The Christmas List

Gracie held her pencil above the last remaining blank page in her planner. “Ah-ha!” She lowered the pencil to the paper, then picked it up again. “No-o.” Who knew you could get writer’s block for a Christmas list?!? There were decisions to be made and gifts to be bought. Now was the time!

This was her moment: the quiet
half-hour before the chaos…
the calm before the storm.

She checked the breakfast casserole again. Still forty minutes to go. Everything else was ready. Her family was on their way. They would eat brunch, then hit the Black Friday sales. This was her moment: the quiet half-hour before the chaos…the calm before the storm. Tomorrow wouldn’t be any better. In fact, every day between this one and Christmas would be loaded with extra things.

Gracie pulled a box of Christmas decorations out of the hall closet. She needed to be productive, and If she couldn’t write the Christmas gift list, she would get started on the decorations. The nativity set lay on top.

She picked up the Mary. I bet Mary had a list of what she needed after the baby was born—things she had packed before they left Nazareth. Maybe she catalogued the donkey’s saddle bags as they trudged toward Jerusalem.

She grabbed Joseph in the other hand. Did Joseph have a list? Probably a list of places to check for lodging…doors to knock on so they wouldn’t have to sleep outside. Maybe he searched his memory for additional options as they trudged toward Jerusalem.

Gracie set both pieces near the center of the mantle. She bent down and collected the three shepherds. It’s always three, to balance the wise men. She thought about the shepherds’ journey into Jerusalem and sat down hard on the ottoman. They didn’t trudge toward Jerusalem. They were excited all the way into town!

Gracie pulled her phone from her back pocket. Ignoring the social media notifications, she opened her Bible app to Luke 2.

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  –Luke 2:15-16

There was only one thing
on their list: see Jesus.

The shepherds “hurried off,” not because they were in a hurry—not busy-ness, Gracie thought, but because they wanted to get there as quickly as they could to see the amazing thing God had done…the Messiah He had finally sent to earth. There was only one thing on their list: see Jesus.

Mary and Joseph both had incredible responsibilities that first Christmas. It’s understandable that, in their exhaustion and the burden of their roles, they trudged toward Bethlehem. We are not them. All the work has been done.

She decided to put one thing at
the top of her Christmas list, one
thing that was easy to overlook.

Gracie still had to make a list of all the Christmas gifts to buy. She still had to get the casserole out of the oven and host her family’s annual post-Thanksgiving brunch. But she decided to put one thing at the top of her Christmas list, one thing that was easy to overlook, easy to let slip to the bottom of the list. Gracie wanted to see Jesus this Christmas.

She stood up and looked around. Then, she set the shepherds on a table across the room from the mantle. Each morning, she planned to move them a little closer to the mantle, and in those moments, she would contemplate the Messiah who came to earth for all of us. She would see Jesus.

What’s at the top of your Christmas list this year? Here’s a little #flashfiction fun to set the mood. Because my #ChristmasList is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Do you have a plan to see Jesus this holiday season? It’s easy to get distracted by all the responsibilities and obligations (both real and imagined) of the season. In the comments below, please share how you keep your focus through the holidays.

He Will Be Called: Prince of Peace

Five days until Christmas (as I write this), and the to-do list is getting longer rather than shorter. This happens every year. I have grand schemes of all the things I’ll bake, all the gifts I’ll make by hand, and the traditions on which we’ll follow-through. And every year, I do less than the year before. “Lacking” had become the theme of my Christmas. With my sense of lacking comes discontent: all the thoughts of how I should be better, how we should be doing more God-ish stuff and less simply surviving, how I should be making better memories for my children than rushing to finish the laundry so we can pack for trips to the grandparents. There’s little we can call “peaceful” in these days. (Although a teenager who likes to wrap presents does help.)

When the people of Judah lost their king to the Babylonian conquerors, they also lost their queen, along with all the princes and princesses. There were no literal princes in their courts, and no peace in their hearts. I imagine shalom, that ubiquitous Hebrew word for peace which means far more than “absence of war,” felt foreign to those trudging, defeated masses making their way toward Babylon. Continue reading

He Will Be Called: Everlasting Father

This will be our second Christmas without my father. Hopefully, this one will be easier than last year. My father was a good man, and a good father, but he wasn’t perfect. And while his soul is everlasting (Praise God, I know my dad is in heaven!), his presence with me was not.

