Trash to Treasure

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After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” After hearing the king, they went on their way. And there it was-the star they had seen in the east! It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed beyond measure. Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling to their knees, they worshipped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11

The wise men offered gifts to Jesus. And so, the focus of Christmas shifts from what God gave men, to what men can offer Him. The Magi opened up their treasures to pull out gold, frankincense and myrrh. But what about us regular folk who don’t have a surplus supply of these highly valued substances lying about. Where, then, shall we find treasure fit for a King? And so, God’s word sheds light as Matthew 12:35 tells us where lies our treasure… a good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things.

What then, shall I say to this? Because at least once a week you’ll hear me mutter “crap” when things do not go accordingly. Does this mean that my heart is filled with crap because of what comes out of my mouth? Why doesn’t a song of praise fill my heart and bless the ears of all those in my company? Most likely, there’s no song of praise because it’s been covered up by the refuse (or crap) that surrounds it. For more often than not, complaint and bitter and other various negative feelings permeate my heart. And unfathomably, despite all that God has done for me, it appears my heart is a storehouse of trash, rather than treasure.

What then, shall I offer the King? If all that I contain is trash, would my gift be acceptable? And contemplating this, I have to think yes. Because Christ came for everyone… especially those who have trash. If I turn to the King in all sincerity, and offer Him all that I have, which is trash, I believe He would receive my gift. And because He is in the business of transforming souls, why, I believe He could take my trash – the baggage, the mistakes, the flaws, and the imperfections – and make something beautiful out of it. I think He could turn my trash to treasure. If I dare let Him.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1

And so, I dare. This year for Christmas, I offer myself to Jesus. Because I have a heart full of belief that He will make something beautiful out of the mess of my life.

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This is what I look like on the outside. It’s how I look before I cover up with make-up. I’m not happy that my nose is crooked or that my skin is flawed and beginning to sag. In truth, I have never been satisfied with the way I look. Honestly, I’ve felt ugly more than pretty, and have always struggled with feeling less than, insecure, insignificant and second-rate. And so, I do my best. I usually overcompensate. Before walking out the door, I cover up what I can.

Then, there’s my inside. I have more bad days than good, and am usually a mess. I fight depression, which I now know to be the side-effect of perfectionism. My house stays nice one or two days a week, but usually resides in a state of chaos. Yes, sometimes my counter is covered with dishes and laundry is heaped to the ceiling. Like yesterday. I overeat. I let curses fly at least once a month when my computer acts up. I let things totally, utterly consume me and I care way too much about what people think. I get completely frustrated with my son at least once a day. Raising him has been a struggle, and overall, I feel like a failure as a mother. I can be bitter. And this is just what I can think of right now. There’s more… so much more. And this? This is my treasure? This is what I can offer Him?

Yes. If it’s all I have, yes. Because what will Jesus do with gold and frankincense and myrrh? For those substances are already treasure. And He who is our treasure hardly needs more. No, what He desires is someone who is imperfect. Perhaps a woman with a crooked nose on the outside and bitterness on the inside. And that’s me. Flaws and all. For when I come to Him and lay myself at His feet, He accepts me. When I finally have those moments when I can’t stand myself another minute, and try to turn… from me and all my trash to Him… He takes me. He accepts my gift. He takes my trash. For it’s all I have to offer.

You know… I don’t step out of the house until I take certain measures. I use make-up to cover up the things I don’t like about me and use a hot curling iron in an attempt to coax my hair into unnatural waves… and this takes time. The end result isn’t great, but to me, I look better than I did.

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And so, I realize that it will take some time for my insides to get ready, too. For it’s Christ who’s being formed in me. And ever so slowly, over time, I rid myself of such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language. I try not to lie to another soul as I take off my old self with its practices. And I put on my new self, who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created me. I clothe myself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, and bear with others as I forgive, for Christ forgave me. And above everything, I put on love, which binds all these together in perfect unity (from Colossians 3). And then, I am ready to face the day.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:6-7

Me alone, I don’t house much treasure. But because He lives in my heart, there is something of value. And over time, more of Him begins to shine through for the heat of His light coaxes my insides to form curls of virtue that at first feel unnatural. And then, as Christ is formed in me, I become more and more beautiful in His sight…

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The Magi offered Jesus treasures of gold, frankincense and myrrh because they were able to do so. And Christ accepted their gifts. Me? My treasure is different. And as His light begins to burn brighter than all my darkness, my trash diminishes leaving behind only treasure… my gift to the One who is treasure already.

