the King is coming!

The King is coming! Make haste! Make way!

the King is coming! Today’s the day!

The King is coming! make room! make space! clear the way! prepare a place!

Let every heart prepare Him room. Don’t delay – He’ll be here soon!

God’s eternal promise in His perfect timing kept, while the Holy Babe in a manger slept.

All the prophesies of old fulfilled – the hearts of all the angels thrilled

to see the miracle come to pass – Immanuel, God with man at last.

Good news, great joy, peace on earth to men – Eternity has entered in!

Into our darkness the Light has come – with eternal life for anyone

who will open the door and let Him in – the King has come to rescue us from sin!

The King is coming from heaven on high – you will hear His voice in a baby’s cry

Wise men sought Him, shepherds bowed down – to the King who would one day wear the crown

of thorns upon His head, this tiny baby in the manger bed.

Shout Hosana, rejoice and sing! Hallelujahs to the King!

The King is coming! He will be here soon! Prepare the way – make haste, make room!

Lift up the gates, throw the doors open wide – let the King come in, forever to abide

filling your empty spaces with His hope, joy and love – until you rest with Him above.

The King is coming! Make Him room, don’t delay. Let Him in! Let Him in! The King has come to stay!

“In the desert prepare the way for the Lord, make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3-5)

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20)

“Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is He, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty – He is the King of glory.” (Psalm 24:7-10)

sincerely, Grace Day

gifts of Advent

I do not go to birthday parties empty handed. I always bring a gift for the guest of honor, for the one whose birthday is being celebrated. And every time I wonder, is my gift something the person being celebrated will like? Will they find my gift acceptable? Will I be embarrassed or ashamed when they open my gift? It is a sad feeling to believe that you have nothing to give or to think that what you do have to give has no value and so will not be accepted nor welcomed by anyone.

Maybe that’s why I remember so clearly from childhood the Christmas song, “The Little Drummer Boy.” Being a child myself at the time, I completely identified with the little boy and his dilemma. The words to the song tell the story of this little boy invited to see the baby Jesus –

“Come they told me . . . A newborn King to see . . . Our finest gifts we bring . . . To lay before the King . . . So to honor Him, when we come.”

We know what fine gifts the three Wise Men brought to the baby Jesus. They brought gold, frankincense and myrrh – gifts considered fit for a King. But for the little drummer boy, there is a problem. He doesn’t have anything so splendid as those lavish gifts that he could present to the baby Jesus.

“Little Baby . . . I am a poor boy too . . . I have no gift to bring . . . that’s fit to give the King . . . “

This is the same problem the hero in my favorite Christmas book, “The Littlest Angel” has. A small boy, who has recently become the littlest angel in heaven, has no gift to give the Christ Child on His birthday. I feel the agony and the angst of both the little drummer boy and the littlest angel as if it were my own. And if truth be told, it is my own. I still feel the agony today of coming empty handed into the presence of my Redeemer and King – the King – the King of the universe – the King of all eternity.

Truly, the cattle on a thousand hills are His. What can I possibly offer to the Creator of all things? Well, I can learn something from both the little drummer boy and the littlest angel. The little drummer boy gave to the Christ child the one thing that was his alone to offer up –

“Shall I play for You? . . . On my drum? Mary nodded, . . . The ox and lamb kept time, . . . I played my drum for Him, . . . I played my best for Him, . . . Then He smiled at me, . . . Me and my drum”

The little drummer boy offered up to God his God given talent. He gave what he had freely received from God, back to God, using his talent to entertain the sacred, holy child. As the song tells us, he gave his best and baby Jesus smiled – his gift was accepted. His gift was received with the smile of the Christ Child.

It was the same for the littlest angel. He gave what was most precious to him to the Christ Child on His birthday. This was a small wooden box containing his earthly treasures – a golden-winged butterfly, a sky blue bird’s egg, two white stones and the collar of his old dog. This was all the littlest angel had, all that connected him to his memories of earth. He felt his gift to be shabby and valueless in comparison to the other much grander gifts from the other angels. But the littlest angel’s gift was not only accepted but exalted by God, who knew the angel had given what he treasured most in all the universe.

So what can I bring to the Christ Child? My hands are empty. What have I of value to give to the King of Kings? What would please Him? I find an answer in Hosea 6:6 –

“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”

The prophet Micah struggled with this same question, wondering what he could possibly give to God that would be acceptable and well received. Here’s what he said –

“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? . . . Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:6-8)

King David also asked this question, not wanting to come to God empty handed, but also not wanting to give a gift to God that He would not accept. I read David’s words in Psalm 51:16-17 –

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

Paul said this in Romans 12:1-

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.”

