31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 31!

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

After writing about the coming of Christ every day for an entire month, I have to say I feel a bit like celebrating–not in what I have done, but in what the coming of the Word Made Flesh has done in me and in the world.

Won’t you celebrate with me?  What better words to end this Advent series with than those of Isaac Watts:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let all their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders of his love.

Grace.

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31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 30

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 25th
“Today”

Luke 2: 13-15  (NLT)13 “Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 ‘Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.’

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.'”

The angel tells the shepherds, “…peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”  Jehovah Shalom the God Who is Peace was pleased to come to us, to come for us, to come in us.

Love was pleased to come for us.  It wasn’t drudgery.  It wasn’t a last ditch effort of a reluctant Savior.  It wasn’t the act of an exasperated Father to say, “I told you so.”  He was pleased to come for us.  To rescue us.  To deliver us. To restore us.  To save us.  Us, the broken, sinful, forgotten and hurt.  Us, the one’s with nothing to offer, nothing to give, but our own filthy rags.

Us, the beloved creation of Creator God.

I love this line from “Hark the Herald Angel Sings,”

“Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, th’incarnate Deity:
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,”

He was pleased to come, as a man, for you and for me.

Advent is here.  He has come, for you.  He’s standing at the door of your own version of a stable, will you let Him in?  Don’t worry about the smell.  Don’t worry about the animal dung.  The straw all over the floor’s just fine too.  He doesn’t need a place to sit.  He’s not interested in the pretense or the view.  He’s come just for you.  He’s pleased to be here.

Receive Him.

And if you need words to celebrate His arrival, maybe these by Charles Wesley will help:

Hark! the herald angels sing, –
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’ angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!

Christ, by highest heav’n adored:
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the favored one.
 Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see;
 Hail, th’incarnate Deity:
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!

Hail! the heav’n-born Prince of peace!
Hail! the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die:
 Born to raise the sone of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!

31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 29

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 24th
“God in the Manger”

Luke 2:7 (NLT)“She [Mary]…laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.”

All of God in a woman; in a baby; in a manger; on a Cross; within us.  Is it possible for all of Divinity to dwell in all of our humanity?  It defies imagination.  It defies logic.  It defies all human reason.  Love like this cannot be pictured or concluded.  It had to be demonstrated.  It had to express Itself in the only possible explanation, a miracle.

Love, unconditional, heaven and earth-moving Love, creation-inspiring Love, could not stay Home and watch from afar.  Love was compelled to act.  Love was compelled to move.  Love came down to us.   Love was the only Way.  Love is the only Way.

In all of our imagining; in all of our logic and reason, we couldn’t get to Love.  He came to us.  Divine Love wrapped Himself in our humanity, made Himself vulnerable to us, submitted Himself to our care, and embraced us as His own.

Ann Voskamp writes on page 246,

“Rejected at the inn, holy God comes in small to where you feel rejected and small.  God is with you now.  Wherever you are–in a soundless cry or hidden brokenness or in your ache–God always wants to be with you.  You are not ever left alone in this.  We are never left alone in this; God is with us.

     “This is Love you can’t comprehend.  You can only feel and touch this kind.  There, in the place where you feel rejected, you can be touched by God.  There, in the places you feel small, you can touch God.  He came in the flesh.”

Advent is here, Love has come.  Can you make room for Love right where you are?

31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 28

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 23rd (Again)
“God with Us”

Matthew 1:20b – 21 (NLT) – [Angel to Joseph] “For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’”

This particular reading selection was so powerful for me that I couldn’t move past it too quickly.  It deserved two days of response.  It really deserves much more…

Ann Voskamp writes so beautifully on pages 234 – 235, “God can’t stay away.  This is the love story that has been coming for you since the beginning…He is the God who is so for us that He can’t stay away from us…the God who so likes us, the God who is so for us that He is the God who chooses to be with us…He disarms Himself of heaven so that you can take Him in arms on earth…He comes as a baby because He’s done with the barriers.  He comes vulnerable because He knows the only way to intimacy with you is through vulnerability with you.  You can’t get to intimacy except through the door of vulnerability…What religion ever had a god that wanted such intimacy with us that He came with such vulnerability to us?” [Emphasis mine]

“He comes as a baby because He’s done with barriers.”  Do you hear that?  Say it out loud to yourself, “God is done with barriers!”  He wants nothing less than all of us.  And He brings nothing less than all of Himself to us.  No more fig leaves of shame, no more hiding, no more running, no more pretending, no more fear, no more performing.  Only receiving.  Only believing.  Only resting.  Only abiding in Love.

From the moment in the Garden when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, when sin entered in, He’s been coming for us.  He’s never taken His eye off the prize.  His desire has never waned and He’s never missed an opportunity to Love.  He holds back nothing from His beloved.  On page 233 Ann writes, “God always gives God…We can always have as much of God as we want.”

We on the other hand, have been too worried about the right and the wrong of it all when the Truth is the point is the Life and death of us all.  We’ve always misunderstood what was at stake.  Instead of looking for Him, we’ve been looking to be right, on our own terms.  The pursued has pursued everything except Life.

Advent, His coming, is Life.  To choose anything else is death.

In this season, in this moment He’s coming for you.  How much of the infinite God of Love do you want?

31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 27

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 23rd
“God with Us”

Matthew 1:18 – 21 (NLT)18This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.  19Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.  20As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. ‘Joseph, son of David,’ the angel said, ‘do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’”

In yesterday’s post I discussed how saying ‘Yes’ to God, may be simple, but isn’t always easy.  Making room for God doesn’t always mean a nice and tidy story.  Opening yourself up to the Divine and being willing for God to birth new and wonderful things in life can be extremely messy and painful.  And not just for you.