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=we+three+kinds+bare+naked+ladies+sarah+mclachlan&qs=n&form=QBVR&pq=we+three+kinds+bare+naked+ladies+sarah+mclachlan&sc=0-19&sp=-1&sk=#view=detail&mid=A26FD931D077C68F6435A26FD931D077C68F6435

The Naughty List

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I think I’ve reached my destination. For it was on December 6 that I determined Christmas would be different this year. I decided I would leave over stuffed days, fits of wrath and perfectionism behind, setting out on a course for Jesus. And so, as I sang along with Bruce Springsteen this morning (at the top of my lungs), I realized I’m already there. I’ve made it to the heart of Christmas! And of all things, select lyrics from Santa Claus is Coming to Town shed light on my path…

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
He’s making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out Who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
O! You better watch out! 

You know, the beat is great and it puts a smile on my face. And yet, today, I think how threatening the words are. You better walk the straight and narrow, or else! It’s kind of like the elf on the shelf. Santa’s minions are placed in homes around the world so that they can spy on children. And guess what, small child…  If you’re not good and perfect in all your ways, well then, no reward for you! No grace for dispensation. This is my elf on the shelf, by the way…

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I’m certainly not down on Santa or the Elf on the Shelf. It’s just that in my search for the true reason for the season, it’s glaringly obvious that this song and these little elves point directly to the Law of the Old Testament. Christmas has become a works based reward system. And before Jesus came along, I think life may have felt exactly that way. You better be good! You better walk the straight and narrow! You better be perfect! And the only way people could walk blamelessly before God was by obeying each and every one of His commandments, and following the Law. Explicitly. And if they screwed up, there were offerings and sacrifices to be made. Burnt offerings and grain offerings and sin offerings and fellowship offerings. There was even a guilt offering. This was the way of life before Christmas came, for it was Christ who ushered in the age of grace. Before the Star of Jacob appeared, the Law guided God’s chosen ones.

And people could accomplish this feat, for the father of John the Baptist proves it. This old man was righteous in God’s sight because he lived without blame according to all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But here’s the thing… because he walked perfectly, did he still feel the need for a Savior? Did he still look forward to the coming Messiah? Because Zechariah was doing A-Okay. In fact, when the angel of the Lord appeared to him, Zechariah was doing exactly what he should be doing. He was serving as priest, burning incense in the sanctuary of the Lord… in a perfect manner, I’m sure. But then, out of nowhere stood Gabriel! And this man of God, who walked perfectly, felt fear.

Gabriel brought good tidings, for old Zechariah and his barren wife would have a son. But amazingly, Zechariah didn’t believe it. In essence, he didn’t receive the good news… at first. And so Gabriel replied, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and tell you this good news. Now listen! You will become silent and unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words…” Wow. What stern measures were taken here. But what a lesson for today. Because it’s the perfect picture of how our hearing can be dulled over time. And through the monotony of rote tradition, our minds can thicken and our hearts can harden. And can it be possible? Dare I even say this… familiarity breeds contempt. For isn’t it true that over time we become complacent and perhaps, just a bit too casual with God. Speaking for myself, I have to say yes.

Oh, I completely identify with Zechariah. Because at times, I am just like him. See, early on I bound myself to God’s law. Since I had more faith in God’s rules than I did in salvation through Jesus only, I was groomed for working. My notes evidence my shaky foundation… “Don’t rely on salvation alone. Works!” And so, bypassing relationship, I moved on to busyness. I believed I should walk blamelessly, and so I strived to do so through acts of service. I tried my best to be good, for I really wanted to be perfect. I thought that’s what He expected. And so in my mind, the more I strived, the better I was. I got so good at going to church, and taking Bible studies, and praying religiously that it was almost as if I no longer needed a Savior. Because on my own, I was doing A-Okay. Like Zechariah. But you know what? You can only carry on in that manner for so long. Because if you keep climbing higher and higher up your own pedestal, eventually you fall off. That’s what I did. For pride comes before the fall.

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“But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:13.

