I’m not a new year’s resolution girl. But I do find a word or phrase to focus on each year–something God keeps reminding me of, something He’s made quite clear He doesn’t want me to forget. At the beginning of 2021 I felt God telling me to “feel all the feelings.” That phrase seems pretty self explanatory, especially to a girl who cries at movies, cards, and commercials on the regular. But there are some feelings that are hard to feel–that seem like they’d be better off shoved in a drawer or put in the back of a closet where you don’t have to look at them or sort through them. These were the feelings I was afraid of, and the ones God was referring to.
But God followed “feel the feelings” with “I’ll protect you.” He even showed me the phrase Elohim Shomri which means, God my Protector. So, I would understand if I feel the hard stuff, if I address it, if I go “there,” it’s okay. It’s safe. God will protect me.
So on a slate in my office and each new week in my planner I wrote “feel the feelings” and “Elohim Shomri.” I wanted this phrase front and center as I dove into new days and to-do lists and highs and lows. And, as expected, it was a year of all. The. feelings. Our oldest graduated college. And moved to Nashville. To work a job that feels like God handcrafted for her. Which makes me so proud of her, and so grateful and full of joy for the life she’s living, and also I miss her oodles.
Our twenty year old decided to live at home instead of the dorms this year. Which feels like a gift, because it’s an extra year of having our son at home with us. I am so grateful for every hug and conversation I didn’t expect to share with him. But also, he’s twenty. And I want to respect that. And treat him like a grown up. While he’s living under our roof. Which is complicated. Cue more feelings.
My counselor has also helped me sort through some feelings that I’d sealed in figurative boxes and hidden in the basement of myself. I believe it’s super important to tend to our mental health, and mine needed a check up that unearthed more feelings.
And you know what? God has been with me. Every single feeling of the way. In the excitement and joy and the sadness and concern. In the missing of my oldest child, the adapting to new norms with the next oldest child, and in the exploring of my own childhood. God is so faithful. And so loving. And I am so grateful. He is my Elohim Shomri.
And now–Christmas, which is always jam-packed with feelings. Full of memories, family, relationships and reminders. But also full of the reason for the celebration in the first place–that Jesus came to earth to be with us–Emmanuel. And because Jesus is with us (and He promises to be to the ends of the earth), we are free to mourn the loss of those not with us this year and to celebrate the new people in our lives. We can also mourn and celebrate jobs and life situations, new things, and old places, and things we used to be able to do or just learned how to do. Because Jesus, the Christ child who was announced to the world by a host of angels, who radically changed the lives of the shepherds who saw him on that first Christmas, the magi who followed, and every human who ever encountered Him, is here with us. You and me. Today. Around our dinner tables and trees, in our very hearts and souls.
So feel the feelings this Christmas. As the angels first announced to the shepherds, ““Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth.--Luke 2:12-14
I’m deep in edits and on a deadline, so I decided instead of skipping sending you a blog this week, I’d send a free chapter (a Christmas one, of course) from my book How Sweet the Sound. However busy your Christmas routine and year end to-dos have you, I pray you can take a moment to hear the sweet, sweet sound, of our Savior's amazing grace.
“I need You,” my son’s vocal coach’s harmony mingles with my son’s melody. I’m in the other room with a novel I brought to read during his lesson. The pages sit open on my lap, but I’m not reading. I can’t. The song they’re sing- ing, "Whole Heart” by Hillsong United, is too beauti- ful, too magnetic, and pulls me out of my book and into the lyrics. Last week his teacher said to us as we were leaving, “That is such a powerful song. I can’t get it out of my head.”
Did I mention his teacher is not a Christian?
And yet, this song about Jesus restoring our brokenness through His grace is stuck in her head. She’s singing it out loud, over and over. Words about clinging to the rock, about being made whole—an anthem so fitting for this wonderful woman.
Her husband passed away a few years ago. I’m not sure how old she is. In her fifties? Too young to be widowed. Any age is too young to be widowed. And she lives in the beautiful home they built together, teaching music because it’s her passion. She is kind and encouraging and every flavor of loveliness, but she doesn’t know Jesus.
She’s shared with me how much she misses her husband, how difficult it is. And then my son (I’m actually going to assume it was the Spirit prompting my son) picks this song as the piece he wants to work on. A song about Jesus pulling us upright when we’re too weak to stand.
Beautiful, isn’t it?
That’s why I can’t read today—can’t pull myself away from the marvel of a woman learning about Jesus, experiencing who He is, feeling the tug of His love. My eyes are closed. Still a tear leaks out of the right corner and glides down my cheek.
This is what sharing the gospel looks like—beautiful, moving, real. There’s an old spiritual that was passed among the plantations in the South called “Go, Tell It on the Mountain.”
Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.
Jesus calls us to this. His final conversation with the disciples (recorded in Matthew 28:19, Luke 24:47, and Acts 1:8) is Jesus instructing them (and now us) to tell the whole world about Him.
And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8 NLT)
Telling the whole earth about Jesus, over the hills and everywhere, sounds difficult, especially in our do-it-your-self culture. Where do we start? With whom? When? Under what circumstances?
Heck, even acquiring and writing down the lyrics to “Go, Tell It on the Mountain” was a challenge. The song had been passed along verbally. There was no written record of it. As you can imagine there were several versions being sung. But John Wesley Work Jr. was passionate about collecting and preserving African American spirituals so they could be shared with people everywhere. His desire to distribute these songs proclaiming that God "sent us salvation that blessèd Christmas morn" allows us to sing these hymns and contemplate their messages today.
