By Becky Miller
Galatians 5:22-23 doesn’t sound much like Christmas, does it? No angels, no baby, no star, but then I remembered a rhyme I learned as a child and taught my daughters.
“What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I’d give Him a lamb.
If I were a Wiseman, I’d do my part.
What can I give Him, I’ll give Him my heart.”
Jesus wants my heart for Christmas, and He will accept it as it is. But am I satisfied with this gift? Am I content with giving good enough? I have always wanted to give perfect gifts; I have spent hours shopping, returning, and shopping again to give those I love the very best gifts I can. So when I assess my gift for God, can I offer Him any less than the best I can give? If God wants my heart, and I truly believe He does, I need to make it the very best heart I can offer: one filled with the fruits of the spirit.
And here in Galatians, I find all the instructions needed to perfect my gift: the gift I give to Jesus, the Lamb of God, and the source of my salvation. It is as if I asked God for a shopping list. I have always liked working from a list and checking things off, so for this Advent Season, I am going to make these verses my shopping list. My heart needs some work, but I like knowing what God really wants. I can work on love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I like the specificity of this list-it is real, and with God’s help it is possible, not overnight, not all at once, but little by little if I keep the goal in front of me.
Father, it is good to know that I am yours no matter what, that your love is unshakeable, and not dependent on my effort. Grace is good. But shield me from complacency; remind me that although grace and total acceptance are already mine, you are worthy of so much more. Create in me a new heart this Christmas. Amen.
By Garrett Vickrey
It’s here. Christmas. Joy to the world! The Lord is Come!
What will we see now? We have been keeping watch for so long. Have our eyes grown red at the moment it is time to enjoy the fruits of their labor? Christ is come.
Watch. And see.
Franciscans and Eastern Orthodox Christians have always placed a greater emphasis on Christmas and the Incarnation of Christ than others. We have focused on Easter and the cross. But, these other Christian traditions remind us that the Incarnation was already the Redemption, because in Jesus’s birth God was already saying that it was good to be human, and God was on our side.
That is good news. That is gospel.
In the birth of Jesus we can know the truth of John 3:16. That God loves the world. So much that God has given us the greatest gift ― God’s life with us, for us, surrounding us. That’s a gift too good not to be shared. At Christmas we celebrate the unity of humanity with divinity. The earliest theologians stressed the incarnation not be seen as the descent of God to humanity, but the lifting up of humanity into the divine life. Be lifted today.
This gift lifts and invigorates every aspect of our life if we see through the incarnated lens of Christmas. The gift we celebrate this day uplifts every aspect of life, even the most humble or ordinary.
It’s a gift that makes us want to hold open doors for people a little longer. It makes us want to be a little kinder to strangers. That’s a gift that makes us want to be a little more truthful with our loved ones. It makes us want to be a little more generous with our time and money. All these gestures unfold the gift of this day and reflect its mercy. As Kathleen Norris says, “All that exists has the potential to reveal God’s truth and love.”
Keep watching. Keep waiting. In hope. In peace. In joy. Love. The gift is here. It is in us. It is around us. Do we see it? It is God. And it is good.
By Rubye Box
I Corinthians 13
The 13th chapter of I Corinthians is known as the love chapter. Many wedding ceremonies include this chapter because it is a perfect picture of what love should be. The final verse is a summary of the entire chapter.
“But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
This verse has such deep implications for us all. All three are intangible. You cannot hold any of them in your hand and yet they are as real as you and me.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, had incredible faith. Faith in God, faith in what the angel told her and faith that the child she was carrying was indeed the Son of God. Oh, that we could have such faith!
Hope is what keeps us looking toward heaven. Hope is what kept those faithful Jewish believers praying that the promise of God would come true – the promise that a Messiah would be born and bring deliverance.
Love was the ultimate gift God gave mankind. It was there when God created the perfect place where his creation could live and thrive. His love was there with Adam and Eve in the garden. It was there with Moses as he led the Hebrew children out of Egypt. But mostly, it was there the night Jesus was born, when he lived among us and then when he died to save us all. No other love is greater than the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus offering himself for the sins of the world. May we all learn to love as our Heavenly Father loves us.
What a spectacle those shepherds witnessed the night Jesus was born!
Picture them out on the hills, minding the flock, perhaps chatting among themselves. Suddenly the entire sky was filled with light! The light of heaven, the glory of God, blazed down on them. Maybe they stood in astonishment, looking at one another as if to say “Can you believe this?” Maybe they fell to their knees, or hugged the ground in fear and awe. But the show had only started!
An angel appeared, announcing the birth of the Messiah. Then a great company of angels appeared and began singing a heavenly chorus, praising and glorifying God. Can you even begin to imagine what that sounded like? A perfect composition, sung in perfect harmony by perfect voices. Every note, every phrase perfectly shaped, every moment so exquisite that there was no past, no future, only the all-consuming now. It must have seemed as if time stood still.
