He learned how to flip the switch to turn on the train. Together we laid beside the Christmas tree and watched intently as the Polar Express made its way around the tree; round and round and round it chugged, whistling occasionally and the conductor calling for “Allll aboard!” His little eyes were full of wonder as any two-year-old’s might be.
She couldn’t take her eyes off the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree. The wonder shown through her six-month-old little body so still and focused, watching the colors change from bright white to red and then blue.
Observing the world through the lens of my grandchildren brings back that simple, childlike wonder. More marvellous than this gift, though, is pondering the miracle of Jesus’ birth.
Reading part of the Christmas story each morning, I sense the invitation to stop often. And wonder. I read just a few verses at a time. And I pause to wonder. I’m amazed at the precise timing of events that needed to line up in order for the prophecies to be fulfilled.
That Micah foretold Jesus’ birth 700 years before He was born, and he specified the tiny town; this makes me stop and wonder.
Mary and Joseph didn’t even live in Bethlehem; however, a census, the first ever, “happened” to be instituted at just the right time, which would require them to travel from their hometown of Nazareth and would position them to be in Bethlehem on the exact day of his birth. At the precision of the timing and all those involved in bringing this prophecy to fulfilment, my mind is filled with wonder.
Astonishingly, many prophets in the Old Testament proclaimed Jesus’ lineage, that He would come from the line of Jesse, the father of King David. Reading through the record of Jesus’ ancestors, God divinely used murderers, prostitutes, the lowly and those in power to bring about Jesus’ earthly birth. Wow, God! This is amazing. It makes me stop and wonder.
So, this Advent, I accept God’s bidding to slow down and wonder. I read and ponder with great anticipation of God’s quiet whispers of marvellous wonderment. Like a child, not understanding the mystery, yet, being so filled with a sense of awe, I watch and I wait. And am wonder-filled.
And all they that heard it wondered at those things… (Luke 2:18 KJV).
Happy New Year! According to the Christian calendar, the first day of Advent is also the first day of the new year.
This year, most of us are happy to see 2020 go and pray 2021 brings a sense of fresh hope and new beginnings as we leave behind a year fraught with tension, strife and fear.
Not so fast for me, though, as this really is “my favorite time of the year.”
The Latin word for Advent is adventus, which means coming. In this season we are offered an invitation to rest and reflect as we prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus. We look forward to the celebration of His first coming along with the anticipation of His second.
The invitation is to step out of the frenzied pace of December and tip-toe into a place where we can sit a few minutes, quiet our souls and listen to our longings. We were made for more. We long for our hearts to be filled with His peace. We long for the day we see Jesus face-to-face. We, indeed, were made for more.
As we anticipate the celebration of the joyful, yet humble birth of our Savior, may we prepare our hearts for new birth as we invite Jesus to do a new work in our lives. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”
During this season, as we begin a new year, may we recognize our dire need for a Savior. And may our hearts be drawn to this time of longing, to the invitation of a still small voice Who gently whispers His great love to us, through the birth of a newborn and the coming of a King.
Emmanuel. God with us.
And they shall call his name Emmanuel, (which means, “God with us”). ~Matthew 1:23
Perhaps it’s because of the circles I run in or maybe because it’s long been a topic near and dear to my heart, but I seem to hear more and more these days the call to “the two greatest commandments” God has set forth to us as His disciples. They’re familiar scripture to most of us who’ve been in the church any length of time.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40 NIV).
Even Jesus says it. “This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it…” Lately, as I’ve reread these verses and been reminded in sermons and devotions, I’m discovering there is a key component, seemingly hidden in there, a piece of the puzzle I hadn’t really taken notice of before.
Let’s read again the second commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There it is! Love your neighbor. As yourself. As yourself. Yourself. Do you see it? Nestled in that second commandment is the key component Jesus gives us, which we so often overlook, “Love…yourself.”
This seems to be counteractive to many of Jesus’ other teachings. We read throughout scripture to put others above ourselves, to deny ourselves, in humility count others as more significant, don’t seek your own good, but the good of others, and so on.
I’m learning these days to find the balance in loving myself well so I have what it takes to put others needs above my own and truly care for those around me. Similar to the instructions when beginning a flight, we need to put on our own oxygen masks before assisting others. Only out of the overflow of loving ourselves well can we love others as Jesus commanded. As author, Geri Scazzero writes, “A healthy spiritual life includes a careful balance between serving other people’s needs and desires and valuing my own needs and desires. Instead, I put most of my efforts into caring for others at the expense of my own soul.”
