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.

What’s holding you back?

I have an assignment for you today.

Don’t worry. I won’t be collecting papers or giving out grades. This is an open book, self-guided assignment. 

Think back over the last 24-72 hours of your life. Longer, if you’d like.

What have you been watching? What have you been listening to? What have you been scrolling through on your phone or computer?

Gutter in, gutter out, is the old adage. Whatever your mind is focused on, whatever you spend the most time ruminating about, those things are the things that will drive much of your emotion, intellect, and mental well-being. 

Personally, I’ve been especially convicted lately about how I spend my time and what my mind is consuming. I have realized anew that I have a problem with media consumption as I have work to  finish edits to a new novel over these last few weeks. Now, since I have a full time day job as a  nurse working on a COVID-19 pulmonary unit at the highest acuity hospital in the state, some of the delays and self-disappointment in progress are to be expected. But honestly, whether working on a novel or not, I waste a lot of time scrolling through social media that just plain doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of eternity.

Now more than ever, the world needs hope. Now more than ever the world needs you and your kindness, your love, and your gifts. As such, it makes sense that the unseen powers and principalities (Ephesians 6:12) are fighting for your—for our—attention. It makes sense that situations in and out of our control are distracting us from our passion and calling. It makes sense that if we want to make a difference, we are feeling like that’s an insurmountable, worthless goal that we’d just as soon give up on. 

But don’t you do it.

Don’t you give up. 

People may say we’re crazy. The odds of us succeeding may seem impossible. The world may mock our goals and dreams. People in our own families may think we’ve gone rogue and don’t understand our callings. 

Do it anyway. 

2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.”

Ephesians 3:20 says the Lord is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think…

…if only we focus our hearts on Him.

Dear friends, the Lord has planted you where you are for a reason, especially for such a time as this. Shove aside the things that are distracting you, even if it means keeping the TV off for days or weeks, removing apps from your phone, or adding apps that encourage you to immerse yourself in the Word. 

The seasons are changing, the world is changing, but the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If you’re feeling unsettled and unsure, check your thought life. I know I am. Our good, good Father has extraordinary  plans for each of us, if only we would focus on Him.

Violated.

I did everything I was supposed to do. 

That was my heart cry when everyone–despite being fully vaccinated–came down with COVID in our home. Everyone, that is, except for me.

I’m a nurse. I know how to protect myself. I know how to protect my family. So why did they all get sick, despite everything we all did right? 

I cleaned so much during the three week rampage my fingernails separated half way down the beds. I felt violated. I felt afraid. I was a basket case. 

Now, everyone has recovered well. No one was hospitalized. Some have a lingering cough and fatigue. Overall, we have much to be thankful for in comparison to others who have been forced to take this journey of battling COVID-19. But this isn’t a post about vaccines. It’s not about masks or mandates. It’s not about sheltering in place or six feet of separation. 

This is a post about feeling helpless against an unseen enemy. 

Isn’t that how we’ve all felt since early 2020, that we are running from an invisible terror, wondering if and when the indiscriminate monster is going to find us or our family members? We play and re-play the worst scenarios in our minds of hospitalization and even death. (Note: this imagining is much worse when you are a nurse on the front lines of the pandemic.) 

Truth be told, none of us asked for this or any other season of hurt. None of us are guaranteed another day on this earth. This is just how it is to live in a broken world, where the unseen enemy prowls like a lion waiting to devour. The pandemic has just made the reality of our mortality more pronounced.

But God is all about stepping into the broken places with us.

In my novel Before I Saw You (on sale all this month on all e-book platforms), protagonist Jaycee Givens didn’t ask to be surrounded by the horrors of the opioid epidemic. She didn’t ask for an unexpected pregnancy. But with the help of friends like Sudie, her friends at the coffee shop, kind health care workers and others, she was able to see God in the midst of her overwhelming fear and loss. 

I’m guessing there is a Sudie in your life, or a coffee shop-like place where you can go and know you are not alone. Maybe it’s your church. Maybe it’s a friend at work. Maybe it’s a neighbor. Maybe it’s an old, faithful dog who presses the curve of his back against you as he sleeps. Maybe, as I discovered while taking a simple nature walk around our little back yard last week, it’s in the simple wonders of creation.

Goodness and God are all around us, in the midst of our pain, in the midst of our fear, in the midst of our shame, in the midst of our losses, even in the midst of this pandemic. 

May He bless you and bring you peace, dear friends. 

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