Collecting scores of unwritten songs composed by the enslaved, verifying words, stanzas, and melodies from the Civil War era seemed unlikely, intimidating, and maybe not super popular with early-twentieth-century American culture. But to John Wesley Work Jr. it made sense. He was a highly educated man, led the church choir, adored Jesus, and loved music. Curating and publishing books featuring the hymns of his ancestors was meaningful. Work included “Go, Tell It on the Mountain” in his second book, Folk Songs of the American Negro.
This was such a natural way for Work to share the gospel.
Similarly, a high school boy sharing how Jesus can change your life with his vocal coach in a college town today also sounds unlikely, intimidating, and a little strange. But, sharing the gospel doesn’t have to feel weird. My son didn’t pull out a tract, recite verses, or tell his teacher a story about the time he accepted Jesus at camp.
Don’t get me wrong. I write Christian content for a living, love memorizing Scripture, and actually accepted Christ at horseback riding camp in junior high.
I’m just saying we overthink this “Go tell the world” thing. We sometimes try too hard. Overanalyze.
Max is taking voice lessons so he can improve his worship leading skills. His teacher asked him what song he’d like to work on. Max suggested this one by Hillsong United. He was just honest about the kind of music he listens to, the kind he sings—worship music. It was normal, natural, unforced. The next thing you know, this lovely lady is singing to Jesus.
I don’t know if his teacher will accept Christ into her heart. But that’s not my job or Max’s. Telling people about Jesus, sharing who He is, that’s our assignment—the Great Commission. John Wesley Work Jr. probably died having no idea how many people came to Christ because of the books of spirituals he published. But his job was to get them in print, get them out there, plant the seeds through songs.
As Max and I walk to the car we hear his teacher's alto trill across the walk declaring how God’s grace holds her. Yes it does, my friend. Grace holds you. Grace holds all of us. Me. Max. You, on the other side of this book. Grace holds you.
What a gorgeous truth.
I am so grateful God allowed Max to share Christ’s grace with his teacher, maybe not on a mountain or in Judea, but on a piano bench in Oxford, Ohio. Because this is what Jesus asks us to do . . . go out and make disciples of all the nations. There’s not a perfect way to do it. You don’t have to have things written out or know all the answers. You just have to walk around loving Jesus. The rest will come naturally. You’ll find your own mountains. And there you can tell others of His love.
And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8 nlt)
If you enjoyed this chapter, you can get the book, How Sweet the Sound in its entirety at booksellers everywhere including Amazon and Our Daily Bread Publishing.
from How Sweet the Sound reprinted with permission from Our Daily Bread Publishing. Further distribution of this chapter is prohibited without permission from Our Daily Bread Publishing. For permission to use this devotional please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
“Your electric will be out for most of the day.” The man with the frizzy brown beard and bright yellow hard hat standing at my front door told me almost verbatim what the woman from the electric company had said over the phone yesterday.
It was a sunny day and remarkably warm for November. I planned ahead, charged my phone and laptop, and worked by a window in the family room where there would be more light. But it was ridiculous how many times I tried to use electricity anyway.
I flipped a light switch. Tried to open the garage door. Glanced at the clock on the oven about four thousand times to see what time it was. Popped my coffee mug in the microwave to heat up my morning mocha. And laughed at myself every single time when nothing happened.
What if we depended on God like we depended on electricity? What if every time we went to plug in, turn on, crank up, reheat, or log on we reached out to Jesus?
Because He is the light of the world. He came down over 2000 years ago on that first Christmas to bring us light.
The Word gave life to everything that was created, and His life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. —John 1:4-5 NLT
A week and a half later, our power went out again. And then again just a couple of days ago. Between the six of us Smiths all at home there were countless calls and Zooms we were supposed to be on for school and work. Someone took a shower in the dark. Make that a cold shower. Someone couldn’t print the worksheet they needed to attend the online class they hoped they’d be able to attend if we regained power allowing us to regain Internet. And somebody hadn’t made their coffee yet. Yikes!
These days without power were hard. They weren’t impossible. They were doable, but they were not living my best life. Whether I saw it coming or not, a day without my power source was not as hot, cold, fresh, flowing, fruitful or efficient. The same is true if we’re living our days without Jesus. Sure, we might get through. But we won’t get all the fullness that’s available. Days will be harder, much harder, if we’re not hanging out with Him.
There’s a restored pioneer cabin near our home. I pass it on my runs. I love the historical context, a home that connects me to the past of my community. But, there is not a single time I run by, that I look at the fireplace inside and think, “Gee, I wish I could cook every meal over one of those.” Or that I envy the “bed warmer” filled with hot rocks they slid between their covers so they wouldn’t freeze at night. I’m grateful for my warm room and bed. I want my food to stay fresh in the fridge. I enjoy the freedom of being able to cook whatever I was planning on for my family for dinner--even if that’s just boiling pasta, I want to be able to boil it without fear of burning myself. As a writer I rely on my laptop which requires electricity. I’m dependent on the power that charges my home.
I’m even more grateful for and completely reliant on the ultimate power source, Jesus, who powers my heart, mind, soul, and life. He guides my steps, holds me up when I am weary, calms my brain, stops my thoughts from spiraling, and reminds me that I matter. I cannot imagine a day without Him. And I don’t have to, because ever since the Light of the World came into the world, His power has been and always will be available for everyone.