It would seem that God does not want a part of my possessions nor a part of me, but rather He wants me, all of me. He wants my heart – all of it. Nothing half-hearted will He accept, only my wholehearted surrender and devotion. When questioned by one of the teachers of the law, Jesus said this –

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)

“All” seems to be the operative word in that statement of Jesus. I’ve been worrying about showing up empty handed, when all along Jesus just wants me to show up at all, because He wants me, not what I can give Him. He doesn’t need anything, the world and everything in it are already His. The gift I can give God is my heart, all of it. I can clean out space and prepare Him room, just like the Christmas carol says, room to receive God’s gift of His Son, Jesus.

Turns out, the gift I can give God, is to accept His gift. I can make room and I can receive Jesus into my heart, home and life. God’s gift has been given. Will I receive Him? I may have come empty handed – but I will not remain that way. God’s gift of Jesus will fill me to overflowing with love, peace, joy, hope and life everlasting. I just have to open the door.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20)

“Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” (Psalm 24:7)

sincerely, Grace Day

an alien view of Advent

So I was thinking – if I weren’t from planet earth but I ended up here during the time of Advent, what would I think people were celebrating? Knowing that advent is “the arrival of a notable person, thing or event”, for whom or for what would I think people were preparing? Who are they preparing to receive? What notable event are they celebrating? These would be the questions that I, being from an alien civilization, would be asking myself. I would want to make sense of all the preparations taking place around me. After all, inquiring minds want to know what all the fuss is about.

I start my investigation by talking with children. I find them more forthright and they seem much more excited about Advent or Christmas or whatever this is, than the adults do. Actually, the adults seem a bit stressed if not downright distressed during this season and they are much too busy to take the time to answer my questions. But children will tell it like it is. And so they do.

I learn they are preparing for the arrival of a man in a red suite who travels in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. The sleigh is filled with toys and gifts for children all over the world who have been “good.” In preparation for this event the children tell me they sometimes write letters containing their requests to the red-suited man, named Santa Claus. Parents tell the children the chimney has been cleaned in anticipation of Santa’s arrival because that’s how Santa enters and exits each house, through the chimney. (this seems a bit peculiar to me but being from another planet, who am I to question Santa’s ways?)

Children are glad when their parents put Christmas lights on the roof and chimney of their house. This helps Santa find the house easily and land the sleigh on the clearly illuminated roof. The children tell me they also make cookies for Santa which they leave beside the fireplace along with a sandwich, milk and carrots for the reindeer. This is an important part of being prepared to receive Santa – figuring out what kind of cookies he likes and what kind of a sandwich they should leave for him. Another important part of being prepared for Santa’s arrival is putting up a Christmas tree and hanging up stockings for Santa to fill with gifts. Also, the children tell me they clean the house and make room, especially around the tree, for all the gifts they are expecting to get from this Santa Claus person.

I ask the children more about this red-suited Santa. How well do they really know him? Turns out, he comes once a year and he leaves the presents and fills the stockings and eats the food while they are sleeping, so they don’t really hang out with him. There are some books they read about him like “The Night Before Christmas”, but they don’t really have a relationship with this Santa guy, they just like him because he gives them gifts once a year.

At this point I began to wonder why this annual celebration is called Christmas. Seems to me it would more aptly be called Santamas. After all, everything seems to me to be done in preparation for Santa Claus’s annual arrival on the rooftops. He must be the notable person that everyone is preparing to receive. (except no one ever sees him, he’s in and out while everyone sleeps, and he says nothing except maybe the occasional “Ho! Ho! Ho!”) Santa’s midnight ride from rooftop to rooftop around the world must be the notable event that Advent celebrates. So I asked the children why the name Christmas? In response, they told me the most incredible story I have ever heard.

They told me Christmas is the celebration of a baby’s birthday. Now I was thinking, so many babies are born every day – why is the whole world remembering and celebrating one particular baby’s birth? Then I find out this baby was born two thousand twenty-two years ago and we are still celebrating His birthday, Christmas, to this day. Now I am really curious. There have been lots of famous people born over the years. We still know some of their names, but we don’t hold a big celebration of their birth every year with people taking the day off work and schools closed and all. Why this baby? Why Christmas?

Well it seems this baby, whose name is Jesus, is God’s only Son, the promised Messiah, the Christ child. Christmas, which literally means “Christ’s mass”, is the celebrating of the birth of this Christ child. Why remember? Why celebrate? Because the birth of Jesus is a miracle and the greatest gift God ever gave to mankind. The miracle is God coming to earth to live with human beings for a while. The miracle is why He came – to redeem those He had created for His own, to pay their price with His blood, to forgive their sins and to give them eternal life with Him.