For me, the ultimate Christmas miracle is Jesus did not come because we were so good. On the contrary, He came because of our sinful nature. Because God knew no matter how many good works we accomplished, we would never, ever achieve perfection. Thus, Jesus… the reason for the season and God’s perfect gift.

And so, do I want Santa with his long lists, or do I want Jesus only? I can choose the Law with its infinite rules, or I can choose salvation only. My choice is easy, for I’ve tried being good. It doesn’t work. And oh, how I’ve pouted and cried. So, obviously I’m removed to Santa’s naughty list. Therefore, I choose Jesus. I choose a Savior. Because I cannot save myself.

This Christmas, I find rest. I don’t have to work one minute more. My strivings can now cease, for God has already given the perfect Christmas gift. In His infinite wisdom, God sent perfection down… so we don’t have to be.

“When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” Galatians 4:4-5

Three Wise Men and One un-Wise Woman

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“I see Him, but not now;
I behold Him, but not near;
A Star shall come out of Jacob;
A Scepter shall rise out of Israel…” Numbers 24:17

What makes one wise? According to Wikipedia (my new best friend), wisdom is the application of knowledge gained. And today, rather than being filled with wisdom, it’s folly that saturates my soul. Or, staying true to my inner perfectionist, I shall be overly-critical and say what I’m really thinking. I am foolish. An utter fool. Simply, in my travels to a spiritual Bethlehem, I fail to act on that which God reveals to me. Namely, leaving perfectionism behind. Like a dog with a bone, I hold to that which consumes me. And rather than me gnawing on it, it gnaws at me. When there’s something I want to do, perfectly, it absolutely consumes every bit of my brain… leaving little room for anything else.

Two weeks ago I set my course for the Star of Jacob, and I knew exactly where I was headed. My writing of December 6 reminds me of my singular focus, “… as God’s word guides my way, the goal becomes clear in my sight… Jesus.” Yes, eyes straight ahead and He was my focus. He was the goal. But alas, I am a perfectionist to the core and ambitious to boot. And so, I set a second goal. You know, nudging the bar a tad higher. I thought what a great idea to blog this entire journey. However, one step led to another, and before I knew it the bar was so high I could barely see it. For I fully expected to reach Jesus, find a Christmas heart along the way, and write the complete Christmas story throughout my pilgrimage. And when I say write about Christmas, I mean all of it (to include creation, promises made to Abraham, the exodus of Israel, the Law, sin and Christ’s death and resurrection.) Oh, I was sure I could easily accomplish this grand feat. But you know what… today, I realize I can’t. I just can’t. For in truth, I am not perfect. And it took me nearly all of yesterday to figure that out.

But today is a new day. And through the story of the wise men, my hope is renewed. For their Christmas journey surely lasted more days than my fourteen. And eventually, the Magi did reach their destination.

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 have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him. Matthew 2:1-2

The Magi, which means “wise men,” were likely astrologers who studied the signs of the times and stars. And I can only imagine the depths of knowledge that each one housed, stored up through a lifetime of observation. And because they were always watching and waiting, the Magi noticed when something extraordinary occurred. For there appeared to them a star, a new star, that outshone all the others. And leaving everything behind, they set their course by a bright light in the sky. These men knew the meaning of the star, and so, they acted wisely in venturing out. And their pilgrimage took them towards Jerusalem as they sought the King of the Jews. Upon arrival in the bustling city, King Herod gave them audience, which was the custom of the day. But their goal had not been attained, as this was not the true King they sought. And so, they kept searching…

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:10-11

Oh, there are several reasons these men were wise. But today, like a star, one outshines the others. For what is wisdom but the application of knowledge gained. And these men had knowledge, an entire storehouse of knowledge. But more importantly, they applied what they knew to their lives. For with the appearance of a star, the Magi became singular in focus. For the star indicated the birth of a King. And so, laying all else aside, they set their course for Him. And they didn’t stop until they reached their goal.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Proverbs 9:10

There were three wise men (so says tradition). And they set their course by a star. We don’t know for certain how long their journey lasted. Some suggest six days beyond birth, while others say the Christ child was nearing two years old by the time they came to Him. But in truth, it really doesn’t matter how long it took them. What really matters is… they made it.

