It had been one of those mornings. From the moment he opened his eyes I had known it would be. After a night of broken sleep, Mr. 2 was on a rampage. Nothing and no one was safe in his overtired, illogical state.
Toys and tantrums were thrown, food was refused, plates overturned and the cover of our advent book torn in two. While I was busy cleaning up one mess he was off creating another one. Not even a turn on the neighbours' new swing could placate him.
Miss 12 got frustrated as he dismantled her picture perfect Christmas tree for the umpteenth time - the baubles were now his 'footballs' and he was delighted to find that some of them had confetti stars inside! His sisters, on the other hand, were not so delighted to have to pick up the said stars to return them to their rightful place.
We all breathed a sigh of relief when he went back to bed at 10am.
Cuppas were made, Christmas cookies popped on a plate and we grabbed our advent book - its torn cover now repaired by Miss 9. As I looked at this book and thought about our morning, God spoke to my heart. Amongst all the chaos of the morning there had been moments of beauty - and this torn book with words filled with the truth of Christmas was another pause, another moment of respite in our day.
This is the heart of Christmas - that into all our mess, from two-year old tantrums to when life feels torn at the seams - Jesus brings His beauty.
That first Christmas was far from picture perfect.
Israel was occupied
Elizabeth was barren
Mary was unwed
The journey to Bethlehem, long and uncomfortable - on a donkey no less
There was no room at the inn
Nor in men's hearts
Because Jesus did not come in the way they expected. They were looking for a warrior; for a resplendent King, not a baby. They did not anticipate Him coming so softly, so gently - so vulnerably. And so they missed Him - rejected and despised Him even.
I wonder how many times I've missed Him with me because life hasn't looked the way that I've wanted it to or thought it should? How many times I've rejected or even despised His work in my life?
Yet just as He did for Israel, He keeps drawing near. Keeps seeking me out. Keeps offering to exchange the ashes and messes of my life for His beauty.
For my chains, He offers freedom
For my shame, He bestows honour
From my barreness, He brings new life
When the journey is long, He lends me His strength
When I feel alone, He stays with me. Never leaving, never forsaking.
My life - this Christmas - does not need to be picture perfect for Him to be present and neither does yours. Jesus is the One who stands at the doors of our hearts and knocks, waiting for us to hear His voice; to open up our hearts and make room for Him to be with us so that we can feast on all that He is..
This invitation was not given to a people who had it all together; whose life and faith was picture perfect. It was spoken to a Church who had lost their passion and had become self-satisfied and self-sufficient. Jesus saw them as they really were: wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked and He offered them what they could not supply for themselves. In His love for them He spoke correction and reminded them that He was still there; still wanting relationship with them; still wanting them to experience and taste His goodness.
And this is what He desires for us this Christmas. That we would not rely on our own strength and resources; that we would not measure our lives against a store catalogue or social media highlight reel, but that we we would open the doors of our hearts and make room for Him to be with us, mess and all. That we would make Him our source and the object of our affections. That we would dine on His abundance and enjoy His riches.
You don't need a picture perfect Christmas because you have the most perfect gift that there is, Jesus. Hear Him knocking - not just at Christmas - but each and every day and open the door wide for Him to be Emmanuel, God with us, God with you.
As the Christmas season fast approaches, my thoughts have not been on the miracle of Jesus’ birth and the visitation of the 3 wise men. No, I’m feeling Charles’ Dickens' “A Christmas Carol” and the 3 spirits who represented the past, present and future - in particular, I am identifying with the spirit of Christmas past.
I’ve been dragging the chains of Jacob Marley’s Ghost around with me for more years than I care to say, my heart filled with negativity about Christmas.
As the merchandise and Christmas baubles appear in the shops from as early as late September, my heart begins to sink. Commercialism and the forced happy family ‘vibe’ start to fill my mind. The spirit of Christmas past visits me in the form of unhappy Christmas memories lodged in my heart and thoughts.
But, this year as I walked through a local Department store, cringing at the Christmas music which is played year after relentless year, God spoke to me in a new way about Christmas and the ghosts that have lingered on in my life. “It’s time to let go of the past” He said (He’s used this sentence to me before on a number of topics). “It is time to see the real spirit of Christmas, not what the Devil has blinded you into believing”
It was then I realised I have been parked in “Christmas past” way, way, way too long and have only believed lies, giving them more power year after year. By wearing the black tinted glasses of self-pity and gloom, my eyes have not been open to what is true, what is noble, what is right, pure, lovely, praiseworthy and so on.
The Spirit of Christmas Past took Ebenezer Scrooge back to his childhood where he revisited all the miserable times he endured as a boy - and we know that Scrooge became a hardened bitter man over the course of time as he allowed those childhood wounds to poison his heart.
The Holy Spirit took me back to my past, not to indulge me in my sorry memories, but to make peace and move on to the present. I noticed a few days later as I walked around the Mall and saw the Christmas Tree in the main square and gifts galore in the shops, that for the first time ever I did not feel like Scrooge, emitting groans of “Baa Humbug” here, there and everywhere.
No, I was smiling, feeling more than able to celebrate, understanding at last the truth of the first Christmas there ever was. A Christmas that wasn’t all glory and a 5-star hotel, with England’s Royal Portland Hospital birthing rooms and a family welcome later.
It was far removed from this. Never mind the 3 spirits mentioned in Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol”, the Christmas story that should touch our hearts, has much to thank to the 3 angels of the Lord.
We pick up the story with Joseph who is engaged to a godly woman named Mary. The unthinkable happens (this is how the world would see it) – an angel of the Lord visits her, foretelling that she will have a baby. In due course she becomes pregnant and it isn’t Joseph’s child - how culturally unacceptable, how shaming. Is this the glorious start for Jesus’s arrival into our world?
Joseph considers ending the engagement, but does not want to expose Mary to public disgrace (even though he considers a divorce). A 2nd angel visits and speaks to Joseph in a dream, telling him not to divorce her, for this is God’s work. So, Joseph marries Mary, who I’m sure had no end of trouble explaining away this pregnancy. This was not the way to usher in the birth of a King.
But trouble isn’t over yet. Jesus is born in Bethlehem and King Herod upon hearing of his birth wants to see him. Enter the 3rd angel of the Lord who appears in a dream, warning Joseph, instructing him to flee to Egypt as Herod has plans to kill the baby Jesus.
I felt God say to me through this “Don’t read the Christmas story one more time – read it for the first time”. I discovered a lesson as well through Dickens' writing, for when Scrooge saw what was ahead with the spirit of Christmas future, he dealt with his own Christmas past and embraced the present and the truth.
By looking to God and giving him my Christmas past, by seeing the true story of Jesus’ humble birth and God risking his beloved son– I saw that the true spirit of Christmas is love. True love. A love that brings healing to my past and hope to my present and future days.
Let me leave you with a question. How are your viewing Christmas this year? Through the eyes of Scrooge and the spirit of the past? With eyes that have heard the story so many times it’s just become a routine festive occasion? Or are you allowing God to speak to your heart and show you the truth, of the love that came down at Christmas?
One of my favourite pass-times as a kid was writing. I used to make my own books and write poetry on our old type-writer. Thankfully both my writing and technology have come a long way!
It is my prayer that these posts from both myself and guest contributors encourage you to embrace the season that you are in and to live it with purpose for God's glory.
If you want to get blog posts direct to your inbox pop here.