How do we stay tapped into Christ, His promises, and the life He offers? It’s as easy as flipping on the lights on our Christmas trees. We just need to reach out to Him. Before the call or doctor’s appointment. In the morning before I get out of bed I’ll pray over the thing that will put pressure on me, that I’m uber excited about, or that could be a potential challenge for the day. I’ll shoot a text to some of my most trusted prayer partners and ask them to pray for me, too. I’ll open my Bible to specific passages that speak truth to me over these situations. I might read Ephesians 6 out loud about putting on the armor of God to prepare me for whatever battles I have coming my way. I might read Scripture about who I am in God if I’m in a situation where I’m doubting my value or abilities (Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 1:6, 1 Peter 2:9). I’ll journal or go on a walk or sit in a quiet place, and just be still and let God quiet my heart and mind. Then I’m able to handle that thing with a peaceful, courageous heart, one that trusts God is with me.
There will also be times that hit us out of left field. Where we’re not prepared and didn’t see something scary or stressful or sad coming and we haven’t even had our coffee yet (Kidding. Kind of). How do we cope? Jesus is the ultimate power source. He never flames out, flickers or glitches. Jesus is constant. Whether we’re prepared or not, His light still shines. The darkness can’t extinguish it. You can call out to Him as the car spins out of control, when the doctor calls, when someone confronts you, when the email lights up your screen. You can pray on the spot, out loud, in your head, whatever. It can be long and thought out, or you can just call out His name, “Jesus!” and He will be there with and for you.
Life with Jesus is richer. Both the good days and the hard times, because when we tap into Jesus, we’re reminded we are loved. We experience peace. We are flooded with hope. We’re reminded that He is with us, and promises to never leave us, so actually we’re not alone, and don’t have to walk through our day on our own. This is why we celebrate Christmas. The Light of the World, the ultimate power source came down to earth to light up our days, make them more complete, and be with us, Emmanuel.
So plug in this Christmas. And every day afterwards. To the life source that will never go out.
To plug into how Jesus’ light can empower and strengthen us grab a copy of Laura’s new book, How Sweet the Sound
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From the very first jingle of bells I get excited. I can’t help smiling. It literally turns on a happy switch inside my brain and heart. One day I’m raking leaves, focused on a deadline, and trying not to be late to pick up one of my kids, and the next I hear those bells and I’m instantly transformed from a mom-in-motion to a Christmas elf. I want to bake all the cookies, decorate a tree right this very minute, light a pine-scented candle and order matching polar bear pajamas for the fam.
The catalog of Christmas music can do everything from make me giggle “6 White Boomers”, tear up “Silent Night”, or belt it out at the top of my lungs “Let it Snow.” But mostly for me it sets the mood for the holiday celebrating that Jesus chose to come down to earth to be with us. It is the soundtrack of my season. I play it while I shop, cook, and wrap. It evokes so many memories--of the kids caroling with their cousins when they were little, of them singing in their preschool Christmas programs, of candlelit Christmas eve services at church growing up. But Christmas music does more than just put us in a good mood or a nostalgic state of mind.
There’s power in it.
In 1984 Bob Geldof, front man for the Boomtown Rats, organized a group of the most famous British and Irish musicians to record “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” His goal was to raise money and awareness for a famine in Ethiopia. Geldof’s song raised over $24 million dollars! From one song. Recorded in one day and released a week later. Why? Because there is power in music. There is power in us using our place here on earth (whether we’re a stay-at-home mom, an accountant, or a member of Duran Duran) to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, because Jesus asked us to (Matthew 25:34-39). There is power in people coming together to be light to this world.
Seventy years earlier, on December 24, 1914 soldiers in Europe were in the fray of World War. Over a million lives had already been lost. Deep in the muddy trenches a group of British soldiers saw lights and then heard their German enemies not firing guns, but singing “Stille Nacht,” which we know as “Silent Night.” The British soldiers joined in in their own language, both sides singing of the night Jesus came to bring peace on earth. And for that night, there was. Soldiers on both sides shook hands, exchanged their meager possessions--chocolate and cigarettes--as gifts and even played a game of soccer. There was a ceasefire in the midst of a bloody warzone. People loving their neighbors. I’m certain it made Jesus smile.
Christmas music can be super fun, but it can also be powerful. The old Christmas hymns like “O Holy Night” and “Away in the Manger” take us back to that very first moment when Jesus entered the earth. When He said, “Yes, I’ll leave heaven, step off my throne, put down my crown and royal robes and humble myself as a baby, and as a carpenter from Nazareth. I’ll do all of this to be with my children, the incredible individuals I created (that’s you and me). Not only do I want to be with them for a little while, but I want to be with them forever. So, while I’m down there, I’ll sacrifice myself for them. But it starts right now, in this most unlikely of places with the most unlikely of people--an unwed couple and a manger. Yeah. It’s going to be perfect.”
And the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth.” May the glory of Christ Jesus and the peace He offers be with you this Christmas season and always.
I'd love to hear. What’s your favorite Christmas song?
To dive deeper into how music can inspire and empower us today grab a copy of my new book, How Sweet the Sound
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I’m sorry, are you busy? In the middle of something?