And there’s one un-wise woman. She set her course by the Star of Jacob. Oh, she may veer off course every now and then, which delays her journey. But that doesn’t really matter. What really matters is, His star still outshines the others. And His light still guides her.

And so… as God’s word guides my way, the goal again becomes clear in my sight… Jesus.

His First Christmas Card

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I suffer from a disease… I call it perfectionism. According to Wikipedia, psychologists call perfectionism a personality trait… but to me, it feels more like a sickness.

Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations… perfectionism drives people to attempt to achieve an unattainable ideal, and their adaptive perfectionism can sometimes motivate them to reach their goals. In the end, they derive pleasure from doing so. When perfectionists do not reach their goals, they often fall into depression.

Hmmm… sounds about right to me. And the recent decorating of our tree fully underscores all points above. I set the bar high one evening fully expecting perfection. I anticipated closing out the night by sitting on the couch with my loved ones, sipping cocoa, and admiring the beautiful creation all the while being filled with the Spirit of Christmas. However, rather than the success I fully envisioned, I was met with frustration, disillusionment, and by the end of the evening… depression. And so, today I ask myself a question. Why perfectionism? Why do I feel this incessant need to excel in what I do? Like with the tree. Why did the appearance of a dead conifer matter so much to me? And the answer, I believe, lies in the definition above. Because in truth, it wasn’t really about creating a wonderful memory with my family in celebration of the Christ child. No, it had more to do with the end result. And more accurately, it had everything to do with others’ evaluations. Because if other people loved my tree, then I would be a success, right? Perfection attained.

You know, it seems to me that I have a choice to make this season. I can either have a Christmas that looks perfect from the outside, or, I can have a real Christmas on the inside. Because I won’t have it both ways. For in reading God’s word, I see Christmas came to only one type of person. And He who knows the hearts of all men knew exactly who would receive His message. And so, He sent forth His first Christmas card, by means of an angel and heavenly host. And the most unlikely group of recipients received His word… shepherds. And in others’ evaluations, this must have seemed ludicrous. For shepherds were far from perfect. Such a filthy and smelly lot who lived with animals… why, they were unclean. Surely they were not even allowed to step foot inside a synagogue. Not unless they scrubbed themselves ritually clean. For they were shepherds… utterly imperfect, completely lowly, and so untrustworthy. Ironically, (according to what I read this morning), their testimony was not even accepted in Court. And this is to whom God sent His first Christmas card?

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Luke 2:8-14

Why shepherds? Perhaps because they didn’t really care about what other people thought of them. Or maybe it was because this group of imperfect men kept their expectations low… for others didn’t expect much of them. Or maybe, it was simply that they were still… their attention not pulled in more than one direction. And so, as God peeled back the envelope of His card… His glory shown forth. And when the shepherds saw, they trembled in fear. But then, God revealed a miracle. And because these men were not perfectionists, setting the bar so unattainably high, they were able to listen. But more importantly, they acted on what they heard. For after God’s messenger spoke, they were moved

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”  And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Luke 2:15

Why shepherds? Because they were not befuddled with worldly things, mindless traditions and others’ evaluations.  A humble folk not highly esteemed by others, they had nothing to lose. Not even a reputation, for theirs was already stained. And so, they hurried toward a Savior…

It’s called perfectionism, and it hinders so much. See, as my high standards escalated over the years to outrageous heights, the more important things seemed to have fallen away one by one. Specifically, the tradition of Christmas cards. But you know… among the myriad traditions out there, could there be anything more lovely than a tradition originated by God? His good news sent forth by the herald to imperfect souls. A tradition that has been perpetuated for over two thousand years. At first, by word of mouth. But then… cards. Christmas cards in order to bring forth good tidings of great joy to all people.

