Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: The Ones on Whom God's Favor Rests


I know about decorating for Christmas. I understand the desire for beautiful. 

What I've written today is not intended to denigrate anyone else's holiday preparation. 

I'm writing today about my journey. It's taken me many decades to get to the place I am this year. I hope I can maintain this simple celebration, but I'm not casting stones at anyone who's not with me. 

I've been the one with the insanely large, live tree, covered with glittering ornaments and twinkling lights. I've piled gifts under that fine-looking tree, all wrapped in coordinating designer paper with wired-satin ribbon. Mounded fresh-cut greenery on the mantel and doors. Prominently displayed my Santa collection. 

There was a time when I wanted my holiday decorations to be magazine-beautiful. And they often were. 

This year, I've given up the beautiful in order to embrace the simple. 

Two weeks ago, I finally pulled out my much smaller pre-lit, artificial tree and gathered a scandalous number of boxes filled with Christmas decorations from storage. I stacked them on the front porch, then struggled with whether or not to set any of it up. 

The boxes sat there for days.

At last, a few days before my son was scheduled to come home, I set up the tree and plugged in the lights. I waited to decorate it until Ryan arrived. 

We looked at all the ornaments, collected over a lifetime. In the end, we pulled out the decorations Ryan had made as a child and the ones we'd added to his collection every year. We used a few decorations my mother had made and a couple I'd made as a girl. I sorted and he placed. 

There was a story to remember with each ornament. We savored every one.

It's the least-decorated tree I've ever had, but it's filled with the most love. The most memories. The most joy.

In truth, of the boxes stacked on my porch, only the box of nativity sets had anything at all to do with the birth of Christ. 

All the rest is worldly glitter. Beautiful but shallow. 

Can you worship Jesus in the midst of a sparkly Christmas? Yes. Of course you can, but letting go of what has come to represent Christmas to have what Christmas is truly about is oddly freeing.

This year, I've skipped the glitz and savored our Savior instead. I've marveled that our God, who reigns over heaven and earth, would stretch a scrap of skin around Himself and climb into a feed trough filled with hay to save me. To save you. 

Who would have dreamed of such a thing? Only God.

It was the most outrageous action imaginable, and yet the simplest. God became a man and dwelt among us. Loved us. Led us. Redeemed us. 

The wonder of it has brought me to tears more than once.

This year, for perhaps the first time in my life, I've celebrated the Christmas of Christ instead of the world's holiday imitation. 

It's been the sweetest holiday I've ever had.

I re-read Isaiah 66 last night and found these words: 

“These are the ones I look on with favor:

    those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
    and who tremble at my word." 
Isaiah 66:2b niv


To be perfectly clear, Isaiah does not say that God looks with favor at the ones who shun their Christmas decorations.

God looks with favor at those with humble, repentant hearts. He looks with favor (blesses) those who know His Word and try to obey. That's what trembling at His word means. We respect it and fear disobedience. 

I haven't always had an humble heart. Like many people, pride and humility battle in my heart on a regular basis. I'm sorry to admit this, but humility doesn't always win. 

I haven't yet arrived at that divinely-favored place of true, marrow-deep repentance and humility, but I long for it. This Christmas, I've had a few glimpses of that kind of heart. God will have to change the stony places to flesh, but I want Him to do it.

Christmas Day is almost here, but it's not too late. We can embrace the kind of humility and repentance God honors. We can have His favor. 

But not if we continue to embrace the world.

Today, let's stop the whirlwind long enough to take a careful look at our hearts and our holidays. If they aren't what God favors, ask Him to change them.

It's that simple. He wants us to obey so that He can favor us. We're the ones who don't. 

But we could... 

Let's ponder that for a few minutes. 

Be still. Know He's God. Worship Him. Ask Him to make us into the people He wants to favor, to bless. 

Ask Him to help us honor Him with the same simple heart He demonstrated when He launched Himself into the world and landed in a manger... on purpose. 

God loves us. 

This year, let's love Him back the way He wants to be loved. 

Simple. Humble. Repentant. 

Today, let's bow at the manger and worship Him. 
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