As the nation of Judah trudged into Babylonian captivity, many had lost their fathers, grandfathers, husbands, and sons to the war in which Judah was defeated. Perhaps some of the survivors barely had time to bury their loved ones, much less mourn, before the forced march began. Isaiah’s prophecy promised a time when they would no longer fight, when “every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire” (Isaiah 9:5). But in the moment, they knew the sorrow of great loss.

Did their hearts sting when they remembered the prophecy? Continue reading

Seeking the King

Have you set out your nativity scene (or scenes) yet? Which people from the story are on your mind this Christmas? Every year, God brings one segment of the scene into the spotlight for me, and I find myself thinking about him/her/them throughout the holiday season.

This year for me, it’s the wise men. I know why. I recently started working for a nonprofit that supports internationals and the wise men were the first non-Jews…the first border-crossers…to worship Jesus.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  –Matthew 2:1-2

The magi came to worship him.

What’s east of Jerusalem? When I was a kid, I thought these guys were from China and places close to China. After all, the song says, “We three kings of Orient are…” To me, the Orient was where Oriental people lived. (No offense. It was the late 1970s. “Political Correctness” wasn’t a thing yet.) Little did I know that the Orient includes Arabia and that the “near East” was just as exotic as the “far East.”

Also, I thought they were kings. (The song is so wrong!!) Actually, they were more like Daniel and the guys who served with him: astrologers, scientists, magicians.

star-watchers
wise men
internationals
foreigners
strangers
seekers

Star-watchers from the near East. That’s Persia, southern Arabia, and Mesopotamia (NIV Study Bible notes for Matthew 2:1). These days, we know these areas as Iran, the Saudi Arabia/Yemen/Oman/U.A.E. peninsula, and Syria.

They were internationals. And they worshiped Jesus as a king. Before anyone other than the shepherds of Judea realized it, these foreigners knew Jesus was something special.

I’ve written about all the characters in your nativity sets. Find the one the Holy Spirit has put on your mind this Christmas and dig into their story. You might learn something new. You might grow closer to “the one who has been born king of the Jews.”

Remember too, “King of the Jews” is what Pilate wrote on the placard above Jesus’ head when He hung on the cross (John 19:19).

The Cast of Christmas: Zechariah & Elizabeth

The Cast of Christmas: Mary

The Cast of Christmas: Joseph

The Cast of Christmas: Shepherds

The Cast of Christmas: Simeon

The Cast of Christmas: Wise Men

Wise men: the first internationals to worship Jesus, the first to recognize He was a king. My #NativitySet is #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Which “character” from the Christmas story is the Holy Spirit using in your life right now? Please tell us who and why in the comments in below. I would love to hear what’s on your mind!

He Will Be Called: Mighty God

My life feels out of control, especially as Christmas rolls toward us. The things I want to accomplish remain unfinished. I’m interrupted despite my best intentions. Things happen—like my computer losing my blog post last week. Sometimes I wish I could stomp my foot and make it all stop. Sometimes I wish I could conquer my own life.

As the people of Judah packed a few things to carry on their long walk to Babylon, I wonder if they felt the same way. (Except mine are first-world problems and their problems were far more like those of modern-day refugees.) I wonder if they began to question God’s potency. What happened to the Davidic line? And what of Jerusalem, about which God had said, “This is my resting place for ever and ever; here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it” (Psalm 132:14)? It laid in ruins.

God’s promises remained.

Still, God’s promises remained. Continue reading

He Will Be Called: Wonderful Counselor

Have you made plans for Christmas yet? I haven’t. I like to plan, but often my plans don’t come to fruition. Not so with God. When God plans something, it doesn’t change. God’s plans are so certain that the Old Testament authors speak of them in the past tense, what scholars call “the prophetic perfect.”

When God spoke to His people about His plans, however, He used future tense. We call them promises, and the Old Testament prophets gave us many of them. What a comfort it must have been for the Israelites to carry these promises into captivity in a foreign land! Continue reading

Great! …with child

I opened my calendar and counted the months. Our baby would be born in early January, which meant I would be great with child at Christmas. “Great!” I sighed, wondering if with child was a good thing for Christmas time.

A long time ago, there was another expectant mother, one much younger and more fearful than me. Perhaps she pulled out her calendar when she heard about a census of the entire Roman Empire. Perhaps she counted the months, sighed, and wondered. Continue reading