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of the herald,
who proclaims peace,
who brings news of good things,
who proclaims salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Isaiah 52:7

In closing, I want to share about the two church services I attended on Sunday. One was nearly perfect, and the other… well, it was fraught with human error. Both provided lovely music and God’s word was peppered throughout. However, I felt God’s presence only once… through the imperfect. And it was towards the end of the night that one song in particular touched my soul. It was as if God were peeling back the envelope of His Christmas card, revealing His glory to me. And I felt Him. A tingling inside. And my hand began to rise on its own accord, in worship of Him. But I stopped it. As my arm hurried upward toward the Savior, I hastily pulled it back. Because what would those around me think? I didn’t want others’ evaluations of me to lessen. And so, after obeying the command of inner perfectionism rather than the Spirit of Him who moved me, His presence diminished…

I suffer from a disease. I call it perfectionism, and it hinders so much. But this year, I realize I have a choice. I can either have a Christmas that appears perfect from the outside, or, I can experience true Christmas on the inside. Absolutely perfect in its imperfection…

 http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=while+shepherds+watched+their+sheep+song&qpvt=while+shepherds+watched+their+sheep+song&FORM=VDRE#view=detail&mid=FE8663E17ECE662C253AFE8663E17ECE662C253A

The Stable

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While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough – because there was no room for them at the inn. Luke 2:6-7

Why the stable? And a manger? Could a more unlikely place exist for the Savior of the world to make His entrance? Because we have some chickens out back, and if I were to stick my nose in their coop, I would find it smells. Bad.

And if I were to walk through their pen, I would definitely come out with poop on the soles of my shoes. And these are just chickens. What about horse and cow manure? Or worse yet, a pig pen. Can anything smell worse than pigs?

So, in contemplating the nativity sets, I wonder if they perhaps give a false idea of what it was really like on the night of our Savior’s birth. Because the treasured scenes we place around our homes make our hearts glad… but they leave all the ugliness out.

Come December, you won’t find any little cow pies as you unbox your stable, manger, shepherds, and cows. And so, we have this nice, sterile image of what it was like the night of Christ’s birth.

And carols enhance the image.

Like Silent Night.

Oh, it’s one of my favorites. Absolutely beautiful. But was it really silent? And calm? For a young, virgin gave birth. No, I’d venture to say it was not silent at all. Loud, no doubt.

But see, an idea forms as I contemplate who may have been present at the birth of Jesus. There was Joseph and Mary and some lowly animals. But were there others? I just don’t know. I don’t think any of us can really know.

Surely when Mary’s time came, Joseph went to find a woman to help. Maybe even a couple. But I don’t find this in Scripture. The 2nd chapter of Luke simply states, “she gave birth to her first Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough…”

Because there was no room for them at the inn. No, it mattered naught who Mary was. Or more importantly, who she was carrying. Plainly, there just was no room.

And so my theory is this. Perhaps the stable was the very best location for Christ’s birth. Because there, everything was silent that should be silent. Oh, there were likely groans and cries coming from the young virgin. And words of comfort surely slipped from Joseph’s terse mouth.

And the animals? Oh, the animals had to have lowed and neighed and brayed. So likely, it wasn’t silent at all. BUT, the voices and sounds that went forth on that first Christmas long ago were authentic. Sincere. For there was no room for pomp and circumstance in a stable.

Naturally, my next thought is this…

Where were all the religious people of the day? God’s select? Because God had come near. Immanuel.  And the elect had been waiting for this very moment.

But they were nowhere in sight.

God didn’t orchestrate Christ’s birth to take place amongst the priests and Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes even though they were the ones who knew the most about Him. And were looking forward to Him. Yet, not one little figurine we pull out of our nativity boxes depicts a Pharisee.

So I deduce the following. The religious leaders of the day must have been too busy. Their tight schedules were intricately woven with feasts, and traditions, and ritual washings. Quite simply, they left no room for the unexpected. Not another thing could be squeezed into their hectic schedules.

But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, “Rabbi, Rabbi.” Matthew 23:5-6

Pharisees were of the strictest order and every single thing had its place. And sadly, all the rules and regulations left no room for something out of the ordinary…

Not even if it were extraordinary.

Like a miracle to behold. Something grand to see. Thus, when God graced the earth with His very presence in the form of a newborn infant, the ultra-religious folks missed the whole thing.

Despite all their knowledge and religion, they missed the first Christmas.

And Jesus.

They just didn’t see Him.

For this is what the high and exalted One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite.” Isaiah 57:15

I’ll tell you what I know. Knowledge puffs up. And good deeds can do the same. In fact, a girl can become downright prideful regarding the things she knows and the things she does. So activity drives her. And saturates her schedule. And acknowledgement only fuels the fire.

Hear what I say.

And see what I do.

Acknowledge me.

