prayer


“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, Just like the ones I used to know. Where the treetops glisten, and children listen, To hear sleigh bells in the snow…”

–Bing Crosby, I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas

One of my friends turned to me the other day and said exactly what I have been feeling the past week. It was something to the effect of:

“I was so excited it was Christmas time, but then I started thinking about all that could go wrong–what if this person isn’t happy, what if this doesn’t work out, etc. And I began to wonder if I was trying to project these impossible expectations on my family for the perfect Christmas… Am I being too cynical or just realistic?”

I looked at her like “you took the words right out of my mouth,” and then I told her she was completely normal (unless it’s that we both are strange?). I went on to explain that after Thanksgiving, I too was counting down the days until we could go home for the Holidays. But then, I began to think of all the things we had to do, all the family dynamics that could come up, preparing to travel to two different states, etc.–and suddenly my Christmas excitement turned into panic.

Talking about all the possibly bad “what ifs” of Christmas, got me wondering about what God intended Christmas to be. I began to imagine the night Jesus was born.

Every year, Churches and families put up beautiful Nativity sets, depicting the birth of Jesus, in a small stable in Bethlehem. They are wonderful, and I love putting up the one my parents gave us when we got married. But, they don’t tell the full story: An attractively carved or sculpted Mary kneels beside Jesus, looking at Him as if He magically appeared–not like she just went through painful labor to give birth to Him. And a regal Joseph solemnly stands over them–as if helping Mary through labor was a breeze. Then, just as carefully crafted, the  Wise Men show up in the Nativity scene bearing their gifts–when they actually found Him sometime later. The real picture and story was more rough around the edges.

nativity light

The night of Jesus’ birth, must have been frightening. Joseph had to bring a very pregnant Mary to the town of Bethlehem for a census that was being taken. Luke 2:5 says that Mary was pledged to marry Joseph–so they weren’t actually married yet. Here was this young couple with barely a relationship or friendship in place, traveling a long distance together. Then at some point on the way, Mary began to go into labor. She was probably in her early teens, and scared. They were in a place where they knew no one. Joseph probably felt desperate to find a safe place for her to give birth, but the town inn was full. The only place left was a very humbly stable–a place where animals were kept.

Joseph probably cleaned out a stall for Mary to give birth in, and then he helped her through child birth–alone. Mary didn’t have her mother by her side. There were no doctors, no nurses, no hospital equipment, and scripture doesn’t even mention a midwife! Here were two everyday, imperfect people in a much less than perfect situation, and into the chaos arrived a baby. But not just any baby–a capital “P,” Perfect baby–the Son of God.

Perfection entered into Imperfection.

Wholeness entered into Brokenness.

The Prince of Peace entered into the chaos of a small stable. 

Emmanuel (Literally, “God With-Us”), joined us in our broken world.

What must have began as a scary, painful night for Mary and Joseph, ended with the very presence of God, in baby form, wrapped tightly in His manger bed.

As I thought all of this through, and about all my concerns over “what could happen” this Christmas, I was reminded that Jesus entered into the imperfection of that night in Bethlehem so that He could enter into the brokenness of our lives when we ask Him.  He came into the world then, so that He can be present to us now.

If you are like me and you are worried about having a broken Christmas, remember that it is no more imperfect than the first Christmas. And join me in asking Jesus to enter into our chaos, enter into our family dynamics, enter into our stress, and bring His Peace into all of our celebrations.

Linking up today with Emily Wieranga

The Western Wall that once surrounded the Temple in Jerusalem

The Western Wall that once surrounded the Temple in Jerusalem

They were common, every day people like you and me. They could have been your next door neighbors–you know, the cute elderly couple with the candles in their windows every Christmas? You helped him shovel out his driveway, and she always thanked you with a plate of chocolate chip cookies. These two people, this couple, I imagine, where like that–only Christmas didn’t exist yet, and they were about to play an important part in it’s story…

They most likely met at a really young age–she younger than him–and he probably asked her father to marry her in exchange for a few of his best goats. He had a good job, he was a priest in the temple. They would serve God, obey His commandments, wait for the Messiah to come–and there would be babies! They would have a lot of children. The young girl’s father said yes, and the two were married. Their names were Zechariah and Elizabeth, and when they began their life together, I believe they had all the traditional dreams married couples have.

Then a few years went by, and no children. A few more, and it began to look like having a baby was not possible. Having children was believed to be a sign of blessing from God–a status symbol even. They prayed to God for children, but many more years went by, revealing that Elizabeth was barren. It had to have been a painful waiting, followed by a sad resignation. Yet, we are told:

Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.

Luke 1:6

They continued on, serving God. They didn’t turn away in anger.

One day, long after his hair and beard turned silver, Zechariah was serving in the temple. The priests did their traditional casting of lots to see who would go into the most Holy place in the temple to burn the incense, and Zechariah was chosen. He entered the temple, and made his way to the altar where the incense was to be burned. Just as he approached, the Angel of the Lord appeared, standing just to the right of the altar. His heart must have jumped into his throat, his palms must have started to sweat. He froze in fear. But the Angel said:

Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John…”

Luke 1:13

God speaks to him in a way that let’s Zechariah know, He has heard him. The Angel goes on to say that their son, John, is going to be special–not “My kid is an honor student” special, but rather “History-maker” special. John would be the one who would prepare God’s people for Jesus’ coming. Unfortunately, Zechariah was more stuck on the first part:

“How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

Luke 1:18

As if the presence of a heavenly messenger wasn’t enough, Zechariah looked at the Angel like “I think you have the wrong guy.” He hadn’t given up serving God, but he had began to doubt His power. He and Elizabeth prayed and prayed, but when he was told that their prayers had been heard–and were about to be answered–Zechariah didn’t believe God could do it. He had grown cold in his faith. He had stopped believing that God could do the impossible.

So, because of his disbelief, the Angel tells him that he won’t be able to talk until his child is born. It is as though, through the Angel, God said to Zechariah “Be quiet, and watch what I am about to do.” Nine months later, his wife became a mother.

Have you ever been in a time of waiting? Have you ever reached the point where what you are waiting for seems like it is never going to happen?  Are you in that place now? Are you–like Zechariah–beginning to doubt that God has heard your prayer–and that He has the power to answer?