The Weary World Rejoices

I’m carrying boxes of glitter and trim up from the basement, strewing the house with tissue paper and bits of styrofoam, and these familiar mixed feelings for the coming holiday season, when the thought slides in like a hush and everything slows: Advent is best celebrated by the weary…the stressed, the grieving, the lonely…all the ones that struggle the most with the bright holiday rush. Those who are the most in need, can best rejoice in the One who has come for them, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.

It is the worn-out and the weary– the ones ready to give up on this headlong race to do more and better– that can welcome the message “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) They do not need to throw themselves into the gala and glitz to find something to satisfy, because their hearts are already kneeling before the manger of the King of Heaven.

Advent rings out with every carol that we are not alone, because God Himself has come down to us. It is the lonely ones longing for family and a Forever-love that will most thrill to hear “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8) We belong in the realest of ways, when we find our Home in the presence of the One who made us.

It could well be that those who hunger for God and His kingdom will find more joy in the Babe who is born than in any number of presents and parties. It is the broken in need of mending who are looking for the answers, and Advent is the best news of all: “But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.” (Malachi 4:2)

And on the days we feel most deeply the injustice and pain of this broken struggling world, we can rejoice most, because Emmanuel is come, God with us. To all those who grieve for their losses, Advent reminds us there will be an end to the hard things of this earth, for the One who comes is the Prince of Peace Himself. The Prophet says it clear and strong: “Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5) Advent anticipates a Savior who carries our pain, delivers us from sin and its curse. This is a Light that shines in the darkness and makes everything new.

Advent is the place we wait for the unveiling of God’s redemptive plan…where our deepest longings meet their fulfillment, and God’s promises come true right before our eyes. Rejoice, oh weary world, for your Savior comes to you! And Jesus’ words echo with the utmost certainty : “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7) He comes in answer to every needy, joyful heart.


Our displays of distress, far from dishonoring our God, honor him as Creator and Redeemer, who ‘comes to make his blessing flow far as the curse is found’….Our longing is for happily ever after, but not the ones we find in wishful, fictitious fairy tales. Our longing is for the Happily Ever After that is also true because it is rooted in time-space history and sealed by our Lord’s resurrection from the dead and promised return. The fact that Jesus will come again is our reason to rejoice.

Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen, Scott Sauls


The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy….Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert….and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

from Isaiah 35

A Thrill of Hope

Advent always seems to come as a lifeline here at the end of Autumn, as the days darken and the trees lift their bare arms to the sky: the wordless groaning of creation under the yoke of Death. And we put away our memories of warm Summer days, clean up the remnants of garden and growing things, repair and reinforce home to protect us through the Winter, settle into our resigned hibernation along with the rest of creation until Spring breaks through once more. We know this cycle of life and death and life again, have turned with it all our lives, and still feel the loss at Autumn’s end. Somehow the weight of our mortality weighs heaviest here at the close of the year.

But then Advent dawns on us, quietly, like a secret waiting to be shared, and we light the first candle and hear the faint refrain: For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given…(Isaiah 9:6) And we remember that a Rescuer has come for us, and this endless cycle of life into death has been broken by a Resurrection. The weary world rejoices for the Life that is to come– a grateful chorus raising, here at the end of Autumn. Advent is about waiting, about reminding our hearts of the truths we already know, and need to know again.

So here in the dusk of the year we latch onto Hope that we have not been left alone in the dark, and our hearts swell with the Prophet’s old story we share again and again: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2) And we know this is our story, and we string up the lights and sing the songs that tell of the Savior’s birth, and remind one another that He has come for us, and the Winter will not last forever.


Here in the mystery
Son of God and Son of Man
Dawn is now breaking
Through thе skies of Bethlehеm
Earth meeting Heaven
As one baby cries
Death started running, running
And salvation arise

Savior, We Are Messengers


When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

John 8:12

The Light Has Come

Seven hundred years before Christmas, the Prophet Isaiah wrote, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2) And our hearts leap at his words, because we know that darkness– have lived and worked here all our days, pushing back against it to build a life here for the people we love. Some days we feel like we are actually gaining ground in making the world a better place. And we string up the lights at Christmas, and make as much joy as we can for one another in the strength of that hope, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if there really were an ending to the long night, a light as certain and overwhelming as the dawn? And right here in the bright bustle of the holiday season, all our dreams and fears intersect. We are decking our halls and making merry with gift-giving, but our hearts long to hear the old familiar tale of a baby in a manger and shepherds under the stars. Remember, it whispers, a light has dawned.