In this story of Mary the mother of Jesus, there’s a completely innocent bystander—Joseph.  She said ‘Yes’ to God after she’d already said ‘Yes’ to Joseph.  But this story isn’t just about God in Flesh coming through a woman for His people.  He had handpicked Joseph too.  He was coming for Joseph.

Remember those verses in this series that demonstrated just how God had very specifically chosen the lineage of Christ?  Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Rahab, Ruth, David—this line of foreigners, liars, cheaters, prostitutes and adulterers.  Joseph was the end of the line before Jesus.  He was chosen by God to care for the one God was coming through.

Chosen by God, and he almost said no.

The verses above tell us that Joseph was a good man.  He was going to obey the Law and put away his pregnant-out-of-wedlock fiancée, but he wasn’t going to humiliate her before their entire community.  He was going to break things off quietly.  He was going to say no because that’s what right, proper religious folk in his day would do.  Proper religious people of God.

But then an angel appeared to him and gave him a different way of looking at things.  The angel reminded him of who he was, a man of royal blood, a son of David, a descendant of kings.  He spoke straight to the concern on Joseph’s mind—fear.  Scripture doesn’t tell us, but I believe if fear is the emotion the angel addressed it’s the emotion that was overwhelming Joseph.

Fear caused him to almost say no to Jesus, the God of his Salvation.  Fear always causes us to miss God with Us.  But God with Us, Perfect Love, casts aside all fear.  But we must say yes to Love, Himself.

What about us?  In this season of Advent, in this every single day-ness of Advent, can we lay aside our right, religious perspective and see how God might be birthing Life right here in new and unexpected ways?  Is the fear of punishment going to keep us from God with Us?  Is the wrongness of our circumstances going to cause us to remain blind to the Righteousness that comes for us in every moment?

All is grace.  Every moment is Advent.

31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 26

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 22nd
“Be A Dwelling Space for God”

Luke 1:28, 38 (NLT)[To Mary] “Gabriel appeared to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!’…Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.’ And then the angel left her.”

Ann Voskamp writes on page 221, “Mary—she opens her hands and she nods.  And the promises come true in the space of her surrender—the pod of the Most High God lodging within her willing yes.  Beneath her heart—in one yielded space—beats the thrumming love of God.  There is no need to produce or perform or perfect—simply become a place for God.  That is all.”

And by one woman’s surrendered yes to God the Word was conceived and made flesh and Salvation was birthed in this realm—this realm of time, space, bodies and souls.  This realm of the messy.  This realm of the fallen and the broken.  This realm desperate for saving.

Becoming a place for God was simple, it just took a one syllable word, but it was not easy by any stretch of the imagination.  With that one word, Mary didn’t just surrender her body to God (as if that weren’t enough), she surrendered her future, her reputation, her relationships and her name.

The favor of God on this precious, obedient young woman, looked like an opportunity to be rejected, shamed and abandoned for being pregnant outside of marriage.  As a mother of teenage girls I can’t imagine having the conversation with one of my girls that Mary must have had with her parents.  In her culture, the price for her yes could have been very high indeed.

Sometimes answering the invitation by God to make room for Him in our lives is simple, but it is rarely easy.  Sometimes making room for God brings conflict.  Sometimes it brings rejection.  Sometimes it brings misunderstanding.  But it always brings life and it always bears fruit.

Mary responded yes to the coming of God in the flesh.  She made room for Advent.  What about you, are you willing to simply make space for God when He comes for your heart?  Are you willing to be a vessel that births new life?  Even if it isn’t easy or convenient?

31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 25

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 21st
“The Preparations Are Already Done”

Matthew 3:3 (NLT)“The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, ‘He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!  Clear the road for him!’”

Ann Voskamp writes on page 211, “Rest happy and love this story of a coming King who prepares the downtrodden for Christmas by becoming the Way, who lays Himself down in the crèche, on the Cross, so we can lie down and rest.  You are unconditionally accepted and unbelievably wanted because you don’t merely know of Him; you are related to Him by blood…You are most prepared for Christmas when you are done trying to make your performance into the gift and instead revel in His presence as the Gift.”

This, friends, is the beautiful truth of the Gospel, that because the Word became flesh, because Grace came TO us and laid Himself down FOR us, we can rest IN Him.  We are free to give up all pretense and performance and celebrate that the Good News really is Good News!  The Gift really is free and when we receive it, we really are free.

In this season of Advent can you simply receive the Gift?

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to simply receive a gift?  To say thank you and enjoy the gift for what it is without feeling compelled to do something in return requires humility.  For the most part, we don’t do humility well.

Often when someone gives me something, especially when it’s not my birthday or anniversary or Christmas, I struggle to receive it and appreciate it for what it is without somehow feeling the need to reciprocate the gift giving in some way.  Instead of enjoying the moment and appreciating that someone thought enough of me to give me something they thought would bless me, my mind will start thinking of ways to do something in return to prove how grateful I am.  When I do this I rob myself and the giver of the joy of the moment.

If we are not careful, we can do this with the Gospel as well.  When I turn receiving the Gift into a performance to show how much I appreciate the gift or how much I deserve the gift, I cheapen it.  I turn the Gift into a wage, into payment for a debt when I think I have to perform in order to demonstrate I was worth the effort.

Today, can you humbly receive the Gift of Messiah and rest in the Truth that He’s enough?