“A young maiden will conceive. She will give birth to a son and name Him Immanuel, that is, ‘God with us.’”~Isaiah 7:14
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday; but my family will tell you that I adore Christmas. I get excited over all the colorful lights and festive smells as we decorate and bake. The anticipation of mystery gifts thrills me to my soul! I’m a minimalist by nature; but Christmastime makes me a little giddy because it’s a season of surprises. I love surprises! For the past several years (especially since my kids have left elementary school and all its naive wonder at the world), the awe of Christmas seems tarnished in my heart. Decorating feels more like a chore, and baking smells don’t whisk me back to childhood as they once did. I know life events jaded my heart and I recognize a cynicism in me that out-grinches the Grinch at times. Even Advent church services have lost the imperceptible gasp of anticipation that Jesus’ birth used to swell in my heart.
I’ve heard it all. I don’t think I’ve heard a fresh Advent sermon that sits me up and makes me take notice in decades. I know all the stories with all the usual suspects–Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, wise men, shepherds and angels. Lots of angels. Harking and heralding the Good News that Jesus is born! But I’ve lost the miracle of God becoming man and dwelling among us. I’ve lost the gratefulness that literally turns my knees to jelly and I fall to the ground in overwhelmed gratitude.
God with us. God for us. God through us.
The sermon my pastor gave yesterday reminded me of the 400 years of Biblical silence between the last book of the Old Testament and the first book of the New Testament. He reminded me of what kind of world Jesus came into–a conquered Israel, a broken Israel in ruins. The former glory days long gone and mostly forgotten. Then God breaks the silence and hopelessness: first with an angel visiting a childless old man telling him that he and his wife will have a child (John the Baptist), then telling Mary that God’s favor rests on her. Two ordinary lives given extraordinary grace. Two unlikely households graced with God’s presence. God didn’t just come down to earth; He started from the beginning–a womb where the divine and human coalesced.
In beginning to ponder that journey from silence to womb to birth, I start to feel my heart beat a little faster and my eyes lose some of the cynical scales. I feel the wonder of God’s presence overtake the immature anticipation of wrapped gifts. I believe again, anew, afresh. The story of Jesus’ birth begins a pilgrimage into the deepest heart of God. Jesus’ birth proclaims to us all that God is with us. God is for us. God works through us.
Because God values us.
Because God is our truest ‘Father.’
Because God wants us to see how life can be lived.
Because if we live that life He shows us, then we can experience ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all people.’
My prayer for all of us this Advent season is that we would take some time away from the busyness and frenetic pace of our culture and ask God to give us His favor and presence. May we all ask how God can work through us to make our world shine with His glorious life!
What does the Advent season mean to you? How have you lost and regained that sense of childlike wonder?