So we light our small candles in the dark tonight, and remind ourselves of the true message of Christmas: that we are not alone in the dark. We have a Savior and He has come to us, and a new age has dawned. Isaiah knew the names we would call Him, long before He was born: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) But his mother called Him Jesus, “because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) We could never have guessed it would happen this way, this mystery of God’s grace that lights our darkness. As one contemporary writer puts it: “Our God who breathes stars in the dark– He breathes Bethlehem’s star, then takes on lungs and breathes in stable air. We are saved from hopelessness, because God came with infant fists and opened wide His hand to take the iron-sharp edge of our sins.” (Ann VosKamp)

Isaiah exults in the dawning glory of God over a land struggling in chaos and injustice. “For unto us a Child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders.” (Isaiah 9:6) And we rejoice in this at Christmas, because we have seen Jesus, and the way He lived and died for us here. His friend John wrote, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5) This is the best gift, this promise of a happy ending, and life that does not end with the here and now. The Light of the World is here with us, and the darkness cannot extinguish it, no matter how grim the world may seem, at times. If Light was dawning on the world on that first Christmas when Jesus came, it will blaze like lightning when He finally comes to set everything right.

So tonight we hold our candles in expectation and we sing, looking forward to the day when His radiant dawning light wipes out all the darkness everywhere, forever. This is the hope of Advent, whispering in our hearts: He has come for us; He is coming again for us. And the angels sing it back to us in the Christmas sky, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)


A child has been given,
The King of our freedom;
Sing for the light has come!
This is Christmas.
Come and adore Him,
And bring gifts before Him;
Joy to the world,
Worship the Son!
This is Christmas.

We Have A Savior, Hillsong


And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:3-5

Real People–Real Christmas

Coming into these final days before Christmas, maybe we are realizing the truth of what we’ve been telling ourselves all these years. That Christmas is not about the piles of gifts and the parties and the picture-perfect holiday homes and plates of goodies. That the true meaning of Christmas lies beyond the holiday trimmings– reaches down into the depths of collective history and collective longings of humankind, into the everyday dust of real place and time. We all know this in our heads, but it’s easy to say while we gather with friends and family in the comfort of our own living spaces, when the birth of the Savior can be one more blessing to add to our very rich lives.

This year when familiar traditions are suspended, and families are separated on purpose, the earthiness of the real Christmas story meets our very real needs. If there are no happy holiday gatherings, there is still a Child lying in a manger and angels singing the unending good news to the whole human race: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people….a Savior has been born to you.” (Luke 2:10-11) God’s favor has been turned toward us, and our stories are bound up in His happy ending.

And there are families in quarantine, and loved ones in hospitals, and even the decked out stores are not very merry with shoppers. But there’s a Baby’s cry in the dark and a mother’s soft voice, and we hear God’s declaration: “’The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means ‘God with us’).” (Matthew 1:23) The One who created us all is right here, in the middle of real life, and we are not alone. In the middle of uncertainty and anxiety and grief this Christmas stand the rough-hewn timbers of stable and manger and cross, where God’s favor pours out in real life and death. Love and grace are not abstract sanitized words at all, but rugged real choices in the real world.

And maybe for the first time some of us have the chance to experience a very real Christmas, undistracted by the busy-ness and the glitter. Let go of the customs and comforts we hold dear and turn to the One who holds us. The prophet murmurs truth to our hearts about the everlasting God: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young….Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” (Isaiah 40:11, 28-29)

This is Christmas, that a very real God is with us in real life. The rest is just decoration.


Preparing for Christmas means turning from the aches & worries and weariness of this world to focus on the One who came to be with us in it and save us from it.⠀
Even when life doesn’t look like we wanted it to—especially when life doesn’t look like we want it to—we can celebrate Christmas because we have a Messiah who came into this messy world to suffer on our behalf and secure the gift of eternal life.⠀

Lisa Appelo


The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

Listening for God’s Voice

Originally published December 7, 2012.

Sometimes we hear God’s voice in unexpected places. Take a look at Moses. A blazing bush all afire with glory and a mission impossible coming straight from heaven’s throne…not your ordinary day with the sheep. My life seems so much less amazing, more slow-moving, and sometimes I wish I could hear God that vividly and life-changingly.