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

“But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)

“You (Jesus) are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9)

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. . . . But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6,8)

As I observed firsthand the broken mess mankind has made of the world God gave them, it occurs to me that no one deserves any of these miraculous gifts that are God’s alone to give. But that’s the miracle of Christmas which continues to this day. God is still offering to me and to you, dear readers, the gift of His Son Jesus along with forgiveness, redemption, restoration and eternal life. This miracle of God sending us a Savior as promised, who is Jesus the Christ child, is really something to remember and to celebrate every day, not just once a year at Christmas.

So Jesus Christ is the notable person and His birth is the notable event that Advent and Christmas commemorate and celebrate every year. How did I miss this? The purpose of Advent is not to celebrate Santa’s arrival but to celebrate Jesus’s arrival here on earth. The miracle of Jesus coming to earth is far bigger than the surprise of toys under a tree on Christmas morning. Santa’s toys are temporal, God’s gift of Jesus is eternal!

As the children continued with the story of Jesus’s birth, which included shepherds, wise men, angels and a special star over the stable where baby Jesus lay in a manger, I began to understand why I was seeing images of a baby in a manger next to a man and a woman, with a donkey and sheep and shepherds and such, mixed in with snowmen and Santas and trees and reindeer on front lawns, in malls and in other places where Christmas decorations are displayed. It is actually the birth of this Jesus that Christmas calls us to remember and to celebrate.

All around me I can see that people are preparing for Santa’s arrival. I am wondering if they are also preparing for Jesus’s arrival? Jesus is coming again, but He doesn’t come every year like Santa. Jesus’s first Advent was missed by many. His second Advent, no one will miss.

“And the gory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:5)

People are busy preparing to receive Santa into their homes. (even though they will have no interaction with him) But what about Jesus? The Christmas carol “Joy to the World” says “let every heart prepare Him room, let earth receive her King!” Jesus Himself says,

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20)

Sharing a meal – that’s personal. God’s gift of Jesus is a very personal gift to me and to you and to everyone who will open the door and let Him in so that He can take up residence in the place that they have prepared for Him. Make a way! Make room! For the King is coming!

“Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is He, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty – He is the King of glory.” (Psalm 24:7-10)

The King is coming! let every heart prepare Him room – let every home throw open the door and receive Him!

sincerely, Grace Day

all in at Advent

The street is a dark one, no streetlights, no sidewalks, small houses on what would be considered a side street – not a main road nor a busy one. As I drive down this somewhat lengthy stretch of street which ends in a four way stop intersection, I have no expectation other than that this route will take me to my destination. For me, it is not about the journey on this dark December night, it is about getting to my destination quickly. Well, it was until I came upon the unexpected. Out of the darkness appeared a house covered in Christmas lights, and I do mean covered. Also brightly lit were the front yard, side yards, back yard and the fence around them. The lighted displays in the front yard were more than my eyes could take in while driving. This house was truly an oasis of light in a desert of darkness.

My first thought as I experienced this vision of multi-colored lights everywhere, was not a thought at all, but a feeling, a feeling of unexpected joy because I had no expectation of coming into the presence of such a large light display on this dark street. My second and subsequent thoughts were, “how much will the electric bill be?”, followed by “how long did it take them to put all this together?” and “how much work does it take to keep all the lights lit and working?” It gets dark here around five pm and not light again until about eight in the morning, so these lights are on for a long time. And they do this the entire month I assume. The surprise of discovering these dazzling lights in the middle of the darkness made my heart glad (I didn’t even know it was sad until I saw the lights and felt my spirits lift) – these Christmas lights totally transformed this ordinary house and yard into something magical and extraordinary.

And they did something else, too. They lit up the street and the neighborhood, as well. Whoever lives in that house, they are bringing light into the neighborhood at Christmas time. This reminds me of Jesus’s admonition to us –

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Light is not meant to be hidden away, but to be shared with others to benefit them. Jesus is the light of this world. I want to reflect His light in order to share it with other people. It’s like the song says, “It is better to light just one little candle, than to stumble in the dark!” That’s what the people in this house of the many Christmas lights are doing – those around them are in darkness so they lit a candle, so to speak. However, in this case the candle is more like ten thousand Christmas light bulbs! They have gone all in for Advent. They are bringing light into the darkness. They are preparing the way for the celebration of the Christ Child’s birth. They are lighting the way for others to follow as we each prepare by making room and letting God in to light up the dark places in our lives.