Maybe tying that ribbon just right and if you move your finger the whole thing will fall apart? Or getting the crushed candy canes to stick to the rich, chocolatey fudge while it’s still gooey? Or finishing up the report that’s due before you take a few days off for Christmas? Or clicking “add to cart” before the last remaining pair of boots gets snatched up?
What if someone told you Jesus was just down the street? Right now! Even though you’re in the middle of doing something. Would you believe them? Would you leave your undertaking? Despite the consequences? How would you react?
Because over 2000 years ago there was a group of guys doing their job, a job they couldn’t cut out early from, one where they weren’t allowed to leave their posts, when an angel showed up and said, “Guess what? I have something incredible to tell you! The Messiah, the One you’ve been waiting for, the One all of Scripture points to, He was just born! Just down the road, in town.”
We read the familiar passage from Luke 2 about angels and shepherds and think, well of course, I’d run straight to where Jesus was, because I love Jesus, I want to be near Jesus. Who wouldn’t go?
But would you? Would I?
If I’m washing a dish or pulling something from the oven or typing out the perfect sentence, I usually won’t interrupt my task to answer a text or call. I wait until I’ve accomplished the thing I was in the middle of and then respond. And if it rolled over into voicemail. That’s fine. I can call them back. How many times a day do we say, “Just a minute,” “Let me finish sending this text,” or “Hang on a second”?
But if it was Jesus calling or texting or asking a question, if Jesus Himself was down the street, would we put down our to-dos to listen or seek Him? Or would we finish our things up real fast first?
Which takes me back to the shepherds. It must have been crazy freaky when an angel appeared to them. It was so frightening the first thing the angel said was, “Don’t be afraid.” And then this wild-looking heavenly host told those shepherds the Savior of the World had been born. Oh, and yeah, He was a baby.
People had been talking about the Messiah for ages. The shepherds probably thought or said something like this:
Dang, now? It’s not the best time.
We’re kind of in the middle of something.
I’m fortunate to even have this job.
I can’t afford to just abandon the sheep, can I? I could get fired. The sheep could get lost or eaten by wolves.
Maybe we can go tomorrow?
Or take turns, do it in shifts?
But, the Messiah! Really?
Wait! Did that angel say He was a baby?
The shepherds never imagined the Messiah would come as a baby. They thought Jesus would be a great king. He was. But the shepherds most likely pictured royal robes, and a golden crown encrusted with jewels, and a war horse, and a mighty sword. Not a baby in a barn. Still:
As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over, “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. —Luke 2:15-18 MSG
They ran. They went as fast as they could.
Are we doing the same? Are we running towards Jesus? If we feel prompted to pray or open our Bibles or listen to a worship song, do we do it? Or do we think to ourselves, in a minute, when I’m done eating, after I get my workout in, as soon as this episode is over?
Jesus is right here. Right now.
We don’t have to wait for centuries like the folks in the Old Testament. We don’t even have to head into town, down that hill, around the bend, to get to the manger where He lay like the shepherds did. All we have to do is say His name. Jesus. We don’t have to wait until we “have time” or “are done”. We can wake a few minutes earlier, watch less Netflix, or put down Zillow and pick up our Bibles and get into the Word. We can also pray while we wrap or bake or fold the clothes. We can listen to the Bible being read to us out loud on the Bible App or listen to a worship song on the way to pick up the groceries or the kids. You can put down this blog and talk to Jesus right this minute. In fact, please do.
Are we running to Jesus, or are we too busy?
Our twenty-first century Christmas might fill our calendars and planners with concerts, parties, cookie exchanges, and Secret Santas. But the first Christmas brought Jesus to us. Changed everything. Heaven came down to earth. To save you and me. What are we waiting for? Let’s run to Him! And like the shepherds let's tell everyone what we’ve seen.
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My husband looked at me and asked, “How are you doing with Christmas?” Before I could answer he continued, “because you seem a bit frazzled.”
Gulp. “Do I?” I asked, because I didn’t want to seem that way.
If you know me, then you know I’m a sunshine and rainbows kind of girl. I don’t want to seem stressed about anything, especially the most wonderful time of the year. I do want Christmas to be perfect for everybody. And that’s too much pressure to put on myself.
It’s two weeks before Christmas. How are you feeling?
One of my best friends doesn’t like Christmas trees, and feels pulled, because her kids really want one, and she doesn’t want to let them down. Another friend is beating herself up, because she doesn’t have her Christmas cards in the mail yet. Yikes. Me either. Yet another feels overwhelmed because she hasn’t done any shopping. Here at the Smith house full of the Christmas spirit, we bought our tree, hung our wreaths, and decked our halls the day after Thanksgiving, but somehow the lights we pulled out of the light crate are still in a tangled heap in our front hallway. How many days has it been?
Who decided we had to do All. The. Things? And that we had to do them perfectly? Christmas is not a contest. It’s not.
I adore everything to do with Christmas—dreamy twinkling lights, flickering candlelight laced with the scent of pine, spoonfuls of sweet, sticky sugar cookie batter, finding the perfect gift for someone I love, and snuggling up by the fire wrapped in fluffy, fleece blankets to watch George Bailey sing “Auld Lang Syne” one more time. But the reason I celebrate Christmas is because on that first Christmas, Jesus, who was sitting on His throne as High King of Heaven, decided to humbly come down to earth in the form of a baby, because He knew how much we needed Him, how much I needed Him. How much you need Him, too.
