Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Another Advent Devotional

            We’re all a bunch of fakers.
            Yes, you read that correctly. We are phonies.
            Christmas time holds a different kind of wonder in the air. CS Lewis would call it enchantedness. JM Barrie would call it make believe. Rowling would call it magic.
            I call it we all do unordinary things that, on a normal day, we might call ridiculous, frivolous, or over-the-top.
            And I love it.
            Christmas is my favorite holiday for many reasons, one of the primary being that I get to surrender my doubts and cynicism for the sake of the holiday.
            Here’s an example. I live in Atlanta, always have. Every couple of February’s we get a ¾” of snow, but never, never, do we get snow on Christmas. Does that dampen my hopes? No! Every year I pray for snow and hope for that beautiful white offering of peace and purity. What a waste of time – praying and hoping for something that will never happen. For some reason, however, Christmas makes it ok.
            Now, what about presents. Let’s spend a copious amount of money to buy gifts for people we care about and love. Seems a little frivolous. But it’s Christmas and love is overflowing in our hearts.
            I’ve heard it said that you become like what you pretend to be. Maybe there’s something to this season of pretending.
            The songs we sing at Christmas reflect a deep reverence and love for Jesus Christ. “Oh come! Let us adore Him!” Adore? That’s a strong word. “Let every heart prepare Him room.” Every heart? Give Him room? “His law is love”? You’ve got to be kidding me!
            Let’s be honest here. At Christmas, we pretend to have much more awe for Jesus than we do the rest of the year. The concept of Emmanuel – God with us – is fine at Christmas, but do we really want to be dwelling on the idea of Jesus being at our side on New Years Eve? Or Spring Break? Or Prom? We sing about the virgin-born King around the Christmas tree without a second thought, caught up in the joy of the holiday; but we would be so uncomfortable to tell our friends that we actually and truly believe that the Holy Spirit got the Virgin Mary pregnant and then she bore a baby who is actually King of all the universe.  That seems like an awfully tall order.
            In Deuteronomy 6, Moses is giving the law of the Lord to the Israelites. He implores them to commit these rules to memory. “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
            When you repeat something over and over again, it becomes a habit and it becomes a part of who you are.
            Christmas traditions are like this – repetition of things we love, things that are important to us. We remember them and pass them along and share them. Maybe it’s getting new pajamas every year on Christmas Eve. Perhaps it’s a certain food or drink. Maybe it’s a movie. Maybe you go somewhere or someone comes to you. Maybe it’s pretending to believe in something or someone…like a baby-king born of a virgin who holds a tight but loving grip on your heart.
            When a child puts on their parents’ shoes and attempts to walk around in the clunky things, does it not delight the parent? When a baby repeats words after their parents, it brings a smile to the parents face.
            I think maybe God is ok with our Christmas-time pretending. If we can take twenty-five-ish days and dedicate them to celebrating the coming of Christ, maybe at some point it will catch. Maybe if we repeat our traditions long enough, they’ll last a little longer than a month.
            In the movie Elf, we learn one of the rules for the Christmas elves: treat everyday like Christmas day. I have an inkling that our Heavenly Father might feel similarly.
            It’s going to take time, of course, but if we keep singing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and we keep thinking about our Savior and King, perhaps our disbelief, our cynicism, will wash away with all that snow we’re getting.
            We’re all in need of restoration.
            At Christmas, we get to pretend that we’re at least a little bit more restored than we were the rest of the year. We pretend to believe – or maybe for a little while we really do. We pretend to love people enough to spend money on them – or maybe we really do. We pretend to be fascinated by something quite small and simple like lights twinkling in a tree – or maybe we really are. We pretend to have found peace and joy in the stillness of Christmas Eve – or maybe we really have. We pretend to adore Jesus – or maybe, just maybe, we really do.
            We’re all a bunch of fakers and phonies.

