Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Showing Up in the Darkness

In Sunday School, we watched this Christmas message by Louie Giglio.  If you have time this season, I encourage you to listen to it while wrapping gifts or cooking dinner.  It reminds us of the importance of the Christmas message in a way that is not just cheesy cliches or picture perfect manger scenes.  His words reminded me that the gospel is both beautiful and messy at the same time. And most importantly, he reminds me that the gospel brings beauty to our mess. No circumstance is too disastrous that it can't be redeemed by our Savior and no moment is so lonely that the Savior can't show up.

We often forget the heaviness of Mary and Joseph's situation. Being chosen to carry the Savior may seem like a blessing now, but it was a scandal at the engaged woman claiming that her baby would arrive via virgin birth!  There must have been whispers behind their backs and judging eyes. People assumed Mary was promiscuous and a liar and they assumed Joseph was a fool. I wonder how many friends were lost and if their families doubted their story.

The two had just endured a long journey on what is one of the worst days of the year - TAX DAY.  A pregnant woman who was likely feeling the normal pregnancy discomfort had just travelled bumpy roads on a smelly donkey. They did not have a lot of money and had no place to stay.  No one took pity on them and welcomed them in.  An inn keeper informed them of a place to find shelter -- probably not a lovely stable like in our nativity sets, but instead a dark damp cave on the side of the hill where animals found refuge at night and during storms.

And Giglio pointed out something I had never thought of: what was Mary praying that night?  I think if we pause, we all probably know (or at least we women know) what her prayer was: Lord, please do not let this baby come tonight. Not here, not now.

But, we know the rest of the story...the baby did arrive.  In the middle of what may have been the worst night of young Mary's life, a Savior came. The Lord broke his silence of 400 years in the most basic way -- with a human cry from a tiny baby in a dark dirty cave on a bad day to a scandalous couple. The Lord showed up in the mess.

The Lord shows up in our mess too! I have endured some pretty tough Christmases -- full of heartache, broken relationships, family tragedies, death, pain. I have also enjoyed wonderful Christmases -- with an engagement, family gatherings, friend's weddings, joyful moments.  And you know what? The Lord showed up in each and every moment.  He was there in the tears and brokeness just as much as the joy and celebration. Christmas solidified that He knew and understood because He came.

Christmas will not always be joyful memories and postcard quality moments. Some years, it will be hard to celebrate - but the reality that Christ showed up in our broken world and our messy lives is a message most needed by those dreading the Holiday season.

Our Savior showed up for Mary in her dark moments - and He will show up for us as well!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Advent is for the hopeless

Last week was the first week of advent, the week where we light the candle of HOPE. This has always been my favorite week of advent -- partially because it officially kicks off one of my favorite times of year, but also because I, like most of you, live in a world that often lacks real hope.

Hope is frowned upon by cynics, intellectuals and realists as being too naive and childlike.  Hope is sometimes even discouraged by well meaning Christians out of fears that unrealized hopes will lead to a lack of faith or disappointment. As a result of both secular and religious attacks, we find ourselves suppressing hope daily, clinging to the idea that we must be tough to survive and stoic to show true faith. Hope is seen as weakness.

But advent arrives every December - amidst our broken relationships, sick family members, tight budgets, sinful struggles and unmet longings - and it gently calls out to us - Hope, Long, Believe.

Advent reminds us of a people who hoped for a Savior for hundreds of years before their longing was finally realized.  Advent is a celebration of fulfilled longings and answered prayers.

Advent points to Jesus, His arrival as an infant and His coming return; but it also gives us a much needed respite from a world of cynicism and fear.  Advent reminds us to place our hope in a Savior who hears, understands and answers, a Savior who lived in this same fallen and painful world. Advent reminds us that trust and faith is more than just obedience and fear because we are free to hope for change, freedom, healing and answers. Advent reminds us of our eternal hope and a victory that is already won.

And, perhaps most encouraging for many facing difficulties and trials during the Holiday season, advent provides this comfort: we serve a God who understands our pain and longings, a God who is with us in the waiting. Advent reminds us that longings can be answered and that waiting can be used for preparation, growth and anticipation.