Jesus knew we would get frazzled sometimes, and sad. He knew we would miss people, and have our feelings hurt, and get jealous, and feel left out, and think we needed to prove ourselves, and feel like we didn’t measure up. He knew there would be days when we felt stretched thin, like we couldn’t possibly do it all. Jesus knew we’d experience shame and guilt and fear. And He didn’t want that for any of us, because He loves us so much. So, Jesus came to where we live. And He lived life as we do. With friends who loved Him, but sometimes let Him down. With people who criticized Him even when He was doing good. With long days leaving Him weary, and more work than it seemed like there was the time or resources to accomplish with the limited hours in each day. People called Jesus names. And eventually they tortured Him. And Jesus did it all, experienced all of that, for us.
This is the grandest reason to celebrate. It makes me want to sing, “Joy to the World,” at the top of my lungs and send cards to everyone I know telling them how awesome Jesus is and how loved they are by Him. It makes me want to hold a feast in His honor with all the trimmings and give gifts to those I love, because the gift of love Jesus offers me is so overwhelming and life changing.
But somewhere between the reason I celebrate and how I celebrate there’s a disconnect. The wanting to sing, dance, give, and feast gets bogged down with to-do lists and getting the best deal and the free shipping and making my Christmas cookies look like they were frosted by one of the contestants on Kids Baking Championship.
Today I’m challenging myself, and you, to take a deep breath. To count to ten and then make a list of what really matters at Christmas time. Turns out my list has nothing to do with cleaning, spending, or making anything “perfect,” but has everything to do with embracing, savoring, praising, and being thankful. How about yours?
There are still things that should get done. I still want to have gifts for my kiddos. I still want to serve something other than frozen pizza for Christmas dinner. But, let’s agree to calm down about the details. Let’s release some of our self-inflicted expectations. It is not up to us to be perfect or to do it all. This isn’t a game to win, but a Savior to praise! There’s nothing wrong with having the kids draw a picture for the Christmas card instead of searching for the perfect photo, hoping to find one where everyone’s smiling and has their eyes open. We could draw names, so there are fewer gifts to shop for, buy, and wrap. Maybe you could hire someone to clean the house this year, just this once, or have a family cleaning party, where you pop some corn and have the reward of a family movie night (what Christmas special haven’t you seen yet?) if everyone pitches in and cleans together.
I love Christmas. I really do. I love all of the special celebratory things we do to embrace it. All of the sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and feels. But the last thing I want to be about Christmas is frazzled. Let’s head back to our day, our lists, our shopping, and chopping, sending, and serving, being blown away that Jesus sees us, knows us, loves us, and the truth that what Jesus wants most for Christmas is that we be filled with the love, joy and peace that He offers. That we be filled with Him.
Joy to the world. The Lord has come. Let earth receive her King.
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“Why? Just why?” My daughter asked as she entered the kitchen and slid a purple folder into her backpack.
“Why, what?” I asked.
“That coat. Just why?”
Before I could answer, my son appeared and sidled over to where I’d set out his steaming cinnamon oatmeal. “What is that coat?” He asked.
So, my kids weren’t crazy about the coat, but me? I was. I’d seen the coat in an uptown shop’s window one morning before the store opened and fell in love. I called the store later, something I never do, hoping I could afford it. The price was just under what my gift card total was. Clearly, this was meant to be. They only had one in each size.
“Could you hold it for me?” I might have begged.
The worker apologetically explained because of the holidays they could not. So, I dropped what I was doing, drove to the shop, hoped they still had it in my size. They did. Hoped it would fit well. It did. I handed over my gift card and drove away with the fluffy coat nestled in a lovely pale green bag.
When my kids (who apparently don’t understand how cute the coat is) left for school the morning I first wore the coat, I headed to our coffee shop and saw two gals I knew sitting near the door. Before I could finish saying, “Good morning,” they both complimented the coat. At last, people who understood my style. I greatly appreciated their comments, because I do love this black fuzzy coat decorated with red roses, but their appreciation did not make me like the coat more. I loved it. Period. No matter what anyone else said or thought. With or without anyone’s approval.
Why am I rambling about a coat? Because this is how Jesus loves us. Period. No matter what anyone else thinks. With or without anyone else’s approval. Jesus sees us in the window (okay, going about our daily lives), hopes today will be the day we talk to Him, trust Him, turn over that thing to Him, and then Jesus does anything to get near to us. It doesn’t matter what Jesus is doing, He’ll make time to get close. He’s not holding out until we’re on the sale rack or hoping He has time to bump into us or fit us into His schedule later. If someone else makes fun of us or adores us, it doesn’t change the way Jesus sees us. He loves us. As we are. And for the record, His love is substantially stronger than my coat obsession.
Just like my coat was created by the manufacturer, If By Sea, we were all created by the Creator of the Universe, crafted uniquely and beautifully by Him. Like the roses on my coat, we all have distinct purposes based on the one-of-a-kind mix of skills, talents, perceptions, ways of communicating, insights, etc. that God knitted together into the fabric of our being. I was made like this. You were made like this.
And so, on days when people look at us and shake their heads. On days when people question your decisions and ask, “Why would you wear that? Study that? Go there? Hang out with them? Like that song? Be involved in that activity? Have that opinion? Use your time in that way?” Please know that Jesus thinks you’re remarkable. He loves when you do the things He created you to do and when you delight in the things He created you to delight in. If you’re outdoorsy, Jesus gets excited when you go for a hike in the woods. If you’re crafty He loves when you wield a glue gun. You don’t have to justify yourself to Jesus. He’s already done way more than make a phone call, or drive to a shop for you. He came to this earth over 2000 years ago as a baby in a manger, lived the life of a man, and died a painful death on a cross to dissolve your sins and offer you a life of freedom. That’s how much He loves you.