Jesus’s birth was described in this way by the prophet Isaiah –

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death (or land of darkness) a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before You as people rejoice at the harvest,” (Isaiah 9:2-3)

Jesus’s birth is the reason we remember and rejoice – rejoice that He came, rejoice that our Creator God loves us so much that He sent His Son, rejoice that God kept His promise to His people even after centuries of silence, rejoice that God always remembers us and desires that we would remember His great gift to us, Jesus, and that we would receive Jesus with rejoicing and great joy. (unlike the people of Jesus’s day)

“He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:11)

I don’t want to make that same mistake – I want to be all in at Advent, like the house of the many Christmas lights, in preparing to remember, to receive and to celebrate all over again God’s gift to me of Jesus and all the other good gifts God’s presence brings. Part of my getting ready is preparing the way for Jesus to enter into the lives of others. This means I will need to take Jesus’s light to some pretty dark places. There are neighborhoods where many or most of the homes are lit with Christmas lights. They already have light. Like this special house of the many Christmas lights, I want to be light in the dark, out of the way, less traveled places that need light to enter in and make its home there.

Eventually, the light will overcome the darkness. You and I just have to let the light in, not to keep it for ourselves, not to hide it under a bowl, but so that “others will see the light and praise our Father who is in heaven.” Advent is the time to let the light come in and to let that same light shine out into the darkness so that it can lead many to the Christ Child whose birth Christmas celebrates. Like the star above the stable, God’s light is here to lead us to His Son and to eternal life. We just have to make room and let the light in!

“Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is He, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty – He is the King of glory.” (Psalm 24:7-10)

who brings the light? who is the light? none other than the King of Glory Himself, the Lord Almighty! Advent is the time to prepare Him room and to let Him in – the Lord comes – “let earth receive her King!”

sincerely, Grace Day

Advent – seeking and celebrating the sacred

I sat in the back, second to the last pew actually on the third Sunday of this Advent season. Behind the pastor was a large, lighted Christmas tree with a star on top. The tree was positioned center stage which meant it was directly below the large cross that hangs there year round. So the image in front of me was the tree topped with a star, with the cross directly behind and partially above the star – almost as if the cross were the tree topper. How appropriate, I thought. After all, it was the star that led the wise men to Jesus but it was the cross for which Jesus came. Christmas is a celebration of the sacred – or at least it is meant to be. Culture has added much to what started as remembering the birth of God’s promised Messiah.

So much has been added over the centuries in fact, that the sacred has become buried under an avalanche of the mundane, the profane, the ordinary, the unrelated, the glitzy, the man made, the marketing, the hype and the hoopla – all these obscure our view of the sacred. Advent calls us to search for, to uncover, to discover and to rediscover all that is sacred in the celebration of Christmas. This is my challenge every Advent season, (which we call the Christmas season or if we are really politically correct, we call this the Holiday Season)

I witnessed this renaming of the celebration of Christ’s birth just last week in a public school classroom. A bulletin board was being put up with “Merry Christmas” but, you guessed it, the teacher was asked to put up “Happy Holidays” instead. Now there are other holidays occurring at this time of the year such as Kwanza and Hanukkah, which are celebrations in their own right of other things. Each holiday comes with its own unique trappings, traditions and practices that add to the avalanche under which lies the sacred of the celebration of the Christ Child’s birth.

Seeing the sacred during this Christmas season takes some extra effort in our culture. Our culture focuses on many other things, sometimes to the exclusion of the actual Christmas story, which is the event of Jesus’s birth. One way we portray what we are celebrating is by decorating with Nativity scenes, whether on our front lawns, inside our homes, in our churches or in our public spaces which are decorated for Christmas. (I should mention in church yesterday, on the stage next to the Christmas tree, was a large Nativity scene) Typically consisting of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus in a manger, a stable, a donkey, some shepherds, some sheep and three wise men – Nativity scenes are the symbol of the sacred which this season celebrates. When I see a Nativity, I am reminded, God Himself came to earth to live among us. Immanuel – God with us. Jesus’s birth – the sacred miracle buried beneath an avalanche of marketing and mayhem that we have come to consider as synonymous with Christmas.

Today I am searching for the sacred even as I am surrounded by the profane. I want to recognize God’s miracle amid the mundane – I want the sacred miracle that is Christmas to shine through all the cookies, candy, carols, gifts, glitz and glamor that have come to adorn Christmas – an event so spectacular that it needs no man made additions – it is perfect just as it is. I think we have forgotten just how perfect and spectacular God’s gift of His Son to us truly is. This month there are Christmas lights and displays everywhere I go in celebration of the season. Santa, snowmen and reindeer sometimes share the “limelight” or more accurately the Christmas lights with the Nativity – but more often than not they are there alone to represent the Christmas season. No wonder I am having trouble finding the sacred things of Advent.

