessness. And just when we think things can’t get worse, somehow they do. 

But…

…if our God has been anything, He has been faithful to show up at the last minute, in the midst of the most impossible, and yes, at the darkest hour.

As Isaiah wrote: 

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows— light! sunbursts of light! (Isa. 9:2 TMV)This applies not only to our general position in life, but in our hearts, too. Each of us has dark places…cupboards with top shelves never disturbed, shadowy corners under the beds, in the closets and unopened drawers where we hide from those who are closest to us…places we hide from even ourselves. 

In this season of lights, I offer this challenge: kneel before the manger.

Kneel and consider the infant Jesus, who moments before His birth left a glorious, eternal Kingdom to dive into our dark, murky and temporary world to fill it…and to fill hearts with light.

I love how The Message interprets that verse from Isaiah–light! sunbursts of light!–that expose the shadows and defeat the darkness with truth so we can live free. 

Letting go of the pain in our lives, shaking dusty past hurts from our sandals, and illuminating all that darkness won’t guarantee every day will be happy, but it will guarantee freedom to live joyfully and accomplish the plans He has for us. Sometimes that is a one-and-done prayer. Other times, it is a daily, even moment-by-moment prayer. Best of all, the Light of the World means we can become the people He made us to be in order to carry out His mission for our lives freely and with great joy. 

You are here on this earth at this time for a reason, friend.

Let that sink in.

Now more than ever lost, hurting and broken people need to know they are not alone, and the Holy Spirit accomplishes that through people like you who are brave enough to fearlessly use their gifts and talents for Him. As you think about this year past and the one to come, ask the Lord to search your heart for thoughts, patterns, or anything that might be holding you back.

The greatest gift of the nativity is that He came to set you free—from sin, from an abusive past, from those who doubt or criticize you, from fear, and everything in between—to use and give your gifts to others. 

Go and be the light you were meant to be, dear friends. 

And merry, merry Christmas.

In which I consider the Mary in all of us this Christmas

Can you imagine being Mary?

A shameful, out-of-wedlock pregnancy. A fiance’ who stays with her out of pity. A long, painful, obligatory journey to Bethlehem in her ninth month of pregnancy, and for what? To be counted in a census.

And the inn–there were no private rooms at the inn. We’ve seen the movies with the sweet cows and donkeys and drummer boy and sheep. But if you’ve spent any amount of time on a farm, then you know mangers are only useful in a barn that also contains bugs and straw and snotty-nosed (albeit adorable) calves, and the essential fragrance of feces.

Those aspects of Mary’s story, although over-romanticized, are at least familiar.

What might not be as recognizable, what you may not have imagined, is the Mary that lies within us, or at least, the Mary within those of us who are willing.

Maybe you can relate to Mary.

Maybe you feel like you have nothing going for you.

Maybe you feel like everything–and everyone–are stacked against you…

…a society…

…a family…

…a world…

…all of them bewildered by you and your calling.

Maybe you can feel something turning, like the press of a tiny hand or the quickening of a tiny foot against the stretched tight womb of your heart, something knit deep and strong in your most intimate places.

A dream.

A hope.

A light.

Now more than ever you may feel that the Noël of your purpose is at the trailhead of a dusty and barren, hoof-pitted path. Misunderstood, you face a starless night, destined for a jarring, unwelcoming, and foreign place that has no room for you, and no rest for your contracting purpose. Lies that scream you’re unworthy lick at your heels like rattlesnakes in wheel ruts.

But you.

You kick them aside and forge ahead. Doubt hangs heavy like a cloak around your shoulders, shame threatens and taunts you to turn back.

Still you go, an unexplained call pulling you like a fetter.

The manger is a mess.

The birth is painful and public.

The Promise arrives wet with fluid and tears.

The questions, rather than answered, are just beginning.

Infant.

Toddler.

Adolescent.

Man stretched tight on a wooden cross.

The reason is not always, if ever, realized.

But still.

Light comes.

Light always comes, when a servant is willing.

Light always comes, against all odds.

We are, each of us, called to carry Jesus into the dark, into the scary, into the places and to the people that misunderstand, that cannot see, that will not see, that hate and that have no room.

When you light a candle at your Christmas Eve service, consider the Mary place God is calling you to go. Consider the Bethlehem ahead of you. Consider the Luke 1:37-38 promise that with God nothing [is or ever] shall be impossible.

Like, Mary, be willing to be the Lord’s servant.

One foot at a time.

Down the path of peace.

He will never leave you.

And the world desperately needs your light.

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Merry, blessed Christmas, dear friends.