You were created in the image of God. Therefore, you are gorgeous. And packed with purpose. And nothing anyone says, no matter how anyone treats you, can take your fabulousness from you. It’s innate. Whenever you walk into a room, hold your head up high. Be confident in who you are. Wear it well. I do love my coat, but Jesus loves you infinitely more.
In this first week of advent, a tradition in the Christian church to prepare for Christmas, we celebrate hope. Jesus offers us so much hope, and His hope is that today you will accept His love and wrap it around you. His love is beautiful and warm, fits perfectly, and will never go out of style.
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It’s raining. Heavy drops pelt our wood deck just off our family room. I hear water rolling down the roof and trickling down the smooth glass of the windows. The sound fills our momentarily quiet house, as two kids are at the rec center, one’s playing video games, and one is showering. The swooshing, dripping, pattering sounds like a symphony of various water instruments all playing their parts, together forming a gorgeous gift to my ears. That is, if I listen. Because earlier, when I was sending someone’s Christmas list to Grandma, making a reservation for dinner, and booking a haircut for my son, while filling my water bottle, I didn’t hear it. It was raining then, just like it is now, but I missed the beauty of it. Somewhere in my head I acknowledged the weather, but I wasn’t listening.
“Are you listening to this? Really listening?” Jesus asked his disciples after telling them about the sower who scattered seed on various kinds of soil. This exact phrase is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, so I feel like it’s important, a verbatim quote. So am I really listening? Are we? And when I look at the story Jesus had just told about some seed taking sprout, and other seed not so much, I realize how important it is to listen to Him, because I want His seeds to grow in my life, to flourish, to produce fruit. But is His voice what I tune my ears to, or do I allow the noise of the world to drown Jesus out.
Because life is noisy. And when it’s not, when it’s silent, we get antsy, and seek to fill the quiet. If no one’s talking in the car, we flip on the radio or plug in ear buds. If we’re standing in line we tap our phone screens filling our brain with visual noise, quotes and scores, snaps and stories. One friend I love has multiple televisions on throughout her house, so her rooms don’t feel “too quiet.” What if instead, we grabbed those pockets of silence as opportunities to hear God? When we fill our days with so much sound, are we able to hear God above the noise? Am I even trying to?
Yes! Of course I want to hear God. And I am trying to. So, I get out my Bible and journal in the mornings. And I read and I write and I pray. But I often get distracted. Because the dryer buzzes, and the UPS man rings the doorbell, and someone asks if I’ve seen their keys, and I get a text, and now that I’m on my phone... Instagram. Plus I remember I still want to send a card to a new friend who wasn’t on our list last year, and wrap those cozy sweats I got one of the cousins, and order one more thing from Amazon, and get the chicken out of the freezer now so it has time to thaw. And then the Bible verse that was resonating, the thought I was about to jot down, that thing God and I were talking about escapes me. And I try to go back to where I was.
Sometimes I step back in the flow of my conversation with God, but sometimes I don’t, because now I don’t have time, and I’ll return to it later. Or will I? Sometimes God and I have a fantastic chat in the mornings, but by three in the afternoon it’s nowhere on my radar, or some mornings I go through the motions, but my brain is on all the other things and nothing seems to stick. But I want it to. I want to know what Jesus has to say. About my marriage. About my kids. About my writing. About all of the things. So, am I listening? Are you?
In the last week my daughter had a piano recital, my youngest son had his Fine Arts night, and my older son played guitar in church. So much beautiful music to hear. My daughter, who hasn’t played since she was little, practiced her song over and over, and was a bit nervous to play in front of all those people for her exam grade in piano class. I prayed that she’d do her best, that she’d be confident in her playing. And she slid onto that bench and pounded out “All of Me,” on the keys filling the theatre with beautiful chords. I held my breath the entire time. It was lovely. My youngest warned us his bell for the bell song was “bigger than his head,” and thus difficult to ring. He also warned, “Don’t look at me, because, I’ll mess up.” But I couldn’t help but look, and pray his bell would ring, and he’d actually enjoy the experience. Sure enough, he lifted that giant brass bell, and the notes rang clear and loud. During worship on Sunday my ears honed in on the electric guitar, because when my son plays I want to hear his part. I peeked at him up there in his plaid flannel, and prayed he’d use his talents to glorify God. The notes from his instrument filled my ears and my heart with joy.
I was listening. Extra hard. Because these are my kids. And I love them. And I’m proud of them, that they played their songs all in with their various levels of interest and talent. This is how God listens to us—completely tuned in. We’re His kids, and He loves us, and He’s proud of us, in all of our unique skillsets both when we do the things we love and the things we’re assigned. If the God of the Universe is paying so much attention to every note we play, are we listening to Him?
Wow. I’m trying. But not always as intently as I’d like to. I make excuses, but I didn’t make excuses when my kids were playing, and God doesn’t make excuses when I’m talking to Him. So, for me, I realize it’s time to ditch the distractions and get back to being full-on focused on Jesus.