But they are there. The sacred is in the words of the Christmas carols such as “Joy to the World”, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, “Away in a Manger”, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, “The First Noel”, “O Holy Night” and many more songs that beautifully tell the story of Jesus’s birth on the night when God entered into our world. The Holy Child, the sacred One, entering in and deigning to dwell with us for a while. Of course we have added additional songs which we label as Christmas songs such as “Jingle Bells”, “Frosty the Snowman”, “White Christmas”, “Silver Bells” and more. These are fun and festive seasonal songs, but they are also part of the “noise” drowning out the true meaning of our celebration.

It’s the same with all the gift giving that has become synonymous with Christmas. God gave the first gift of Christmas, Jesus. Then the Wise men brought gifts to Jesus of gold, frankincense and myrrh. But somehow that simple sacred act of giving has been hijacked into the retail industry and Santa Claus combining to bury beneath an avalanche of Christmas gifts each year the sacred, the miraculous gift of Jesus Himself, given to us on that first Christmas. It’s easy to overlook the original gift when it’s buried beneath a pile of presents under the Christmas tree. Uncovering and rediscovering the sacred during Advent is a challenge – but a challenge well worth the effort.

Today my eyes are searching for the sacred in this season of celebration. It is there to be found if I will look for it. The star on top of a Christmas tree points to the original star above the stable, which guided the Wise men on their journey to Jesus. Angels are still part of Christmas decor today because angels were present on that first Christmas night. It was angels who told the shepherds about Jesus’s birth and where to find Him. Even the candy cane has a meaning beyond just being a Christmas candy. It was designed as a shepherd’s crook or a “J” for Jesus, with the colors of white and red symbolizing purity or holiness and Jesus’s blood shed for our sins, respectively.

Christmas lights and lighted candles remind me that Jesus came into this dark world to bring us light. We read in John, chapter one, this – “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ ” (John 8:12)

Something else Jesus came to give you and me is everlasting life with Him. The evergreen trees and wreaths of Christmas remind me of this sacred truth, that in Jesus is eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

The sacred signs of Christmas are all around me, I just need to look for them and to focus on what or actually who they point me to, and that is Jesus. When my children were young, my mom always had a birthday cake with a Nativity scene on it on Christmas Day. We all gathered around and sang Happy Birthday to Jesus! What better way to celebrate a birthday than with cake? This simple act celebrates the true meaning of Christmas – that unto us a Child is born!

“For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

The sacred, miraculous message of Christmas is not lost. However, it does too often become buried beneath layers of man made traditions that have been added on to the celebration of Christmas over the years. But that’s what Advent is all about – clearing away the clutter of the mundane and the profane, making room to receive the sacred – the sacred gift of Jesus, our Savior, Redeemer and coming King. Advent is about seeking and celebrating the sacred. The sacred gift of the Christ Child and all He came to give to you and to me are well worth celebrating. I don’t know about you, but I want to prepare Him room, no matter what I have to throw out to make space for His gifts of forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation, comfort, peace, joy, hope, love and life. These are the priceless gifts the Christ child came to give to each and every one who would receive Him and the gifts He offers to each one of us.

This Christmas I will celebrate the sacred miracle –

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

At Christmas, I celebrate the sacred Holy Child entering into our world to walk with us and to bear our burdens, our sorrows and our sins. Heaven has come to earth. The sacred has entered into the everyday and I can behold it if I have eyes to see the sacred surrounding me. Into a dark world God sent Jesus to be the light of the world. I don’t want to make the mistake the people made at the time of Jesus’s first Advent, when He came as a baby in a manger.

“He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:11)

No, Advent says, make room, make haste, make a way, prepare a place – the King is coming!

“Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is He, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty – He is the King of glory.” (Psalm 24:7-10)

sincerely, Grace Day

ghosts of Advents past

Ok, they are not really ghosts, they are memories. But Charles Dicken’s tale, A Christmas Carol, is on my mind during this season and so “ghosts” is my nod to that classic Christmas story. Ironic – I’ve been writing about how Christmas is all about remembering even as I am flooded with memories of my own from Christmases past. These are particularly precious memories because I can’t go “home” anymore for Christmas as my parents no longer live on this earth. So I treasure these “ghosts of Advents past” – they bring me comfort when they come to mind.

