The Unexpected Christmas

Luke 1:26-38

There’s a piece of garland on my mantle that doesn’t quite look like the rest.  One side hanging down is luscious and full with lights while the other is sparse in its branches with the ribbon a bit crumpled.  I also have a string of lights that keeps falling down so it’s more like the shape of a boot than a beautiful, twinkling border around the peephole to my kitchen.  When I look at the uneven garland or hear the sound of my twinkle lights falling down once again, I get a little agitated.
You see, Christmas is my favorite time of year.  Everything feels magical to me, until the small details don’t quite live up to my expectations.

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When I notice those minute details, I can’t help but almost immediately feel a pang of guilt and think back to our dear sister Mary, the earthly mother of Jesus.  I’m sure she had her small annoyances in life (though I feel confident they looked awfully different than uneven garland).  But when we read about Mary, we read of a girl who had much more than small things not pan out as she expected.  Mary was engaged to be married.  Before her little visit by Gabriel, she and her family were probably excitedly making wedding plans.  She likely imagined that she and Joseph would have children.  That Joseph would spend his days working while she tended to the children.  She would raise them to be warriors, workers, and homemakers and when she had faithfully completed her task of raising the children, she and Joseph would grow old together.  Just a simple, normal existence our young friend probably imagined. What she didn’t dream of?  An angel telling her she would become pregnant—out of wedlock—with a One coming to save the whole world.  Who could imagine something like that?

But that’s just what Mary experienced.  She must have been terrified.  Terrified for what her life would look like, what others would think, what her betrothed would think!  There are many ways she could have responded to that conversation.  In anger, disrespect, or despair she could have replied to Gabriel.  But she had only one question:

 “How?”  As soon as it was explained to her, she quietly submitted and accepted the Lord’s will for her life.  “’I am the Lord’s slave,’ said Mary.  ‘May it be done to me according to your word.’” (Luke 1:38)

Have you ever been caught off guard by something the Lord has asked of you?  Have you ever had your picture perfect life plan derailed?    Sometimes, we feel disappointed by the way He is asking us to live or the gifts he gives us that we do not necessarily regard as gifts.  In those instances, we can scream and cry and stomp our feet in resistance, or we can quietly accept the Lord’s will for us.  It will not always look perfect, but we can know that our lives are working according to His plan.  Through Mary’s obedience and submission, we were all given a Savior.  A sweet, beautiful, baby boy destined to save the world because one young Jewish girl was obedient to her calling.  During this season, I’ll be sitting back with a cup of hot cider, staring at my boot shaped lights and uneven garland praying that God continues to shatter my “perfect” expectations for life so He can replace them with a more holy path.

Where is He leading your life, sweet sister? Will you follow Him?

Love,
Ashley

Intentionality at its Finest

Scripture Focus:
1 John 4:8 & 19, Matthew 2:1-12 & Luke 2:15-21.

Happy December everyone! It may seem too early in the month to go full out with a Christmas devotional, but Costco was putting up Christmas stuff in late September so really I feel like this post is happening right on time! Can your heart ever be too ready for Christmas? I hope not. Sometimes I need the head start. A dark cloud of “unpreparedness” seems to follow me around this time if year; my camera batteries aren’t charged when I want to take a family photo, my attention to Advent starts about 20 days late or buying gifts is just plain rushed because I forgot to order them like in July. Am I the only one that procrastinates even though I love Christmas? I want to be prepared but sometimes I just fall short. Sometimes I am not the intentional person I want to be.

Intentionality is an incredibly attractive quality to me. Proooooobably because God has it…and I do not. I first realized this about God when I read in Genesis about how he made man in His image and breathed life into the first human ever: Adam. He didn’t breath life into any other living plant or animal, just humans. We are special, and God goes to extreme measures to express that to us. He does everything on purpose, He rules and creates with an agenda.

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8

What is His agenda you ask? I would vote love. For that is who He is.

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8

Just let that soak in for a second. And let your heart also make a connection between God is love, and God is intentional. That is what leads us to the Christmas story.

So many people have what is traditionally known as a “nativity scene” in their Christmas ensemble, AKA a snapshot of the moments after Jesus’ birth.You can’t drive through a single neighborhood in the Bible Belt mid December without seeing at least one all lit up and beautiful in someone’s front yard. Being a girl who grew up in church, I was in my fair share of Christmas plays, usually cast as an angel or Mother Mary, but the characters that have always been the most intriguing to me are the wise men.

Matthew 2:1-3 gives us a glimpse of their story:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Now I’m not going to even get into the fact that these men came looking for Jesus after he was born. If I did that then the nativity scene would be ruined for you forever. What I will point out is that it was a star that rose in the sky that alerted them to the birth of our Savior Jesus. A star. Some may call it the Star of Bethlehem.

So these wise men were actually high class astronomers! They studied the stars and found something so astonishing in the sky that they traveled across nations to find the one whom they had decided was worth worshiping. Amazing. They must have been very brave and 100% sure they saw, in their own words, his star when it rose. There is a documentary about the star that I watch every year around Christmas time. It’s amazing, and I highly recommend it. It’s called The Star of Bethlehem. You can even watch a low picture-quality version on YouTube. Anyways, I know from watching this documentary that what the wise men saw from earth was actually the King planet Jupiter and the King star Regulus coming into such close conjunction that they appear as one light. To me that says “King of Kings.” Then nine months later Jupiter, the king planet and Venus, the mother planet, stack right beside each other to form the brightest star that anyone alive in that time had ever seen: The Star of Bethlehem!

Lucky for you friend, I took astronomy in high school (so I’m basically a complete expert, wink wink). What I know for sure is that the solar system works like clockwork. Everything spins and rotates in the same fashion today that it did thousands of years ago. The solar system is mathematical. Precise. It is predictable, even to us mere humans. We’ve created software with built-in algorithms that can show us exactly how the sky looked on any given day in the history of time. Yes, I’m for real, Google it. With that being said, think about the fact that God designed the universe. [Genesis 1:1 & 14-18]

He did it all at the very beginning. He knew from the start of creation the exact moment in time when Jesus would be born into our world to save our very souls.

He put the stars in place and set the planets in motion. He intentionally gave His Son a star of his very own and set signs in the sky so that we could know the Lord had come to us in a form we could recognize! He did it all at the very beginning. He knew from the start of creation the exact moment in time when Jesus would be born into our world to save our very souls. He knew. He saw that His beloved Son would die on a cross to pay for our guilty mistakes and He planned for it. His agenda is love. And He is intentional. And that love and intentionality has been directed at us since before we took our first breath as a human race.

Hallelujah.

Wild Rose

Another one of my favorite characters in the nativity scene is Mary, courageous mother of Jesus. Her story is fascinating. I love the way Luke words chapter 2 verse 19:
“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

If Mary took the time and effort to treasure and ponder all the wonders of the birth of Jesus I believe we should follow her example, especially around the Christmas season. In doing so we honor the miracle of his birth that was written in the sky by His Father. Our Father. We can store up the treasure of God’s love in our hearts, ready to share it with anyone at a moment’s notice. We can praise God for His abundant love and His perfect ability to fulfill His every intention. God was ready and prepared for Christmas before He even gave life to our universe.

My hope is that you can be in awe of our great God and his love that He has poured out on us. His hand has written the most beautiful love story and Christmas is a special part of it. Learn from the wise men and Mary. Be thoughtful. Be courageous and worship our King!

Good tidings!
KJ

Here are a few questions to meditate on:

What do you know about the Star of Bethlehem?

What do you keep treasured up in your heart? Does it reflect what you want it to?

Listen to “Unto Us” by J.J. Heller