But time did pass, the composition came to an end, the Conductor put down His baton and the angels returned to heaven, taking with them the spectacular light. I imagine the shepherds needed a few moments to adjust to the reality of the dark night, the quiet hillside. They must have talked excitedly, saying “Did you hear…?” and “Did you see….?”
Then I picture them gathering their robes above their knees, sprinting to Bethlehem, the flocks forgotten in their excitement. Laughing, crying, stumbling and tumbling, they found their way to the humble stable and the manger where the Messiah lay.
Holy Father, thank you for the wonderful gift you gave the world that night so long ago. Open our hearts to your glory and splendor so we too will be excited, awed, and humbled by the birth of the Christ Child.
By Brad Dutton
I have a problem. Actually several problems if you ask my close friends and family. The particular problem I’m thinking about now began 15 years ago. It was about the time we started the new millennium that I became a bread snob.
Store bought breads just didn’t seem to meet my needs anymore. Store bought tortillas? Are you serious?! I wanted fresh, homemade bread with lots of whole grains. If it was warm and unsalted butter was handy even better. It seemed my body was not satisfied by what was found in those twist-tied plastic bags you find on the bread aisle at HEB. I guess you might say that back then I started seeking more substance in my bread life.
The verse today tells us the bread of God came down from heaven to give life to the world. As I reflect on the season I find it interesting the Messiah came to us in about the same size as a loaf of bread you might bake at home. The next time I take out a bread pan I hope I will pause to remember the bread of God sent to us over 2,000 years ago to give life to the world. For me, “Good things come in small packages” comes to mind. Except in this case it wasn’t just a good thing but the greatest thing of all time.
Lord, forgive us for chasing after other foods in our lives in a futile effort to feed ourselves. During this season may we reflect with grateful hearts on the gift you sent to feed us and restore our spiritual emptiness. May we always hold fast to the truth that we can find peace and fullness when abiding in you.
By Randy Edwards
1 Peter 1:8
As children, we gain lot of joy from receiving Christmas gifts. Gifts all wrapped up and placed carefully under the tree. Gifts about which we can wonder and guess and get all excited! Gifts which, on Christmas morning, we can tear into to finally discover all the fun stuff hidden in those beautiful, whimsical packages that have been teasing us for days or even weeks!
As we grow older, the fun of opening gifts may well remain, but the meanings behind those gifts begin to take on much more significance with age and maturity. We begin to understand that gifts are actually symbols of much larger, deeper expressions.
For instance, God’s gift to us on the first Christmas morning was not just a sweet baby boy names Jesus. The package wrapped crudely in the manger stood for SO much more than what was visible to the human eye. The gift was disarmingly humble, so simple, earthy, naked, exposed, and shivering both from the trauma of birth and perhaps from the nighttime outdoor temperatures. A newborn in a cattle feeder. How much simpler can it be than that?
And yet, that bundle of joy was also the very Son of God. Emmanuel. God with us. The divine symbol of that scenario has mystified God-seeking people throughout the ages, and it continues to stagger the imagination of young and old in 2013.
Re-read the little verse above from 1 Peter. Think about or discuss how it is that we can love God, believe God, and greatly rejoice in a Gift we have not seen with our eyes, touched with our fingers, or held in our arms.
May your hope be abundant. May your peace be profound. May your joy be inexpressible. May your love be complete.
By Becky Upchurch
For the last 30 years, my husband, Alan, and I have been driving back and forth to the family ranch in Leakey. Leakey is about 2 hours away in a “rough” part of the Texas Hill Country. The last half of the drive, unlike most in Texas, features not only a 2 lane road and narrow shoulders, but also ups and downs, and twists and curves, and drop offs like a drive across the Rockies, with the occasional deer running across the road just to keep you on your toes. Over the years we have come upon numerous accidents, injured people, and ambulances. There is even a sign that tells you how many motorists have lost their lives on the road in the last 10 years. In spite of this history, as we reached that part of the road on our Thanksgiving Day trek to the ranch, I tilted my seat back, closed my eyes, and dozed as Alan drove. How was I able to do that in the midst of this drive that has people on their first trip saying, “Is there another way to get back to San Antonio? I don’t want to go on that road again!” I had peace and could rest because, with eyes wide open, I had experienced Alan’s driving on the road many times before and I trusted that he could do it again.
In the same way, my experience with God gives me peace. And it’s not just there when the road becomes difficult, but God’s peace is there all the time like an underlying current to support and settle me. Peace is God’s gift to me and to you. The peace of knowing that we are never alone, that God has a plan, and that through His Gift of Jesus Christ we have eternal life in Him.
In this holiday season and beyond, find rest in God’s incredible gift of peace.