But it occurs to me in this Advent season of waiting that it’s all a matter of perspective, because Moses spent forty years leading sheep around, day in and day out in that wilderness, occupied with the mind-numbingly everyday existence of water and grass, wool and lambs, getting married and raising a son. Decades of slow-moving days with only the ordinary sounds of life. But when he wrote it down later he was careful to note that “God saw the people of Israel– and God knew.” (Exodus 2:25) In all those ordinary slow-moving days, God was there and God was at work to bring about His plans, listening to the cries of His people for deliverance. And when the time was right He spoke to the man He had prepared for the task and bullied him into doing it. Really. A man just as full of insecurities and fears as I am, who needed some pushing to get him going.

When Moses saw the bush on that one not-so-ordinary day he knew it was worth turning aside from his work to see, important enough to stop and listen. An impressive sight, certainly, but in the solitude of the open spaces under the stars and the changing seasons he had already seen the glory of God in a million everyday ways, listened to the wind and the thunder and the still small voice of God’s presence…and I wonder if he felt like he was waiting for deliverance too… if he recognized the bush for what it was: a fiery milestone of change in his life.

As I listen for God’s voice amid the everyday sounds of an ordinary life, let me remember that He is here and He knows. He is working out His plans, listening to the cries of His people, has a part for me to play if I will pay attention and not get distracted by the demands of everyday chores and needs, or discouraged by the slow passage of time. Because here in the everyday I am tuning my heart to His, bending to obey, and persevering to fill the purpose He has for me.

And if I can learn to hear God’s voice in the ordinary days, then someday when the Extraordinary blazes down from heaven, I will recognize it and be ready to follow. Really, which is the larger miracle, that a bush can burn with glory in the desert… or that God Himself speaks to me in the everyday,  in the quiet spaces of my heart? Emmanuel, God with us…I am listening.


It is amazing what the quiet holding of the soul before the Lord will do to the external and seemingly uncontrollable tumult around us. It is in that stillness that the Voice will be heard, the only voice in all the universe that speaks peace to the deepest part of us.

Elizabeth Elliot


I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Psalm 130:5-6

Hope Does Not Disappoint

It seems like everyone has big hopes at Christmas. About getting that amazing present. About glittering holiday events. About making special memories with family. But there are all these outcomes you can’t control, and sometimes everyday life falls so far short of what you had hoped. Seems like Mary might have known something about that, finding herself on the road when her first Baby arrived, instead of back home surrounded by women who knew what to do in these situations.

And I wonder if she even realized how close her time was, as a young girl who had never gone through this before…. or if the Baby made it to full-term at all, considering the stress of the journey. We don’t know the personal details of Mary’s story, but we can certainly appreciate her circumstances, when the pains began and there was no place to rest, and sometimes there is nothing else to do but hang on and get through it the best you can. When you are hoping for something good with all your heart, receiving the unexpected and difficult can send you reeling– feels like a slap in the face. But this is the beauty of unexpected gifts at Christmas, that God’s grace is bigger than all our hopes and fears, and He is thinking far beyond our moment’s comfort, painting His glory in the night sky for shepherds and kings and camels to witness.

Whatever we are hoping for this Christmas season, there is this certainty, that we are no longer alone. Because God has come down to be with us in all our outcomes, and we cannot even dream of what will happen next. However things turn out in our days, we have the promise that never fails: “…in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) The Musician-King knew it all along, and set it to music, “You make known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.( Psalm 16:11) However big our hopes, God’s plans are bigger, and in the end we will not be disappointed. The prophet wrote down what He said, centuries before He arrived in a stable: “‘My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,’ says the Lord. ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts'” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

So we set the star at the top of the tree and light the candles;place the nativity figures around the creche and read the old old story yet again; and let Hope shine out into all the dark places.


Can’t go back to the beginning,
Can’t control what tomorrow will bring,
But I know here in the middle
Is the place where You promise to be.
I’m not enough unless You come;
Will You meet me here again?
‘Cause all I want is all You are;
Will You meet me here again?

Here Again, Elevation Worship


Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:20

Longing for More

We take a hard right turn and slide into December this week, barely a minute for catching our breaths after Giving Thanks with family and friends. And suddenly the stores are a glittering Christmas frenzy, and the calendar is filling up with parties and events, and it’s downright hard to find peace when the season demands so much…promises so much. But we talk about it in our small group, how there is this longing inside all of us for something bigger than this world– something better and more enduring than what we find here. And if we have that insistent hunger for something outside our experience, shouldn’t we assume that it’s there for a reason? That there is a corresponding satisfaction for that desire?

