Immanuel: God Is With Us This Christmas

This Christmas, we are not alone. Immanuel means that God is with us, in our midst. Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,     and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). – Matthew 1:20-23, ESV In Genesis, we read that God would walk in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. This intimacy was lost when they were exiled because of their sin. In exchange for a fleeting desire, they received broken relationships with each other and with God; until Bethlehem, when the curtain lifted, and the second half of the story began, and intimacy was restored. Jesus Christ dwelt among us. He fulfilled God’s promise to Hosea to restore us to Himself as a bride. He restored the brokenness of our hearts and our spirits. We are now free to partake in sweet union with Him. He came to us, lived in our midst, and spoke to our hearts. This changes everything. We do not serve a distant God but one who is close to us and who identifies with our struggles and pains. He is intimately acquainted with every part of our humanity. He knows the tears we cry and the hairs on our head. He knows what it means to cry and to hurt. He knows the ache of sore legs at the end of a long day. He experiences calloused hands without ever letting His heart become calloused to those around Him. Immanuel knows and loves us. He is near to our hearts and cares about our restored relationships. He invited us to His table to join Him in the feast of True life. While He walked on this earth, He reached out to the marginalized, neglected, and those thought to be too far gone for restoration. Immanuel does not just bring us into the fold to Lord over us (although He is our Lord), He brings us in to restore deep, intimate friendship. Just as God walked…

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For Those Who Are Broken And Already Weary of Christmas, You Need Christmas

Christmas brings beauty to this season but for many, it brings an overtone of pain. It is a time of year when the loss of loved ones is felt deep within the soul. Memories are rekindled as celebrations continue on as normal, but are also very much not as normal for many. It is a time when success is measured, both in your home and career and also in how we have met our goals in the previous years. As our lives grow darker and darker, our souls respond. We feel the weight of the season and the burden of the expectations of society. We smile, we put our heart into the jolliness but, for many, we are waiting for the season to pass by so we can stop pretending that every hall is decked with boughs of holly. We approach Christmas as if we are whole-hearted instead of allowing it to meet our broken hearts. We try to present a healed person to those around us without ever acknowledging that there was a wound that needed healing. Our Heavenly Father saw our brokenness. He saw the empty pieces that we carried as our life took it on as His cause. He came took on our humanity, and spent His life and blood for our restoration. Our pain, our confusion, our desperation, He took it as His own. Christmas is here because we needed a Christmas cure. Our brokenness isn’t something to stifle while we attempt to embrace the Christmas spirit. Christ was born because we are incapable of fixing the mess around us alone. Our grief is too great to bear. The loss brought on by a world full of sin is insurmountable in our own power. So we have not been left to do it in our own power. Jesus is here to bind up our broken hearts. He is here to free us from the bondage of sin. But we need to acknowledge the mess our lives our in if we’re going to reach out and embrace the cure. Because Jesus may not be standing here in the same flesh that breathed on that first Christmas, but He is alive and the Holy Spirit of God is amongst us, in our very midst, carrying on His work. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to…

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Stop Praying About It Because, Yes, You’re Called to Serve

I’ve been there before. Someone corners me in the church hallway, I say “corners” because, at this point, I’ve spent a good part of my walk down the hallway avoiding eye-contact for fear that this question will come, and asks me to help with something. I would like to be known as the Proverbs 31 woman, the Titus 2 woman, the admirable church woman, but I would like to earn the reputation of one devoted to good works while putting a minimal amount of effort into said good works. So when I see the person coming towards me, when the clipboard to sign-up is passed my way, I’m ashamed to admit that I pass it off with a simple, “Let me pray about it.” Now, there is a time and a place for exercising spiritual discernment and seeking God’s will on exactly where you need to be serving. But whether or not you need to be serving isn’t a question. We are called to serve. We are not called to simply fulfill an occasional obligation in the church nursery or to think charitable thoughts at Christmas time. We’re called to generously serve because we were extravagantly served. Christ humbled Himself, came to Earth as a man, and offered His life as a sacrifice on our behalf. That’s the example given for us to follow. “But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” -Mark 10:43-45, ESV We are called to serve. As Christians, we aren’t excused from serving for more spiritual things, service is actually one of our primary callings. We should be horrified that there is such a need for believers to step up and be the hands and feet of Christ. The example given by Christ isn’t minimal good deeds while hiding behind self-care and the over-spiritualization of trying to find an excuse to avoid good works. As believers, our lives are meant to be poured out in service for each other. We aren’t meant to hold part of ourselves back or offer leftovers, we are meant to pour our lives out at the feet of God in service to Him and one another.…