But inevitably, the downfall comes. Just like with the religious leaders of old who missed it all. Because they didn’t even see the miracle of that first Christmas. And because her schedule is so crammed full, she does the same.

Every year.

For she simply has no room.

Her intricately woven schedule cannot allow for one more thing. Not even when it’s something extraordinary. Like a miracle to behold.

Because for a girl become Pharisee, silent nights are few and far in between. Calmness evasive. And it’s just too darn hard to hear God above the din of her own stuff. No, when a girl is overflowing with her own noise, she can’t hear when He speaks.

Not even when He’s near. If He comes near. For the uncomfortable truth is God does not reside with the proud. For His dwelling place is with the humble.

And this is what I know to be true. Personally.

See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated “God with us.” Matthew 1:23

Why the stable for the birth of our Savior? Perhaps it’s because within the walls of a humble cow shed there was no pomp and circumstance. And only the pure of heart were there. Those are the ones who see God, anyway.

The pure of heart…

As for the ultra religious folks bound by their mile long to-do lists, they were absent that day. Nowhere near the Nativity. As such, God’s Spirit wasn’t hindered by rules and tradition and the noise of a thousand voices.

And because only a hand-full of people were present, and some animals, the most beautiful thing happened…

There was silence.

And calm.

Oh, there may have been moans accompanying Mary’s labor. And Joseph may have spoken softly. But noisy, knowledgeable souls busy about a thousand tasks were no where to be found.

So, in its own way, I guess it was a silent night after all.

And the blessed silence allowed the one most crucial sound to be heard. For in the calmness of a holy hush, God’s voice was magnified. Those present heard it…

It was a newborn babe’s cry.

Hail Mary, full of grace…

Though I’m not Catholic, I’m familiar with the following prayer:

Hail Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus…

This prayer comes straight out of the book of Luke (verses 28 and 42), and it’s how Mary was greeted first by an angel, and then, by her cousin, Elizabeth.

And this morning I fully realize this prayer is not ascribing majesty to Mary, as I so thought. See, I believed “Hail” to be a form of greeting used only with someone high of rank. But now, I know. Literally, hail means “rejoice” or “be glad.”

And to clear up another misconception on my part, Mary being full of grace does not mean she was a graceful person. Rather, Mary was blessed because God’s favor rested on her. It was His grace she was full of, not her own.

In other words, “Rejoice, Mary! Be glad because God has blessed you and His grace rests upon you!”

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Hail, Mary.

Rejoice.

Funny thing, though, is many images depict Mary in a deeply contemplative state rather than full of joy. In my opinion, she looks to be melancholy.

But one can infer from the first chapter of Luke, that she did in fact rejoice. And not only was Mary full of grace, she was also full of praise! For this was the song of Mary’s heart…

 And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” Luke 1:46-52

This passage gives us a glimpse into Mary’s soul. At least at the time of immaculate conception. Oh, I’m sure she didn’t always remain on this spiritual high for could she? Because not long after, her betrothed wanted to put her away quietly.

And there were other hardships. If I were to place myself in Mary’s sandals, I’d have to say some of her joy slipped away. So perhaps the sad images of Mary do portray her best.

Especially during her third trimester. Traveling a great distance on a donkey. In the cold. And upon arrival to Bethlehem, the city of David, there must have been such crowds. And the straw to break the camel’s back… there was no where to go!

What must she have been thinking?

Me? I know exactly what I would have said. I’d have uttered in disbelief, “Are you kidding me?” For that’s my go to phrase. When something doesn’t go according to my plan, this flies right out of my mouth. And if I were in Mary’s place, I would have thought, “Here I am carrying the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and no one can make a place for me! For ME!”

And so, the contrast is striking. I, quite clearly, am nothing like Mary. For I am high in my thinking. But Mary was not. She was lowly. A humble soul. And thus, God’s grace rested upon her.

And it’s there, in the grace of God, that I need to pause for just a moment. Because I need it this hour.

See, the other night I had been lulled to sleep on my couch by the glow of the TV. However, I awoke with a start. I was brought to full alertness, but noticed nothing askew. Not even when I stepped out onto my porch to unplug Christmas lights did anything seem out of the ordinary. No, the world was quiet.

But then, I heard voices. And finally, I saw flashing blue lights at the top of the hill.  And standing there in my bathrobe, I felt uncertain about what to do. Lights silently beckoned, but I didn’t know what had happened.

