When the Manger Feels Empty

But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
— Galatians 4:4-5

I have a secret. And it’s about Christmas. And it might be something you don’t want to hear.

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Christmas doesn’t depend on you.

If you didn’t do another thing between now and the 25th of December, Christmas would still be Christmas. Honestly.

Some times we feel a lot like Mary, going into labor in the middle of the street, don’t we? The days of December tick by so fast and we barely have time to catch our breath. Suddenly, just like that, Christmas Eve and then Christmas Day arrive. Ready or not, here it comes. And we feel so not ready. If only we had an extra couple of days. Or maybe a week.

The idea that what we do is what makes Christmas Christmas is a lie.

Because the truth of what makes Christmas what it is for us as Christians remains true regardless of how ready we feel or what we’ve done to prepare. We celebrate Christmas because Jesus, our God, Savior and King, came to earth as a baby; as a Christian this knowledge comes easy, right? But the part we often neglect to remember is that the entire reason He had to come in the first place was because we could not do what needed to be done.

Now I want you to read the Galatians passage again:

“When the time had fully come, God sent His Son…”

The Bible tells us that the time had fully come for Jesus to be born. But it sure wasn’t because Mary & Joseph were ready. It sure wasn’t because the most amazing inn had its best room available. And it surely wasn’t because the world was a safe place for Jesus to be. But still, Paul tells us that the time had fully come according to God’s plan.

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This Advent season, I’m using the letters in the word manger to help remind me that it’s not about what I’ve accomplished in my preparations that makes or breaks the holiday:

Motive

The Christmas cards are fun. The decorations are beautiful to look at. The cookies are oh-so delicious. But what’s the why behind your actions? Is it helping to prepare your heart for His coming or is it distracting your focus? Is it enriching the season for your family or is it stressing you (and therefore, the others in your home) out and causing arguments and exhaustion? Are you enjoying your preparations or are do you look at them with a feeling of obligation or dread?

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.
— Galatians 1:10

Ability

Not everyone is Martha Stewart or Joanna Gaines. One of my friends has incredible patience to sit down with her kids each year and have them help her hand make every Christmas card they send. Another is an incredible host and absolutely loves having people over. Another makes the most delicious cookies with unbelievably intricate frosting decorations. Yet another is extremely generous and has the financial means to purchase great gifts for everyone and anyone. I am none of the above. But I’m learning to accept that. God made you YOU, with your own set of talents and abilities. It’s only an exercise in frustration (and a whole lot of debt!) if you try to magically become someone that you’re not. It’s ok to buy — and not make — the cookies. It’s ok to get Papa Murphy’s pizza on Christmas Eve. It’s ok to say “no” to sending cards. And it’s ok to spend ten meaningful dollars on a gift for someone who you know will spend way more than that on you.

Need

Consider the needs of you and your family this year. Has it been a rough one financially? Your family members don’t need grandiose gifts to know that you love them. Has it been an exhausting one with the addition of a baby? Maybe this year you don’t need to run around to all of the family events. Has work been more stressful than usual? You don’t need to make a half dozen different kinds of cookies simply because it’s what you always do. What about your spiritual needs? Do you need to connect with God and dig deeper into the Word before Christmas arrives? Let that be at the top of your to-do list.

‘Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’
— Luke 10:41-42

Grace

Oh, those troubled relationships. Things only get harder at the holidays, don’t they? The questions of who will host, when will we eat, what will we eat, when will we go to church, whose Christmas program will Gramma & Grampa attend this year…it goes on and on. Not to mention the idle chit-chat at the get-togethers themselves. It can be exhausting. (For tips on how to handle these relationships, be sure to read Lisa’s blog post from earlier this week if you missed it, “4 Ways to Nurture Challenging Relationships this Christmas”.) But even the healthiest, friendliest relationships can strain under the weight of the season. Let grace be your guide in these situations. Ask yourself, “Is this a battle worth fighting?” Maybe it is. Or maybe, it’s best to just move on and let it go.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
— Philippians 2:3-4