My mom definitely pulled off the total transformation thing well. Our tiny house was transformed during the month of December from the mundane of the everyday to the marvelous of all things Christmas. The live Christmas tree reached to the ceiling and filled up the living room with its size and its scent. The whole house smelled of fresh pine mingled with the scent of the silver spray that Mom used on all the greenery before she decorated the mantle with the pine branches, making some of them into a huge wreath which hung above the mantle. Eventually the scent of baking cookies was added to the outdoorsy pine smell, signaling Christmas was getting closer.

One of my favorite Christmas memories is that of glass wax, stencils and the glass panes of the two kitchen doors. My sisters and I were allowed to decorate the kitchen door windows by taping the stencils to the windows and then applying the glass wax with sponges. The “Merry Christmas” stencil went in the top pane of each door and the rest was up to us, whether a wreath, a tree, candy canes or my favorite, the Nativity scene. It was also the hardest to do because it had more figures and they were smaller than the larger wreath or tree. Being the oldest, the Nativity usually fell to me to do. This is one of those memories that cannot be relived because they don’t make glass wax anymore. Don’t know why but no one ever asked my opinion before deciding that there was no longer a need for glass wax.

Fortunately, Christmas is more than glass wax stencils and a decorated tree. As a very small child it was exciting to find presents under the tree on Christmas morning. However, I soon figured out that it wasn’t Santa but my parents who ate the cookies we had left by the fireplace and my parents who provided the presents. Christmas did not lose its luster when I acquired this new knowledge though. Much activity and man made tradition have been added to the celebration of Christmas over the years. But the miracle of Christmas remains unchanged and has remained unchanged for me personally as well. As Santa and elves and reindeer and trees and toys and cookies have receded into the background, growing less important with the passage of time – so the memory of the birth of God’s Son, the Savior of the world, has only grown brighter, more important as my child sized view of the world gave way to understanding the enormity, the miracle of the birth of the Christ child – God with us – Immanuel.

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

God hadn’t hung out with humans since Adam and Eve in the Garden before sin entered in and separated us from our Holy Creator God. No remedy had been found for our sin. No rules could redeem us. We couldn’t keep the ten commandments if our very lives depended upon it – which they did. But as it turns out – “There is no one righteous, no not one.” (Romans 3:10) We couldn’t fix our sin problem ourselves. We were estranged from our Creator and without hope – BUT GOD! God had a plan and He made us a promise through His prophets. This was actually foreshadowed in Genesis 22:7-8, as Abraham headed up the mountain with his son, Isaac, whom he was preparing to sacrifice as God had instructed him to do. Isaac asked his dad a really important question and received this equally important answer from Abraham –

” ‘The fire and wood are here,’ Isaac said, ‘but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham answered, ‘God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’ ”

And God did provide the needed sacrificial offering for sins that day on the mountain. “Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns.” (Genesis 22:13) Centuries later, God again would Himself provide the sacrificial lamb for me and for you and for all mankind – His only Son, Jesus Christ.

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”(1 Peter 1:18-20)

That is the unfathomable miracle we celebrate at Christmas – God’s provision of the perfect, permanent, all sufficient sacrifice for all of our sins in the person of Jesus Christ. The fact that our eternal Creator entered into our physical, temporal world as a baby and walked several miles in our human shoes before going to the cross as our perfect atonement, makes that moment in human history when Jesus was born all the more miraculous, all the more worthy of our annual remembrance and celebration. I never want to forget to what great links my Heavenly Father went to redeem my life. When I forget, doubt enters in and hope exits. When I forget, the magnitude of His great sacrifice, I forget to be grateful for all God’s good gifts beginning with His gift of His only Son.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have One who has been tempted in every way, just as we – yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:14-15)

“Who, (Jesus) being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8)

That’s what I remember and celebrate at Christmas – God provided the sacrifice by coming Himself in the flesh to walk in my human shoes before dying in my place and rising again, defeating death and offering me eternal life with Him. The gift of Christmas has been given. The question is – will I receive it? Will I receive what God is offering? Jesus says,

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20)

“Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is He, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty – He is the King of glory.” (Psalm 24:7-10)

Advent – open the door, lift up the gates, “let every heart prepare Him room” – the King has come! the King is coming!

sincerely, Grace Day

the forgotten Gift of Christmas

so many gifts under the tree, I wonder how many are there for me?

I open them quickly, one by one –

then I feel kinda sad when I’m all done.

Is that all there is? Is there nothing more?

I guess what I want can’t be found in a store.

It can’t be bought and it can’t be sold –

I don’t even know its name – if truth be told.

But there must be some gift that could fill my empty space,

something or someone – I don’t know the name or face.

the face of forgiveness, the face of love,

the face of God come down from above.

God’s gift to me lay in a manger lowly,

the commonplace now transformed by the Presence of the Holy.