So we light the first Advent candle on a cold Winter morning, and in our hearts we echo the Musician-King’s songs: Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. (Psalm 34:10)…I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope. (Psalm 130:5) We believe what He has promised, and if faith is the substance of things hoped for, then here is faith made flesh– the longing of all of us, lying in a manger. Maybe if we just stop for a moment, and quiet the holiday jingle, we can still hear the angels’ chorus in the night sky: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests. (Luke 2:14)


Hope isn’t about about thinking something will get better. Hope is about believing Someone better is already here. 

Ann VosKamp


…put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption..

Psalm 130:7

Christmas in the Desert

The season of Advent is good news for anyone looking for change: to all the weary, the grieving, the neglected, the broken of the world, God speaks through the prophet “Comfort, comfort My people…” (Isaiah 40:1), and Jesus echoes “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted….Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:3-6) It is the needy who are looking for something good– not the ones who are already satisfied– and God promises that good will come to them if they are looking in the right places. The very word Advent means arrival; the answer to all God’s promises is coming at last in the birth of the Christ Child. Isn’t it obvious how the whole hungry world waits in anticipation? “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19)

The Christmas Story begins in the wilderness, like all the best stories do. Everyone loves tales of the downtrodden overcoming obstacles, and good triumphing over evil, and the heroes that bring happy endings. When we enter Advent, and begin to prepare our hearts for the birth of the Savior, it is the prophets in the desert places that we hear first: “A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.. the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.” (Isaiah 40:3,5) It isn’t until you are in the dark that you long for a ray of light to break through– not till you find yourself in the wilderness that you search for the way to go. And the prophet Isaiah is proclaiming the joyful news: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light….” (Isaiah 9:2)

In the darkest of times, over hundreds of years, when people had forgotten what mattered most, the prophets pointed to the coming Messiah: “You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout…say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!'” (Isaiah 40:9) This is the good news, that God Himself is coming to us, and He will bring healing and renewal. “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert…” (Isaiah 35:5-6) The prophet almost sings for the wonder of it, that all those dry and difficult places will be nothing more than opportunities to reveal God’s glory and power in our lives. Of course, one could say that this story actually started in the Garden in the Beginning, a seed planted by the Creator, and that would be true as well. One of Jesus’ followers verified that this was God’s intention all along: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind….and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1,4-5)

In the lights and glitter and busy-ness of the holidays you are liable to feel out of place if you are grieving, if you are desperately waiting for answers, if your life is in turmoil for whatever reason. But God is whispering comfort and hope to His people. Here in the beginning of Advent it is okay to be in a wilderness place. I can wait patiently for God’s answers and anticipate His power at work in my life. I can prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth– His arrival– with joy, because I already know how this story ends. The wilderness is just waiting to be transformed in His hands. Jesus has proven Isaiah’s words to be completely true: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners….” (Isaiah 61:1) Blessed are the ones who need Him the most, for He has come to be our Savior.


“And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you.” (Romans 8:11)


“When we are willing to watch and wait in the darkness until the Light comes — we practice being willing to sit with brokenness until resurrection comes.” (Ann VosKamp)

Ready for Christmas

There’s nothing that lights up brokenness like the twinkling lights of Christmas. ‘Tis the season to be jolly…with Pinterest-decked-out halls, and the family in matching pajamas on the front of your cards, and your shopping definitely finished by the third week of December. But let’s be honest, some years you just don’t have it in you to watch all the Christmas movies and bubble gaily at parties. It feels a little like maybe you’d be better off on the Island of Misfit Toys, with your chipped paint and limping spirit. And all the traditions and high expectations of the season only serve to underline how you are dragging on behind….might push you to add another present to the pile and turn up the carols, so no one suspects. Doesn’t it make you wonder where we ever got the idea that we need to achieve a certain level of glitter and gaiety before Christmas can come?

But the Prophet Isaiah is lighting up the centuries with his clarion call straight from the mouth of God: “‘Comfort, comfort my people,’ says your God. ‘Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned.'” (Isaiah 40:1) If ever there were a holiday for the hollow and the worn-weary, it is Christmas: “For I hold you by your right hand— I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.” (Isaiah 41:13) The good news comes ready-or-not to the sheep-herders and the inn-keepers, that the glory of God has come down from heaven to shine in the back alleys and the open fields of everyday life. This is the gift of Christmas, that Christ has come to be with us in whatever we are facing, and bring healing and hope. “When the poor and needy search for water and there is none, and their tongues are parched from thirst, then I, the Lord, will answer them. I…will never abandon them.” (Isaiah 41:17)