            And I do hope those things we pretend to believe at Christmas time stick with us and instead of making us liars at Christmas, make us honest all year. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

An Advent Devotional

Falling in Love On The Way To Bethlehem

Luke 1:26-38 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be?” Mary asked the angel, “Since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God…For nothing is impossible with God.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

Matthew 1:18-25 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means “God with us.” When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”

            We don’t know much about the marriage of Jesus’ parents. We know their union was arranged. We know that, when Joseph found out Mary was pregnant before they’d gotten married, he planned to break off their engagement. We know that they did end up married and they had several children. We know Joseph claimed Jesus as his son and taught him his trade. Lastly, we know that by the time Jesus was crucified, Mary was a widow.
            First of all, what changed Joseph’s mind? Well, an angel showed up and very much scared the fidelity into him.
            There are all sorts of reasons to marry someone: feelings of love and security; feelings of adventure and excitement; money; good looks; politics; pier pressure; a solution to loneliness…I could go on.
            The tricky thing about these reasons is that all of those things are changeable. Feelings change. Money is fickle. Good looks will leave you. People’s minds and opinions will constantly shift. And loneliness is much more an internal condition than an external one.
            Joseph married Mary for exactly one reason: because God told him to. And that, dear friends, is one thing that will never change.
            “Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” Psalm 119:89.
            “The word of the LORD stands forever.” Isaiah 40:8.
            “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor is He a son of man, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?” Numbers 23:19.
            Wouldn’t it be awesome if someone married you with the one reason that would never ever change? Wouldn’t it be the most secure feeling in the world to know that there would never be divorce because your marriage was one based on something that would never shift or change – the word of God?
            And wouldn’t it be frustrating to have to wait on that word from God and then have to TRUST God to help that person be faithful? Wouldn’t it be so tempting to think, “If only I were beautiful enough, rich enough, successful enough, popular enough, so that way they’d hurry up and love me”?
            I wonder if Mary felt that way. She was pregnant and traveling across the country to a town she didn’t know with a man who she could only hope would keep her safe. Every mile she had to trust that God would work in Joseph’s life to draw him to her and equally that God would work in her life to help her be the way God wanted her to be. God was with Mary as she traveled on that long journey. She had to surrender her life to the will of God – same as Joseph. They obeyed the words God spoke to them and as they walked along that path with God, He gave them each other.
            Mary couldn’t make Joseph love her. She had to trust God to work in him and she had to be the woman God was calling her to be. She could not abandon God’s plan for her in order to please Joseph. I mean, I suppose she could have told Gabriel, “No, I’d rather just marry the carpenter.” And I’m sure she would have been a lovely bride and they would have had beautiful children. There’s nothing wrong with that. But that’s not what Mary did. She said yes to God’s plan for her – God’s crazy, ridiculous, seemingly impossible plan! In saying yes to this plan, Mary gambled with Joseph and that dream of a wedding and children. She could have lost them. She nearly did. If Joseph had proceeded in divorcing her, she would have been stoned to death. But God didn’t let that happen. Mary trusted God with her dream of marrying this man and God intervened and told Joseph to marry her.
            Mary had to trust God with her life and also with Joseph’s life. She couldn’t control him. God gave Joseph a heart that was obedient to Him – imagine that! – and then asked Joseph to do something that was incredibly difficult. God chose the right people to be the parents of His Son. He chose the right man to risk marrying a virgin who would be miraculously pregnant with the Son of God. God chose the right girl who would risk her whole life – her physical life and her imagined life, (which is harder to risk, I’m not sure) – to serve the Him.
            Mary and Joseph trusted God enough to do the crazy things He asked them to do. To me, the coolest part is that while they were obeying orders that looked like the end of their lives, God blessed them with everything: love, children, family, togetherness.
            God asks you to do things that look absolutely insane. It’s scary and difficult. As you follow, however, there you find fullness of life because – like Mary and Joseph – when you follow God, you are quite literally traveling with Jesus.
            I wonder what Mary thought when she heard her son, her Jesus, preaching. I wonder if she ever transposed memories. I wonder if, when she heard God the Son promise things as He stood in dusty sandals surrounded by hungry people, she remembered times in her life when doubt and fear had shaken her.
            In the darkness of her bedroom, before she was a mother, before she was a wife, a tremendous light appeared and an angel spoke to her.
Gabriel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus…”
            She replied to the angel, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
            Then the angel was gone and Mary was left alone.
            I wonder if Mary began to think, “God, what are You doing? This will destroy my life. This will kill my dreams.”
            And I wonder if the strong and tender hands of Jesus ever caressed her wrinkled face, full of simple love, and whispered,
            “No, Momma…I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.”