Only the inspired words of God will do today.
God bless you and Merry Christmas!
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place whileQuirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:1-14
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7
“Call my doctor!” the voice came out of my mouth but was unrecognizable as me.
“But, Mrs. Leite, you are having this baby,” the nurse said.
“Can you give me an epideral? Can you give me drugs?”
“Then call my doctor! He said I could have a Cesarean any time I wanted!”
The nurse was right. Oh, she called the doctor and he came to the hospital at 4am, but I did have my baby boy and I didn’t have a Cesarean just as she said. What can I say, everything about childbirth was uncomfortable for me. Labor itself was painful since I didn’t have access to pain killers with either childbirth. I was nauseous, had the chills, was sweaty, lost all sensibilities and social graces evaded me. There were tears. There were demands and mild threats. There was every form of bodily fluid. It was not a pretty scene. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.
Even so, both children were born healthy in well-respected hospitals with trained doctors and nurses. We traveled less than 30 miles by car to get to the hospitals Once they were born, the pain and discomfort quickly became distant memories as I held one of the greatest treasures of my life ~ my children ~ in my arms. My room was filled with flowers from family and friends. We were loaded with goodies to get us off to a great start as we embarked on our new lives as parents.
Several times this week I heard the story of Mary and the birth of Jesus, which is not surprising since Christmas is right around the corner. But each account focused on the real conditions under which Mary gave birth to Jesus. Over the years I have learned to pay attention when God repeatedly puts something in my path. And so I pondered about this miraculous birth, and in doing so, I was brought to tears.
I imagined Mary, young, maybe 15 years old, full into her pregnancy traveling by foot or by donkey for many miles a day. She was so close to giving birth and yet their traveling wasn’t taking them any closer to a hospital. No, far from it. They were traveling away from home, away from familiar surroundings, away from mid-wives and mothers. They were traveling to a city crowded with visitors. I imagine what must have gone through her mind. I know what would have gone through mine.
Lord, please don’t let me go into labor until I get somewhere safe, preferably home, Lord. I’m scared and I really want my family here. I want my mother. I’ve never done this before. I love Joseph, and I don’t mean any disrespect, but what does he know about birthing babies?
They arrive at their destination only to find every available human shelter taken. Even human shelter in this city was not much ~ a room consisting of four walls, a makeshift floor raised inches off the dirty ground below. Travelers used their own bedding and slept on the floor while their animals rested in a corral. But even this most basic of shelter was not available to Mary. We’ve probably all sang these words before “away in a manger, no room for a bed.” And so Mary and Joseph made their way to a stable to get some rest. Again, I imagine what my thoughts would be.
Oh, Lord, please, not here. Please, don’t let my baby come tonight. It’s bad enough that we have to sleep with the animals, don’t let this be the place where my child is born.
But the pains come anyway. Regular, sharp, contractions that make sweat break out on your brow. Painful, nauseating contractions as your body begins the process of helping this new child make its way into the world. There are no ice chips for Mary. No monitors to track her progress. No bathrooms, doctors, nurses or medication. Her body just does what God designed it to do in this situation and she gives birth. It was painful, scary, uncomfortable, messy. It happened in an unfamiliar place among animals, with only Joseph to help. I imagine her pain, her fear, her vulnerability and it brings tears to my eyes.
Joseph lays baby Jesus on Mary’s chest. I imagine that they both radiated with love. Like me, Mary has already begun to forget the pain and discomfort. The little family, so focused on each other, for moments at least, that they are oblivious to their surroundings. Their full attention is on the precious child that rests on Mary’s chest, so close that it is difficult to distinguish where one ends and the other begins. From her meager belongings, Mary pulls out a swaddling cloth and wraps her newborn baby boy. No flowers, no special outfit, no stroller that converts into every other conceivable form of transportation, no pushing presents. No, they didn’t have much besides each other. Just a beautiful, silent, star-filled night. Just the angels calling out the good news, singing glory to God in the highest. Just kings who were beginning their travels to worship her newborn child. Just the satisfaction of being obedient servants. Just the presence of God. Just the humble honor of being God’s special delivery team. Just being the vehicle by which God brought incomprehensible joy to this broken world. No they didn’t have much, just everything. It really does bring tears to my eyes.