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Are You Prepared For Christ? – Advent and the Call to Prepare Our Hearts and Lives

I am naturally an over-preparer. When my family went to a Christian retreat center to “camp” for the weekend, I read several books on wilderness survival, wore a whistle/compass/waterproof-match-holder around my neck, and packed a fanny pack full of supplies just in case I somehow wandered off of this very full campground and needed to survive on the land for several days. I was seven. My preparedness has become much more practical over the years but it is still here. By the 1st of December, 90% of my shopping is done. When I go on a trip, I usually have some sort of detailed printed itinerary. By detailed, I mean at least every hour is accounted for. At one point, in a very “typical Bailey” move, I made a spreadsheet with the results of a personality test I made all of my family and close friends take. While parts of my life are structured down to the minute, if you walked into my house, you probably wouldn’t guess that I prefer things to be structured. There are dishes in the sink. Flecks of a rope tug-of-war toy my dogs destroyed are scattered across the floor at my feet. Suffice it to say that if it is something that makes me feel insecure in myself, something I think I might not be able to do to my own standard, or something I don’t care one lick about, I am much less likely to prepare. I think the coming of Christ falls into all three of these categories, sometimes all at the same time. In my mind and in my heart, I have assurance that God will be faithful to His promise and that Christ is coming to take me to the place He is preparing for me. However, with that assurance comes the reminder that I must be prepared. My preparations for the arrival of Christ often fail. I know I’m going to fall short in my pursuit of sanctification so instead of leaning into the strength and grace that the Holy Spirit provides, I just call it quits. I don’t even try to imitate the example given by Christ. Or sometimes, I know what I need to be doing but I want so badly to do it myself that I don’t rely on the tools given to me by God. I neglect my time in His word and on my…

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Keeping Vigil For The Light Of The World: A Reflection On Winter And Advent

Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent. Traditionally, this is seen as the beginning of the new year in the Church Calendar. It is fitting that the year is birthed in waiting for the birth of our Messiah to come and bring light into the darkness of our world. Across the world, many churches lit the first candle in their advent wreath. I lit one on my table last night. Each week the light will grow and consume more of the darkness around it until finally, we lit the center candle and proclaim Christ’s birth. Today, my heart is called back to Genesis, to the beginning of time. I am remembering the beginning, the void, and the all-consuming darkness over it all. That is, until God spoke those simple words we learned in Sunday School, “Let there be light.” He spoke and the darkness ran. Out of nothing, came the light. Before the sun shone in the sky, the Son was already bringing light into the world. It seems very fitting to me that in the Northern Hemisphere, the place I grew up and call home, Advent comes in the darkest time of the year. Each day leading up to Christmas grows shorter and shorter and the darkness of the night consumes more and more of our life. As I sit and look out my window at the peaceful stillness of the night, I am reminded of the darkness of the beginning of the world. My new liturgical year begins in this darkness. It begins with remembering a time of bondage, of slavery. My days are filled with a longing that cries out for the deliverance of God. And some days, it is easy to wonder as the Israelites in Egypt did if God has forgotten me or is struggling to see where I am in all of this darkness. But as I light my first Advent candle, I remember that the Light is coming. The same Light that was present at the beginning of the world, the Light that preceded the sun, is illuminating my heart and chasing away the darkness. “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” -John 1:9-10 He is coming. He is here already but my friend, He is coming. May we keep vigil.…

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