Taking a closer look, I don’t think we can effectively love our neighbor until we first love ourselves. While it sounds easy, we know it’s not. Between human nature, circumstances, past experiences and lies we’ve been told by ourselves and others, we continue to live with the fear that we’re not enough and don’t measure up. We convince ourselves of our unworthiness. Somehow, it seems more spiritual to live with a sense of false humility. I sometimes feel the blood of Jesus covers everyone else’s sin, but it’s just not enough for mine.
Lately, I’ve been asking God to show me what it looks like to love myself well. A few of the answers I’ve received include being more intentional to take a Sabbath rest each week and discerning when to say no.
I’ve often wrestled with the definition of Sabbath; is it a defined time legalistically set during the week, with rules as to what you can or cannot do? Or is it a commandment God gives us for our benefit, a time of rest He modeled for us after working six days to create the world? Reading through the Old Testament, a few commentaries and various books, I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, Sabbath is a 24-hour period of taking a break from my normal routine, resting and enjoying God’s presence. Typically, this includes a time of corporate worship as well as quiet, personal reflection. It might also include reading for pleasure, walking in the woods or on the beach, taking a drive in the country, shopping for fresh produce at a market, talking to my children or FaceTiming with my grandchildren. Perhaps it’s hosting a Sunday afternoon cookout with my husband or a tea party with my girlfriends. It’s important to realize here how personal one’s practice of Sabbath is, as it can be tempting to subject our values on others. (For instance, my husband LOVES to do the laundry. It brings him great pleasure in every step and he looks forward to spending a few hours of his Sabbath washing and folding clothes. For many, however, this is not a task that brings delight.) What brings us delight may not do the same for others. Part of the beauty of Sabbath is having the freedom to find delight in Jesus and rest for your soul in your own unique way.
The second way I’m learning to love myself better is by saying no to good opportunities. This enables me to have the time and energy to say yes to the best opportunities. Reminding myself of my limits and boundaries are healthy practices to loving myself well. And in turn, to loving others “as I love myself.”
Loving myself well is truly a key component to loving God and others more fully. As I discover ways to care for myself, I discover how to love and care for others as Jesus commanded.
We have several photos and memories of our young children dressing up in “big people’s clothes.” They especially loved to wear my husband’s combat boots. He’d get home in the evening, sit in a chair and take his boots off. Inevitably, one of the kids would be seen a few minutes later attempting to walk around in his huge boots. They never made it far, but were always up for the challenge. Occasionally, they’d try on his whole uniform. Oh, how they wanted to be like their daddy. (Apparently, from the photo, so did I?)
Our youngest daughter, Britain, was well-known among my friends as an early lover of high-heels. She especially loved to visit our friend, Lee, in Norway, who would grant Britain access to her well-stocked closet of fashionable heels and boots. The boots were longer than her legs, yet she would strut around the house until she’d fall down, her feet and ankles weary from the strain of wearing shoes that didn’t fit. At age four, she was intent on becoming a fashion statement, just like Ms. Lee. (Katie, pictured below, also loved high-heels!)
Recently reading in 1 Samuel, I came to the well-known story of David and Goliath. David, a small shepherd boy, young and inexperienced, as Saul notes, volunteers to come against the giant Goliath. I can imagine Saul muttering, “Seems rather foolish,” under his breath. Nevertheless, he agrees to this absurd move, and begins to prepare David for the unequal match.
Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So, he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine. (NIV, 1 Samuel 17:38-40)
And you know the rest of the story. Not even trusting in his five smooth stones, rather trusting in “the name of the Lord Almighty,” David defeated Goliath.
How many times do we think we need someone else’s accessories or attributes in order to accomplish a task? If I had her platform, if I looked more polished and put-together like her, if I only had her education, or her resources.
But God, rich in mercy, has given us everything we need to complete the tasks He’s given us. No need to borrow another’s armor; God has equipped us with our own battle gear, and it’s a perfect fit.
One month ago the upheaval of racial injustice once again invaded our masked, distant and socially deprived nation.
In the days and weeks following, I continue to sit and listen to God, asking Him to determine my next steps.
In my devotional this morning, I came across these thoughts from Mother Theresa, “I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I look only at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. Just one, one, one. You get closer to Christ by coming closer to each other.”
One person at a time.
When I see the masses, I am easily discouraged. What can I do to alleviate the problem? It seems so huge and I am so small. A tiny drop in a massive ocean.
I tend to be mathematically challenged. Equations, constants and coefficients never made much sense to me. Sometimes the way God uses math doesn’t make much sense in human terms, but He makes up for it exponentially in eternal dividends.
I love one person at a time. Because they have been loved, they in turn, love another. And they another. And they another. All the tiny drops collectively begin to make a little wave. And God moves among the small waves and joins them with others to make larger waves that crash against fear and hate and self-righteousness. And all the ugliness. And the injustice. And the divisiveness.