Gift Exchanges. It’s that time of year, isn’t it? It’s all about the “gift exchange”. We buy gifts for loved ones and they buy gifts for us. We like some of the gifts we receive and we re-gift the ones we don’t like. They like some of the gifts we give them and they return the ones they don’t like. And then there are those holiday parties where you have a gift exchange. Some are white elephant gift exchanges where you bring that item you have never figured out what to do with, and of course, could never re-gift. Or there is the traditional gift exchange where you bring a nice gift and guests spend the evening engaged in a game of stealing gifts from one another.
Whatever the gift exchange, it is always fun. Well, almost always. Last week we went to a party that included a fun gift exchange. As we were leaving, a friend at the party shared a story about a gift exchange experience he had that had gone bad.
It was a get together of friends, he explained, and he had understood the gift exchange to be white elephant. And so he searched his house for the “perfect” gift to bring ~ a little candle lantern that he and his wife had gotten at a wedding reception.
“It couldn’t have been worth more than 25 cents,” he told us. He continued the story by telling us about his wife’s concern.
“Are you sure this is the right kind of gift to bring?”
“I’m sure! You know, it’s one of those gag gift exchanges.”
”Really? That wasn’t the impression I got, but if you are sure…”
By now you are probably sensing that things are about to go badly for my friend. They went to the party and soon realized that it wasn’t a white elephant gift exchange after all ~ quite the contrary. Guests had brought very nice and some expensive gifts for the exchange. His wife just sat there mortified as one by one the gifts were opened leaving their little package containing the 25 cent lantern. It was the last gift to be opened and the lucky party guest excitedly approached the package. In my mind I can see her excitement, because good things come in small packages, don’t they? And just look at all the great things that had been brought so far? Surely this would be a little treasure. Imagine her shock and dismay when she opened the present to find the little lantern. We laughed with him over the embarrassing story and then understood why his wife didn’t join him this time. Ah, the fun of gift exchanges!
But here is truly the best story I have ever heard about a gift exchange. There was this woman who was not a terribly bad person, but certainly flawed. Over the course of her life she had told a few white lies, held a grudge or two, said less than kind things to her husband, and truth be told, she was a bit of a control freak. She was invited to go to the most spectacular holiday party she could possibly imagine, and while she wouldn’t be the richest, most beautiful, or certainly the most righteous person there, she felt she was at least good enough and worthy enough to go. So she said RSVP YES! But sadly, her RSVP came back with a note attached.
Your host would love for you to be here for the party. It is sure to be spectacular and the celebration will last forever, but it has come to our attention that you have been less than perfect. Regretfully, only those with unblemished pasts are able to attend.
She was devastated! How could this possibly be?! Who in the world could ever even go to a party like this? She was about to throw the whole invitation in the trash when she noticed some writing on the back. It was red, the color of fresh blood, and highlighted with gold. Intrigued, she stopped to read what it said.
My child, I love you so much. I would be absolutely devastated if you could not be with me for the party. I understand that you have done some things in the past that you regret, some people you have hurt, some things that may have caused you shame. No one is perfect, right? Ah, but there is a perfect one ~ my son, Jesus. He wanted you here, too, so he willingly agreed to pay the price for every bad thing you ever did or will do. It was costly and painful, but you are worth it and we want you here.
Oh, she thought, how am I ever going to repay this debt? What can I possibly do to make this right? She saw the answer written as she continued to read, as though her host had known her questions before she even asked.
There is nothing you can do to repay me, so please don’t even try. There is no exchange. I love you and this is my gift to you. All you have to do is receive it. It is my heart’s desire that you do. Love, God.
I did and it truly was the best gift exchange in the world.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:15
Lead. Follow. Starting with two words can only mean another conflicted post. It was Sunday night, and I was sharing (read whining) to my small group about how I seem to be incapable of establishing a quiet time with God into my routine. My well-meaning friends offered up wonderful suggestions on what I could do to incorporate what I expressed was a very important, and yet missing, part of my life. I nodded in agreement and they smiled with empathy. I heard words like choices, drive time, what about this, how about that.