Our world may be cynical, but even a generation of realists long for Christmas miracles, unexplained joys, family reconciliations, healing, relationships and love this time of year.  Every cheesy Christmas movie or commercial displays a sense of hope (albeit false hope) during this season. But we are so fortunate to have a real hope and answer to our longing. We have a Savior who came, will return, answers and sustains.

It's sometimes hard to hope in this broken world, but advent is for the hopeless. It is for those who feel like they are wading through mud, stuck in a world of waiting and longing. Advent reminds us or our true hope. Advent provides a time to celebrate longing, anticipate answers, rest in His comfort and remember that He came to save us from a broken world full of longing and waiting.

So, hope away. Cling to our greatest hope. Lay your longings at His feet. Trust that He can provide and sustain. We are blessed with these 4 weeks each year that remind us of the Hope we have been given.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

ADVENT: How We're Celebrating

I love the holiday season (yes, maybe that makes me #basic).  I love it all- the glimmer of lights cheering up even the dullest days, upbeat holiday music encouraging you during your morning commute, delicious seasonal treats that make my belly and heart full, curling up with cocoa and watching Christmas movies with the cheesiest yet happiest endings, time spent with family and fiends, finding the perfect gift for someone and most of all, celebrating advent. 

Celebrating Advent gives us 24 extra days to prepare our hearts and minds for the real reason to celebrate. During the holiday chaos, it gives us a daily opportunity to reflect on the Lord's  birth and to anticipate His second coming.  It serves as reminder not only of Christ's birth, but also His death, resurrection and return.

Earlier this week, a fellow blogger wrote about ways she is celebrating Advent this season and I thought I would share the ways both I and my little family are celebrating. I hope our future kids will anticipate the start of Advent as much as I do each year. I hope that Advent reminds them that the Lord is returning and that waiting (in Advent, life's trials and when awaiting the Lord's return) can be a time of anticipation, growth, encouragement and hope.

Here's how we are celebrating:

(1) Lighting the Advent Wreath.

We light our advent wreath nightly.  I received this advent wreath from a sweet family when we got married and it is one of my favorite wedding gifts. Each night, D and I light the wreath, do our advent devotional and pray.  I like taking time with my sweet hubby to focus on Christ and anticipate Christmas each day.

(2) Reading through an advent devotional.

 We are working through Ann Voskamp's The Greatest Gift advent book. Last year, we worked through one of Piper's advent devotionals, also excellent (and free!)

(3) Celebrating through music.

As silly as it may sound, I try to listen to Christian Christmas carols as much as possible throughout the day.  Music is a great format for sharing truth and as I hear lyrics about advent and our Savior's birth, my heart is focused and encouraged.  Additionally, the church we have been attending is sponsoring a couple Christmas concerts this month and we are trying to attend at least one of these events.

(4) My own personal advent readings.  

A friend posted this advent devotional (by on facebook and I have been following it, plus reading any and all articles I come across regarding the Advent season. Reading an Advent article at lunch or when I first arrive at work tends to refocuse me.

(5) Blogging. 

Whether you like it or not, you will be seeing some posts about Advent (if it's not your thing, then come back in January!) I love Advent and tend to talk a lot about it each year. (examples here, here  and here ) so I am sure I will be doing the same this year. 

(6) Praying Boldly.  

Advent is about waiting, longing, peace and hope. Advent and Christmas is a picture of a God that answers prayers and provides in huge ways, including providing a perfect baby to take our place.  Advent is also a reminder that God became man-- yes, man - like you and me -- so He understands our pain, betrayal, longing, disappointment.  During this time of year, I tend to spend a lot of time reflecting on how privileged we are to serve a God that relates to us and understands.  I also tend to lay aside my doubts and fear of disappointment and make BOLD prayers for myself and for others -- for healing, for babies, for marriages, for salvation, for forgiveness.

It's such a special time of year -- a time when we await the baby's birth and the Lord's return, a time where we focus on the manhood of Christ and the fact that he understands our pain and struggles, a time when longing and waiting is celebrated not hated. Advent has always been a source of encouragement in my life, even more so during life's difficult years. 

What about you? Anyone have plans to celebrate Advent? How do you celebrate?