Expectations

I remember my first Christmas after becoming a mother. I had offered to host Christmas Eve, thinking it would be easier than packing up half the house and trying to get my girls to nap somewhere else. I had this picture perfect first Christmas with my babies in my mind. I got them adorable outfits with matching tights, I found a dress that didn’t show my still-pregnant-looking belly and I decked out the table like something in a Pottery Barn catalog. And the day came and one of the girls had a blow out in her tights and needed to be changed before anyone even arrived. I spent what felt like half of the evening in my bedroom nursing and barely sat at the table which I had so carefully decorated to eat. I went to bed crying that night — hormones were probably partly to blame but if I’m being honest, I was full of disappointment. It didn’t even feel like Christmas because life got in the way. I was expecting a magical day full of lighthearted laughter, great conversation and babies who followed their schedule perfectly. The celebration of the Savior’s birth, which doesn’t change, was happening right before my eyes and I refused to join in because it wasn’t like I had planned. Evaluate your expectations: are they realistic? Are you focused on the things of this world which disappoint us time and time again?

Rest

I don’t care what you have to do, but find time to rest during this Advent and Christmas season. Schedule it if you have to. Say no to that one last commitment which is going to put you over the edge and steal more time from connecting with your heavenly Father. Literally set a timer for 5 minutes and sit in a chair, eyes closed, reflecting on what Christmas means to you as a child of God and soaking up just how much the Creator of the world loves you.

You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.
— Psalm 4:7-8

I’m praying for you this Advent, my friend. Praying that the devil’s lies about Christmas are replaced with truth: The truth about Christmas, the fact that the King of the world came as a tiny babe at just the right time to do what we were unable to do for ourselves.

No, Christmas doesn’t depend on us. And for that, my friend, we can be eternally grateful.

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faith and face-plants

A while back, I went to the zoo with a friend. Our kids spent most of the brisk morning running from habitat to habitat while we got some chatting time in. When we were leaving we ended up doing the inevitable mom departure situation. Tell the kids it’s time to leave…then stand around talking for an additional 15 minutes while the kids run around crazy. During that time, my littlest son who is two years old, in an act of what probably seemed to him a very brave and maybe even heroic moment, took a running start and tried to run/leap off the curb. I *think* he thought he was going to gracefully continue his super speed run after his running-man-in-the-air moment. Instead, he face-planted. It sounds a little sad, but really it was pretty cute. We really thought that he thought this was a great idea.

As I was checking for skinned knees and kissing his little scraped hands, I couldn’t help but draw the parallel between this little face-plant and my own life.

Have you ever tried to attempt life by yourself, only to fall flat on your face? I’m totally guilty.

I’m guessing you know the story of Jonah. God had great plans for Jonah to go to Nineveh to help spread God’s message to those people. What did Jonah do? The exact opposite of what God told him. His plan led him to be thrown into the sea during a raging storm only to be swallowed by a big fish. How’s that for a face-plant? (Or is it a fish-plant?)

You and I are certainly not the first and won’t be the last person to try to live life independent of our God. Our sinful nature thinks we have our life all figured out! Being organized, tidy, scheduled— these are measures of success on the earthly side. Our old Adam thinks if we only accomplish or obtain that *one more thing*, then we will finally find contentment and be happy. Feeling overtaken by life and feeling all alone or the opposite, feeling so overly confident in what we can accomplish are both the result of life lacking our Savior. In the end, the truth is that we need Him.

We need Jesus to hold our hand.

God is our all-knowing, all-powerful, ever present God. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness. His staff and his rod, they comfort me. (Psalm 23) He does this. Not me.

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When I find myself floundering through life or even flat on my face by my own doing, it’s usually true that I’m not holding the truths I know as dear and as close as they should be. Fortunately for us, we have forgiveness through our Savior. We can run back to our Father’s arms and ask for guidance, strength, patience, peace, comfort, and contentment. The Holy Spirit builds our faiths through our prayers and through our Bible studies. We just need to stop leaping off the curb alone and let God support us.

Romans 10:17, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”

Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Isaiah 55:8-11, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

1 Corinthians 1:31, “Therefore, as it is written: Let him who boasts boasts in the Lord.”

Isaiah 40:29-31, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles'; they will run and not grow weary, that will walk and not be faint.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the me, myself and I and to forget that we don’t need to walk through this life alone. Thankfully for us, God gives us a hand to hang on to before we set off.

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