Christmas is most of all for the broken and needy, and the Light of the world shines in all His brilliance on everyone who waits patiently for His help. Isaiah records the precious promises of His salvation: “…how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?…The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.” (Isaiah 40:27-29) We are held, and we are loved, and we don’t need sparkle and shine to cover us up, because the Almighty covers us. Even the Musician-King David is singing of the Messiah’s coming. “He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.” (Psalm 91:4)

The Gospel writers highlight the prophets’ words over and over, just to prove that God’s promises have all come true in Jesus. Matthew says it as plainly as he knows how: “All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: ‘Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” (Matthew 1:22-23) The events of Christmas were always part of God’s plan, a Light shining down through history from the beginning of time for those who know their need. John bursts into praise at the truth of what he had seen with his own eyes: “The Word gave life to everything that was created, and His life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:4) This is the miracle of Christmas night, that all God’s promises come true at once, with a woman’s laboring cry and an army of angels singing: “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (Luke 2:14) To the warring and the broken, the blind and deaf, the bent and the bruised, it is the best news of all. Christ has come, and He will make us whole! The prophet Malachi adds his own joyful note to the ancient songs: “But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings.” (Malachi 4:2)

In this most wonderful time of the year, may our longing for goodness to prevail, for beauty, for peace… drive us only to the Light of the World who is given for us.


“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” (Zephaniah 3:17)


“More than presents, I long for Your presence to be apparent in all the minutes You give me. I long for Your face to shine upon me. May I define abundance as a manger, strips of cloth, and a place to lay my weary head. ” (Shelly Miller)

Of Mothers and Mangers and Mirrors

Decades ago I held my first child, a son, in the Winter months– born right at the beginning of the holiday season– and the Christmas Story came to life for me. That year I could enter into Mary’s experience as a young mother: her wonder, her fears, the myriad changes in her own flesh, and all these experiences new and strange, as if the whole world had suddenly been born new with her labor pains. And in the utterly down-to-earth flesh and blood of pregnancy and delivery and the physical needs of a newborn, the Incarnation of the Son of God was no longer a theological concept, but an Everyday reality. That the Almighty One of Heaven who spoke the worlds into being would enfold Himself into the waxy translucent skin of a newborn…just a small warm fragile body held snugly in a mother’s arms…was wonder beyond wonder.

And in the years that followed, my whole world shifted, tilted, redefined itself in unexpected ways, as I struggled to live out my faith as a stay-at-home wife and mother, discovering that the small messy places of life where we bend to serve others can become something sacred– an offering of worship to God– because the Eternal One stooped into Time and Space to submit to an ordinary woman’s care. One of Jesus’ friends would explain it this way, later: “This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9) 

Mary must have known well how much she would lose, in listening to that angel. Any woman can imagine what it meant to give up dreams of a wedding day, the approval of her friends and neighbors, the comfort of her family circle. But in bending to God’s will, Mary mirrored His own humility and love, and found unexpected treasures of the heart that beckon to all the women that have come since. Her song still rises: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” (Luke 1:46-49) God bent down to us at Christmas, to show us what True Love looks like, and when we bend down to serve others, we become His image-bearers, reflections of His heart.

This Winter I gained another daughter, and I look at her fresh young face and wonder what roads lie ahead of her, see how hard it will be to listen to the right voices in this world– too many clamoring opinions about beauty and worth and meaning as a woman, and what makes a good life. I wish I could tell her and all the young wives and mothers that the best thing they can do with their lives is to live like Mary, to learn to say “yes” to God…to allow Him to shape them around His Son in the small things of Everyday Life. There are so many goals and dreams to chase out there, but it is in Christ that we learn who we are, discover our true worth. It is in following Him one step at a time that we find our purpose. It will be ordinary and humbling, often invisible to others…and quite probably difficult. And we will become beautiful and extraordinary women, if we can listen and learn from Him. A sister-writer said it well: “A woman’s most sacred responsibility is to be so comfortable not just only in her own skin, but in being in Christ, in being shaped and formed like Christ, like the Cross…that she becomes more interested in the ways of Christ than in what others think of her — or what she thinks she wants.” (Ann VosKamp) It is a high calling, a privilege indeed, to be a woman made and defined by God.

This is Christmas that can last all year round: to wrap our arms and our hearts around each other and bear one another’s burdens, to become Love in flesh, for all the world to see, as our Savior did, once upon a time in Bethlehem.


“This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.”  (I John 4:10, The Message)


“The most revolutionary thing a woman can do is not let anything but the Cross explain her life. (Ann VosKamp)