God’s gift to me so unexpected,

this gift of Christmas so often rejected.

The package is a manger, holding a baby small,

those who accept the present, find the greatest gift of all.

The gifts God gives of hope and joy

are better to me than any new toy.

The manger was full of peace and of light,

full of God’s plan to make all things right.

I was looking for my Christmas gift under the Christmas tree,

but I found it right where God had said, it was in the Nativity!

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

“For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

God’s gift to the world – the baby in the manger, Christ on the cross, the Risen Savior sitting at God’s right hand, making intercession for you and for me even now –

sincerely, Grace Day

total transformation

That’s what I’m going for – total transformation. But without a magic wand, I am finding this whole transforming thing to be a process rather than a flipping of a switch or a waving of said wand. A “process” takes time. Total transformation takes time. The total transformation I desire is taking longer than I would like. After all, it’s Advent and I am preparing to remember and to celebrate the arrival of the Christ Child here on earth some two thousand years ago. We celebrate this event every year so that we don’t forget God’s greatest gift to us, His only Son, Jesus. I never want to forget that God kept His promise and made a way for me, a sinful person, to be reconciled to Him, a Holy God.

Infinite is the chasm between sin and holiness. Infinite is God’s love for me and for you – a love so enduring, so merciful, so strong that it spans the chasm and allows me to walk across into newness of life, reconciled to my Heavenly Father forever. God’s infinite love took on human form in the person of Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. God entered into our world and lived with us for awhile, that’s the miracle I celebrate every Christmas – that He came!

So during these dreary days of December, I am attempting to decorate my house for the holiday. This is part of my Advent preparation. I clear away my accumulated clutter, making room for Christmas decorations, all the while wondering how and when so many extraneous things filled up the spaces and took over. It is time again to consciously make room to receive my Savior and my King. I don’t want lesser things to crowd Him out of my life. And so I use this Advent time to prepare to celebrate Jesus’s birth all over again.

Every decoration I unpack is a memory, starting with the Zambian Nativity Scene I set out in a space usually occupied by family pictures. I think about my time in Zambia and the people there as I arrange the figures of this special Nativity, while picturing people all over the world celebrating Jesus’s birth in one accord. Advent ushers in a time of unity and peace among believers all over the world. In many languages, in many nations, with all sorts of customs and traditions unique to them, people all over the world are preparing to once again remember and to once again celebrate the arrival of Immanuel, God with us. Such a thing had never happened before, nor will it happen again in this way.

As I prepare the way in my own life for the Christ Child to take His rightful place, I take comfort and joy in knowing others are on this Advent journey with me, remembering with wonder the miracle that took place some two thousand twenty years ago. My Advent journey continues, but the transformation is slow. I will need to do more than a decoration a day if I am to be ready in time! After all, I am preparing a way for the Lord.

“A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the Lord, make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’ ” (Isaiah 40:4-5)

His glory will totally transform you and me and all who receive Him,

sincerely, Grace Day

the question Advent asks

This would appear to be obvious. The question that consumed the Israelites was, “When would God send the Messiah/Deliverer that He had long promised? The prophets were full of prophecies and predictions about when and where the Messiah would appear. Sounds eerily like today, doesn’t it? Our world today is obsessed with the second coming of Jesus. Predictions abound as to when this event will take place. But then that’s nothing new. In every era of human history since Jesus’s ascension into heaven, people have believed they were living in the end times and that Jesus’s return was imminent. So the question persists today – “When is Jesus coming back?” People want to know so that they can be prepared, I guess.

This would seem to be the logical question of Advent because when you are preparing for someone’s arrival, you want to know how much time you have left to get ready to receive them. You want to know when they will arrive. Regarding Jesus’s ETA, we are given an answer in God’s word, but it is not an answer that stops us from continuing to ask this same question again and again, to the exclusion of other, perhaps more important questions. Our answer is found in Matthew 24:36 –

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

We are told clearly that we cannot know when Jesus will return to earth. But perhaps this is not the all important question of Advent, even though it might seem so to us. Could it be that the true question of Advent was posed by Jesus Himself when He asked His disciples this –

“However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

That’s the true question of Advent – not, “when is Jesus coming?” but “will He find faith here when He arrives?” In other words, will Jesus find anyone faithful to Him when He returns? Will He find people watching, waiting, believing, preparing the way for His entrance, doing the work He entrusted to us to do until His return – (“go, make disciples of all nations”) – will He find us faithful? I take this question very personally. Will Jesus find me faithful?