I hurried inside to wake my husband from his deep slumber and told him something was wrong… I told him I felt I should go up and see.

But he didn’t understand my reasoning. It was cold and dark and a policeman was already there. What did I possibly think I could do? No, he felt I should stay inside. And so, I left the bedroom to venture out again. And that’s when I heard the fire station siren. Something was wrong, in deed.

Still, though, I felt uncertainty. It was true there was an official on site, and it was true I was undressed… but shouldn’t I go up to see if I could be of service? I ventured back in as I heard the sirens approach. And by this time, I knew help was just seconds away. And so, I deduced my husband was probably right…

Thus, I did nothing.

I watched out my window as more and more emergency vehicles arrived. And when a spotlight shone forth, I realized it wasn’t just a simple accident. Not only that, emergency personnel were right on the edge of our property! I didn’t know how I could help, and yet, I felt compelled to do something. Once again, I woke my husband. Shouldn’t I go? Shouldn’t I do something? Anything?

I wish I could say that I rose to the occasion. That I hurried to help in anyway I could… perhaps in offering a kind word or holding a hand. I could have handed out hot coffee or blankets, or lifted up the injured in prayer. I bet that’s what Mary would have done.

But no. I stood still, instead. Compelled to move by the Spirit within me, yet unable to move forward one step. And so, by the time I made my way to bed much later, I felt like an utter fool.

By the next morning, foolishness morphed to guilt. And then, I was filled with deep regret as shame overtook me. Surely the shame of inaction is much more than the shame of an action taken. For I failed to do what was right.

And today, it strikes me that the shame I felt is just another form of the word disgrace.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was full of grace.

And I… well, I was full of disgrace.

When pride comes, disgrace follows, but with humility comes wisdom. Proverbs 11:2

Hail Mary, full of grace. This is the description we have of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Filled with grace because of her humbleness. And through humility, she became wise. And so, Mary being Mary, her earthly frame housed a wonderful gift. For within her womb was the seed of Christmas… the grace of God.

And me being me, this is the gift I need most this Christmas. For I am but a human. Frail and fraught with error. I make mistake after mistake. I fail God again and again, and yet, His gift to me is everlasting… His mercies new each day.

So this day, I choose to rest there. In the grace of my Lord and Savior. And I proclaim with great confidence…

Hail Pam, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.

And not because of who I am or anything I do. But simply because I need Him. I need His grace.

Indeed, we have all received grace after grace from His fullness, for although the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:16-17

This Christmas, I am unwrapping God’s gift of grace. And in this reason alone, I shall rejoice. Funny thing, though, it’s not perfection that brought me to it. No, it was through a mistake.

And though my error brought me low, and I was awash in shame for a brief period,  I was humbled by my folly. And it was in that moment, in my human weakness, that I found His gift.

My disgrace was exchanged for His grace…

A Christmas gift that keeps on giving.

Joseph’s Nativity

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And Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, to be registered along with Mary, who was engaged to him and was pregnant. Luke 2:4-5

I’m currently on a journey to my spiritual Bethlehem. And my prayer is that I’ll stay off the well-worn path of consumerism and busyness, in hope of finding something deeper along the path less traveled. And to my surprise, I find I won’t have to wander far. For I’ve discovered my spiritual Bethlehem, or House of Bread, is where I least expected to find it. For it’s right here. My Bethlehem is the same small town in which I was born and raised.

It was the nativity that opened my eyes to this truth. Literally. See, if you look closely, you’ll see one of mine actually spells it out… N – A – T – I – V – I – T – Y. And recently, the word captured my gaze for more than a mere second or two. So, I pondered it. I wondered what does it really mean?

Thanks to Wikipedia, I learned that nativity is derived from a Latin word meaning birth. So quite rightly, the nativity depicts just this…

The birth of Jesus Christ.

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I wanted to go deeper, though, and through a Bible concordance I unearthed that something deeper for which I longed. Because in Hebrew, nativity encompasses not only the birth, but also family, relatives, children; land of birth, native land, kindred. And honestly, this put me in my rightful place today.