“But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance.” —Matthew 13:16-17 MSG
Jesus gave us the ears and the opportunities to hear Him—what a gift! So, are we listening, really listening, like we’d focus on our kids in a concert, or our favorite part of our favorite Christmas song, or the funniest line from Elf? Because Jesus is listening to us. And He has so much to tell us, so much love to share with us. He tells us we’re chosen. We’re holy. We’re loved. We’re His. If only we’ll listen.
The rain has stopped now. A bird chirps out my window, insistent and shrill. I hear it, because I’ve put myself in a quiet place, where I can hear better. It’s a reminder to me, to set myself up well to hear Jesus. To temporarily tune out all of the other noise each morning, to take advantage of moments of silence throughout my day, to hone into the beautiful melody of love and forgiveness and joy and courage and strength Jesus sings to me, to all of us. It’s my all-time favorite song. And I want to listen to it, really listen.
I’ll be honest, I’d never really thought about what happens from the time I add Bertie Botts Ever Flavor Beans, a case of Italian Flour, AA batteries, and the newest book by Annie F. Downs to my Amazon cart. I just hope it gets to me fast. My youngest had a recent fieldtrip to Honeywell, which engineers the robots and mechanical sorting systems that make sure all those items we order online get to our houses correctly and in time. Now that I’ve seen the inner workings, I realize hope isn’t really the right word. I know my order will arrive quickly. You should see those robots!
Seeing how it all works was particularly interesting, because, let’s just say I checked a few things off my “nice” list with a few clicks on my trusty Mac. As a result I keep eyeing the front porch or the sketchy car in my driveway as someone I’ve never seen before approaches (#amazondelivery), thinking I hope …the sweater I ordered for Maguire to wear on Christmas is the right size, the sweatshirt I got for Mallory is super soft, I intercept the gift I ordered for Brett before he spies it on the doorstep.
Christmas time is full of hope.
When my kids were little they had wish lists of things they hoped Santa would leave under the tree. They hoped they’d be the first to find Frosty, our resident Elf on the Shelf, each morning, and for the jingle of bells from Nana’s front porch signaling a special guest appearance from Santa. They’re older now and hope for mornings they can sleep in under thick blankets, and that if we make a coffee run they’ll get a sweet peppermint mocha or cocoa topped with extra creamy whipped cream. What are you hoping for this Christmas?
That first Christmas? Can you imagine how thick and desperate hope was in the air? Although the Bible doesn’t specifically say, I imagine when Mary found out she was pregnant with God’s son, she must have hoped with every cell of her body that Joseph would believe her, that he wouldn’t walk away from their betrothal, leave her to be a single mom. In her day that meant she’d be an outcast and most likely homeless. When Joseph heard Mary’s news and decided to go through with the whole marrying her thing, despite her umm condition, I’m guessing he hoped people wouldn’t talk too much, that society would still accept him and his wife, that he would still get carpentry work. At that time Rome was in charge of the people of Israel and life was oppressive. Royalty and rulers were rich, and the poor were impoverished. Laws were harsh. Taxes were high. Life was exhausting. And God? He’d promised a Messiah for centuries. Four hundred years had passed since the prophet, Malachi, had put down his pen. The Jewish nation was desperate, and they were hoping for God to make a move.
And God came through in the most glorious of ways.
He sent Jesus. Hope of the world.
I used to get frustrated when I was young and asked my parents what they wanted for Christmas. They’d answer, “I don’t need anything.” Now I get what they meant. I don’t need anything. But I still have things I hope for. I hope my mother-in-law’s move goes smoothly, that she really finds joy in her new home. I hope my kids don’t get too stressed during their exam weeks, that we all get to spend quality time together as a family over Christmas break, that a friend who recently lost his job finds peace and security.
But I don’t just hope these things. I realize that’s not the right word. I know these things are in good hands. Not because of robots or sophisticated sorting systems. But because my hope is in Jesus. And I can count on Him.
We don’t need advanced technology to fulfill our spiritual list of hopes, translation—prayer requests. We have a Savior we can rely on—who will always be here for us. Until the end of the days. The people I care about are in Jesus’ hands. And He loves them so, I can be assured He will give them the opportunities and rest they need, if they’ll let Him. I can be certain peace and joy are available to everyone I’m praying for. And I can exhale, knowing my loved ones are in the very best hands.
“My hope is found in nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I do not trust the sweetest frame. But wholly lean on Jesus’ name,” goes the old hymn.
All of Israel was hoping that night over 2000 years ago. And then Jesus showed up. In a barn. To a peasant teenager. I doubt anyone guessed things would go down like that. But maybe they should have, because God promised it would be so. God told the prophets how He would save them. God promised a Savior from the lineage of David, to be born in Bethlehem, to a virgin. And when Jesus came He checked all of those boxes, fulfilled every promise. Because that’s who God is. God consistently delivers what He promises. Who the Israelites had long been hoping for came. Jesus is hope.
So, yes, let’s put our hope in Jesus this Christmas. But let’s redefine hope as not something we’re crossing our fingers for, but something we’re trusting God to do at exactly the right place and time. This most likely won’t look how we envision it. Many of the Jews were hoping for a strong military commander or a rich and mighty king. Jesus is strong, He does command authority, and man, is He mighty, but when Jesus showed up as a baby, people struggled to see all of that, to connect the dots.