Then someone said, “Well, what would you do if God were with you every day?”
“What are you talking about? God is with me every day! I jump out of bed and grab Him and away we go! I take God along with me.”
The trouble was that I was not allowing space in my day for the two of us to just sit together – in quietness. My whining ended about the time the host looked at his watch and suggested we pray. I took the hint and vowed to do better next week. I have since thought about my take along God.
A friend of mine is experiencing the joy of her first grandchild. We talked once about the expectations her daughter had of life with a new baby. She said that her baby was going to be a “take along” baby, which I took to mean, the baby would go where they went and do what they do. I had babies like that, too. In fact, I think most of us would really prefer that. We have our plans, our busy schedules, our goals for the day and nothing should stand in our way or slow us down. It’s a great idea in theory but difficult in reality, as I have found out.
So here I am, jumping out of bed, grabbing God by the hand and saying, “Let’s go! You are going to be a take along God!” And then I’m off! I’m leading…or rather, I am pulling God along with me. Just like an impatient child who sees the lights of Disneyland within reach and is pulling her father behind to hurry him into Tomorrowland. (How many times have I dragged my Heavenly Father into my Tomorrowland? Ah, but that is definitely for another time.)
When I thought about my take along God this morning, the picture was clearly of me as that child. And I imagined how many times I have darted into the treacherous roads of life and my Heavenly Father has held tight to my hand to keep me from danger. And yet, I still want to lead ~ why is that? Pride.
I have a busy day. I have important things to do. I don’t have time to stop. I know what’s best for me. I’m a leader.
So, how’s that been working out for me? Not so good.
This week I made an extra effort to start my day in quietness with my Father. I didn’t execute perfectly, and I am okay with that. But when I did, it was right. When I did, I had an extra measure of peace and an appropriate perspective about life. When I did, I was willing to follow and let God lead. My God is still a take along God, and frankly, I don’t recommend anyone leave home without Him ~ He’s better than any credit card you have in your wallet. Life when I lead…pricey. Life when God leads…priceless. What about you, are you leading or following God?
It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. Deuteronomy 13:4
Distance. People often talk about “going the distance”, “finishing the race”, “finish what you start” ~ but what happens if you can’t go the distance.
“I would love to come speak to your group, but I can’t get that far south. I’m so sorry. I wanted to let you know as soon as possible so you could begin looking for another speaker.” I told the nice lady on the phone.
“You know, I really think you are the one. How far can you get?”
It was an interesting question that really caught me off guard. In my often black and white world, there were only two options ~ get myself there or politely decline the request to speak. I obviously saw option two as the only viable option, and then I hear “how far can you get?”
I stumbled over my words as I quickly thought, how far could I comfortably get?
“I could take the train to the Oceanside station,” I offered.
“Perfect! I can pick you up there!”
“Okay, I’ll put it on my calendar.” I hung up chuckling and at the same time wondering what in the world just happened. And then I realized what a wonderful, remarkable question my new friend asked ~ how far could I get?
It was a good question for me, and for the likes of me, who often think of life in terms of all or nothing. Either I get all the way there or I don’t speak. Either I have everything I need to execute perfectly or I won’t try. Either I know all the answers or I won’t be bold. Either I know I can reach my destination or I won’t start the journey.
But now this twist ~ how far can I get? Perhaps I don’t have to do it all myself. Maybe, just maybe, as far as I can get is good enough. It’s possible that by allowing someone to meet me part way, I am allowing someone else to be a blessing and therefore, be blessed themselves. And here’s a crazy thought, maybe God is saying, “Lynne, how far can you get? Give it a try! That’s fabulous, my child! And don’t worry, I can take over once you are as far as you can get.”
And another crazy thought ~ maybe once I get as far as I can go, I will be able to go a little farther next time. So on Tuesday, December 12th I will be speaking at a luncheon in San Diego because someone asked, “How far can you get?” Now I am asking you, how far can you get? Maybe that’s as far as you need to go!
For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Isaiah 41:13