See, I was outraged by a national figure’s description of Christmas in a magazine not so long ago. She said, “To me, it’s about time with family…” And me being me, I was filled with ire that the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of our Lord and Savior, was omitted from the article. And me being me on a journey to a more spirit filled Christmas, this woman’s quote set me off.

But today, I am set in my place. Here in my home-place. For the truth is, although Jesus is the reason for the season, perhaps some small part of Christmas is in fact about family. Because Scripture tells the story. And before Christmas was even Christmas, Joseph took Mary to his native land. The land of his fathers.

And so, Mary and Joseph were among the very first holiday travelers, journeying home that first Noel.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Agustus that the whole empire should be registered. This first registration took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So everyone went to be registered, each to his own town. Luke 2:1-2

By immersing myself in the Christmas story, I find myself wanting to know everything. All of it. And though I’ve simmered in Mary, I’ve not really stewed on Joseph. Jesus’ earthly father. So that’s what I do this day…

Scripture tells me Joseph was of the line of David so Bethlehem was his home-place. The land of his ancestors. The book of Matthew invites me to take a closer look into his lineage and through his rich heritage, I gain a glimpse of what kind of man Joseph really was. For he came from good stock.

Yes,the pages of Scripture give testimony of Joseph’s forefathers’ proven character. First, there was Father Abraham, a man made righteous by his faith in God. And there was Jacob, who fathered the twelve tribes of Israel. And further down the line, I find Boaz… a man of strength and honor. He redeemed the woman Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth. And of course, there’s King David, the once shepherd boy.

And down the line we go until…

… and Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary, who gave birth to Jesus who is called the Messiah. So all the generations from Abraham to David were 14 generations; and from David until the exile to Babylon, 14 generations; and from the exile to Babylon until the Messiah, 14 generations. Matthew 1:16

Joseph came from good stock, indeed. He was hand selected by Father God to rear God’s own Son. A good man was Joseph, but surely he wasn’t perfect. Surely, his faith was shaken once or twice.

For he was betrothed to Mary, a virgin. Oh, what he must have thought when she told him her news. That she was with child. He was a man so he must have felt the sting of pain. And a moment of rage. Did sorrow turn to utter disbelief? And shock? For he loved his betrothed… did he fear Mary had betrayed him?

Joseph must have endured those moments because he was only human. I’m sure I would have. I would have gone through every stage. The quick fury settling into the slow burn of anger. Sadness to confusion. And then, fear would have set in. Oh, I would have thought the worst of my beloved. For a time, at least. And from Scripture, I believe Joseph felt it all, too. At least for a time…

So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly. But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:19-21

Perhaps the above passage provides the most information about Joseph’s character. He was righteous. He was caring. Despite his hurt, he wouldn’t think of publicly disgracing Mary. No, he’d handle matters privately. Quietly.

But then, lo, an angel appeared with good news. Words of encouragement. Just when he needed it the most, Joseph received a personal word from God. And because he was nourished through that morsel of spiritual food, Joseph took courage and did what he knew he had to do. He acted in faith.

Joseph decided to walk forward with Mary despite how dire the circumstances appeared. He extended mercy instead of outrage. And he swallowed down his pride as he took Mary on as his bride.

Surely the road ahead was a rough one. For people talk, right? Rumors abound. And Joseph was likely to endure whispers, nudges, and laughter at his expense. However, right here I find Joseph’s greatest trait. And perhaps it’s the very reason God selected Joseph to be the father of Jesus. For Joseph was a humble man.

Humility before pride…

His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear Him. He has done a mighty deed with His arm; He has scattered the proud because of the thoughts of their hearts; He has toppled the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly. He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, mindful of His mercy, just as He spoke to our ancestors, to Abraham and his descendants forever. Song of Mary, Luke 1:50-55

The father of Jesus came from good stock. His home-place was a little town called Bethlehem and it was small among the clans of Judah. And Joseph, a carpenter, probably seemed small to people of a certain stature.

But God looks beyond the exterior. He sees the heart. And within Joseph, God found what He was looking for in Jesus’ earthly father. God looked deep and found righteousness and courage. He found compassion and mercy. And perhaps most importantly, He found humility.

And this was Jesus’ father. The one depicted in nativity sets everywhere. His name was Joseph.

When Joseph got up from sleeping, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her but did not know her intimately until she gave birth to a son. And he named Him Jesus. Matthew 1:24-25