Monday, December 23, 2013

Simply Christmas

It's a Wonderful Life. Sugar cookies. Christmas trees. Nativity scenes. Snow. The AFLBS Christmas concerts. Grandma's caramel popcorn. Advent wreaths. Fudge. Sparkling lights. Wrapping paper. Family. Christmas carols. 

When I think of Christmas, I think of such things. They're the things that come to mind that make me think, "It just wouldn't be Christmas without . . ." And yet, without these things, Christmas does indeed still happen.
While she blesses us with her delicious popcorn at Thanksgiving or perhaps every other year, Christmas has indeed happened without Grandma's homemade caramel popcorn. 
While we're beginning to start our own family Christmas traditions, Christmas has indeed happened without us traveling to visit our parents and siblings. 
While it was a tradition to watch It's a Wonderful Life growing up to the extent that it drove Dad nuts, Christmas has indeed happened without a viewing. 
We get so wrapped up in the "stuff" of Christmas, don't we? We get to the point where it doesn't seem like Christmas can happen without certain things . . . and yet, it does.

Because Christmas is simple. Profoundly humbling. Incredibly amazing. Beyond our comprehension. But simple.

Because Jesus did not come as He deserved. His birth was not announced to royalty nor was He born in a decent building. There were no trumpets, no parades, no national holiday beginning that day. There was no snow, no cookies to celebrate, and maybe even no singing.
"Christ Jesus . . . although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men
"Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem . . . in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, they days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and she wrapped him in clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." - Philippians 2:5-7; Luke 2:1, 3-7 (NASB, emphasis mine)

As it began simple - amazing, and well-deserving of our awe, praise, respect, and recognition - may we keep it simple. May we keep it about the Savior. The One who came after being so-long awaited. The Messiah who came to save the world. The One whose love we cannot comprehend.

Thank You, Father, for Christmas.


*This is the last blog to be written for this Grounded 3.17 blog, a ministry of the AFLC Youth Ministries. All of us, as authors, have been blessed and encouraged to be a part of this ministry. If this blog has impacted the life of just one, then our job has been complete. May the Lord bless each one of you as you continue to seek Him daily. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Come, Expected One

Come, Thou long expected Jesus; Born to set Thy people free. 
From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel's strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart. 

Born Thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King.
Born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone; 
By Thine all sufficient merit, raise us to Thy glorious throne. 

My favorite part of the Christmas story isn't found in what we typically think of as "the Christmas story". My favorite part doesn't involve mangers, magi or Mary. It doesn't involve shepherds, angels, or inns. 

My favorite part of the Christmas story involves a priest, a prayer, and a promise: 
"In the days of Herod . . . there was a priest named Zacharias . . . and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren and they were both advanced in years.  
Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, 'Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. For you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord . . . it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah . . . so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.'" - Luke 1:5017, NASB (emphasis mine) 
Zacharias' prayer in the temple was not, as we may believe based on how the text reads, a prayer for a son. He was not standing before the Lord on behalf of himself and Elizabeth, begging God to open her womb. Zacharias was standing before the Lord on behalf of the nation of Israel, begging God to send the Redeemer. His prayer was the priestly prayer for the redemption of Israel. 

So when Gabriel comes to him and says "Your prayer has been answered", Gabriel is saying, "The Lord God has heard your prayers and the prayers of others before you. He will send the Redeemer. The time has come. And you are going to play a part." 

Next to being Mary herself, I cannot think of anything more humbling, more awe-striking, more fear-inducing. 

From the beginning, from the fall of man, God has promised a Savior. A Redeemer. A Messiah. The prayers of the nation of Israel was, "Come!" The Lord heard those prayers. And He answered them. In His timing.

As we celebrate His coming, His humble birth and wondrous love, may we anxiously await His return. May the prayer of every believer's heart echo that of the Israelites, "Come!". The Lord will hear those prayers. And in His time, He will answer them.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Giving Good Gifts

Our son loves tractors. Well, to be honest, he loves trucks and cars and machines with a motor of any kind. But tractors are definitely on the top five list of coolest things he's ever seen. So the other day, when I was flipping through the Shopko ad and came to the "TOY SALE: Buy one Get one Half Off!" page, it was no surprise when Ezekiel instantly spotted the "green tractor!". There were many other toys sprawled across these two pages of magazine, but Zeke only had eyes for that tractor.

And to be honest, I really wanted to buy it for him. Because I know how much he loves tractors. And how that tractor (which was pulling a trailer!) would bring him joy. 

But I didn't. Because we have plenty of other tractors, trucks and cars in our house. Because I don't want our son to think that he can have everything he wants and/or sees. Because Christmas is a little over two weeks away and I am confident there are a couple of Grandma's who probably bought our little man some new trucks. So Zeke kept the magazine for a couple of days, looked at the tractor, and when we went to Shopko to get gifts for the Angel Tree, we made a mad dash through that toy aisle.

As I thought about this desire I had to buy Ezekiel that new tractor, I couldn't help but think of these words from Jesus:
"'Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?'" - Matthew 7:7-11, NASB (emphasis mine)
Our God is good. We need look no further than a manger in Bethlehem and a cross on Calvary and an empty tomb to remember that.

He knows our needs. He knows the desires of our heart. And He knows what is best for us. Just because He withholds does not mean He is absent, deaf, or unloving. Our Father is simply doing what is best for us.

Teaching us as we wait upon Him. Learning to be content with what we have. Leaning upon Him for strength. Looking to Him to provide grace for the moment. Trusting Him to meet our needs.
"Every good thing and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow." - James 1:17, NASB (emphasis mine)