It wasn’t that God had mixed up the packages or the addresses. Nope. God has 0% error. He kept His promise. He always does. Always will. So let’s live in expectant hope this Christmas, of all of the promises Jesus will keep—to love, cherish, redeem, rescue, and stand by us, forever more. Let’s keep our eyes wide open like little kids on Christmas morning, believing Jesus will do what He said He would do, not just wanting Him to be, but fully believing that He IS the hope of the world.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for. The evidence of things not seen.—Hebrews 11:1
What are you hoping for this Christmas? How will you trust Jesus with your hope?
Over the weekend I was at a soccer tournament in Lexington. On Saturday the girls had three games. As we were leaving the hotel one of the other moms who I adore said, “Do you guys want to ride over to the fields with us? I mean, we have a bunch of chairs and things in the car, but we can move them around and make room for you.” Riding over with friends sounded great, plus I’m always looking for a way out of driving (not my strong suit), so we hopped in their SUV.
But first they had to prepare—make a little room for us, move some stuff around, or we wouldn’t have fit.
After the first game, we went to brunch at First Watch. (Oh my goodness, have you had their banana granola pancakes? If not, find a First Watch soon and give them a try—crunchy, sweet, and lightly drizzled with syrup, of course.) We put our name in at the hostess stand and had to wait a few minutes while they got a table ready for us. Someone else had to leave. The table needed to be wiped down. New menus and silverware needed to be set up. They needed to prepare some room for us before we could dine.
As we’re entering into Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas observed as a way to “get ready” for Jesus) I wonder what I need to be moving around, shifting over, getting rid of, setting out to make more room for Jesus in my life. The familiar Christmas hymn, “Joy to the World,” says it like this: Let every heart prepare Him room.
It’s not that I don’t have Jesus in my life. I do. I go to church, read my Bible, pray, but I also do a zillion other things. Make breakfast, pick up shirts from the dry cleaner, drive the curvy country roads to and from basketball practice, sign a permission slip so my teenager can watch 12 Years a Slave in class, call the pharmacy about a prescription… to name a few. And each of those things is great—feeding the fam, getting people where they need to go, crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s, at least some of them. But each workout I log, counter I wipe off, text I respond to is like another folding chair I throw in my trunk or another empty coffee mug on my table. Super handy for watching a soccer game or waking up, but making my life a little more crowded. And if I want Jesus to hop in my figurative car or sit at my table with me, I’m going to have to move some things around to make room for Him.
Over 2,000 years ago Mary and Joseph had the best surprise for the entire world going. Mary was pregnant and about to give birth to the Savior of the World! Get. Out! This was the promise the Israelites had been waiting for for centuries (it had been over 500 years since the last of the great Jewish prophets telling how God would come down to save His people, Malachi, put down his quill). But yet, there was no room for them in the inn. —Luke 2:8
No room? For the promised Messiah? For the guy everyone had hoped for, prayed for, yearned for? We hear these verses every Christmas and imagine exhausted Mary and Joseph wandering around Bethlehem with their gray, fuzzy donkey. But do we let the “no room” part sink in? Not just that it was super frustrating to not be able to find a hotel--ugh. And not just that poor Mary had to give birth on prickly hay in a barn that smelled like cows, no thank you. Those are important details of the story, for sure. But so is this one. All of the folks in town who were craving a Savior, who were longing for a Messiah? Not one of them was able to find room in their busy lives, in their crowded homes for Jesus to actually enter and do what He does—love. They didn’t have room. And they weren’t willing to prepare any.
So how about us? If Jesus came knocking on our doors today, would we have time in our schedules to hang out with Him? What would we have to rearrange to make room for Jesus in our days? Skip an episode of This is Us? Use an absent pass from the staff meeting? Get someone else to drive carpool? Be okay with not vacuuming? Order pizza?
Because here’s the thing. Jesus is knocking at our doors. Right now. Literally as I write this blog and you read it. He’s saying, “Don’t you just love all the twinkly lights at Christmas time?” Or, “Wow, we haven’t talked in a while, but I miss hearing from you.” Or maybe, “Hey, I know things have been rough lately. Do you want to talk?” And Jesus is waiting to see if we’ll answer the door. Are we too busy? Is our life too noisy to even hear Him knocking?
I don’t know what takes up too much time in your life, what’s a distraction from hearing His voice. But as I look at my life, the first thing that comes to mind is social media. Which I enjoy. And can be fun and helpful. But also on social media, I can totally lose track of time, translation waste valuable time, AND end up playing the comparison game, which never ends well. Plus if I could limit my time on social media, my brain would be less cluttered with the zillions of quotes and images that flash past my eyes and then immediately dissolve, AND I could be more focused on Jesus. I could have at least fifteen or so more minutes a day to pray, stop and think, or take a deep breath and talk to Jesus. So this is where I’m starting to prepare Him room. But I still have more preparing to do.
Maybe for you it’s not eliminating something, but actually intentionally doing something—setting that table or opening the door He’s knocking on by grabbing your Bible, putting aside time each day to pray, or setting the alarm one day a week to meet with that friend who is so good for your soul.
I don’t know what “chairs you need to move in your car,” or what air mattress you might need to blow up in your figurative inn. But I do know Jesus is knocking. He wants to hang out. Yup, even though that one part of your life is a mess, and that other thing you did isn’t quite resolved. Jesus just wants to come in. He doesn’t ask for anything fancy. Remember, where He made his debut was a stable. Jesus just wants to come in, so He can do what Jesus does. Love.
Will you prepare Him room?
What can you do today, to clear out some space for Jesus?
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Laura L. Smith