As I prepare to remember and to celebrate God’s gift to humankind, I will let this question guide me through this Advent season. In the midst of decorating, shopping, wrapping, baking etc. I want to be found faithfully fulfilling the tasks God has given me to do for Him. As I celebrate now the first Advent of God’s presence here on earth, I am simultaneously preparing for the second Advent of His coming to earth, even though I don’t have any idea when that will be. It’s like this story Jesus told His disciples –

“It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ” (Mark 13:34-37)

That’s what Advent requires of me – that I watch! I am to anxiously await and expectantly anticipate my Master’s return. Waiting for his return is not a time of idleness but of activity. In Jesus’s story each servant had an assigned task. I do too. I want to be found faithfully executing my God given tasks when Jesus does return. What a privilege that the Master would trust me to take care of His house and business while He is away. If I have let dust and clutter accumulate in His absence, I need to be cleaning and clearing space in readiness for His return. If weeds and brush have overgrown the path to His home, I need to prepare the way for Him to return.

Such are the duties of Advent. The wait for the Master’s return may grow long but I do not give up hope that He will come. I believe in spite of the circumstances that surround me and I prepare as if His appearance is imminent. Noah obeyed and built the ark even though he was surrounded by dry land. He stayed faithful even though his circumstances didn’t make sense. Advent requires faith – faith that the long expected Jesus will arrive when the time is right, just like He did the first time.

“But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)

God’s timing is always perfect. It seems much of Israel had grown weary with the wait and fallen asleep. Their lights had gone out and their hearts had grown cold. Maybe that’s why they were unable to recognize and to receive God’s Son when He finally arrived on that first Christmas. Maybe that’s why we remember and celebrate Jesus’s first Advent, so that we will be better prepared for His second one. Maybe it is so we learn the lessons of the first Advent which will remind us never to lose hope, but being steadfast in belief, to be always waiting, watching and preparing ourselves and our world for Jesus to enter in, just as the faithful servants in Jesus’s story were preparing for their master’s return, even though they did not know the day nor the hour.

Advent prepares the way for Jesus to be welcomed in once again, especially into those places where He has been previously crowded out, locked out, kicked out, overlooked, ridiculed and rejected. Advent opens the door so Jesus can enter in.

“Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is He, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty – He is the King of glory.” (Psalm 24:7-10)

lift them up! let Him in!

sincerely, Grace Day

always Advent

This morning it occurs to me that before Jesus’s birth, the Israelites were living in a perpetual season or state of Advent. Why? Because they had been promised a Messiah, a Deliverer, a Redeemer, someone who would come and rescue them from their enemies and oppressors. They did not know when God would send this Savior to them, so they should have been in a constant state of readiness to receive God’s gift to them whenever He should arrive. But as we read the story of Jesus’s birth and life, it is clear that people were not prepared to receive God’s promised gift of the Messiah. We read this about Jesus in John 1:10-11,

“He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.”

Jesus did not receive the warm welcome one would expect a long-awaited Conqueror to receive. There was no pomp, no circumstance, no fanfare – well, no fanfare on earth – although the angels, the stars, all of heaven rejoiced loudly at Jesus’s birth (which the shepherds witnessed). But here on earth, people were not prepared for Jesus’s arrival. They were not watching and waiting for God’s Promised One. So Jesus and His parents ended up in a stable because there was no room for them in any of the people’s homes. The Israelites had lived in a permanent season of Advent and still missed the big event.

Oh, there were a few exceptions. Two, to be exact. Simeon and Anna did not miss the arrival of God’s life-saving, life giving gift of His Son. What made them different? Well, Simeon is described in this way,

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Luke 2:25-26)

And we read this about Anna,

“There was also a prophetess, Anna, . . . She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” (Luke 2:36-37)

What do I know about these two individuals from these descriptions? Simeon and Anna were actively watching, waiting and worshiping while they waited for Jesus to arrive. They hadn’t given up hope. They hadn’t stopped believing in God’s promise to send a Savior to them and to the world. Even after four hundred years of silence, they were eagerly expecting God’s miracle, so they spent their time preparing to receive the miracle when He came. Every day was Advent for Simeon and for Anna. They were watchful. They were ready. They received the baby Jesus with joy.

“Simeon took Him (Jesus) in his arms and praised God, saying: . . . ‘my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people,’ ” (Luke 2:28-31) and Anna’s response?

“Coming up to them (Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus) at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:38)

Seems like the appropriate response to this miraculous gift is praise, thanksgiving and rejoicing to God, the Giver of the gift of Advent, which is Jesus.

Interestingly enough, we, too are living in a time in which every day is a day in the season of Advent. We are living in inter-Adventmental times. (I know, I just made up that term – but it fits) We are living after the first Advent, Jesus’s birth as a baby into this world, but before the second Advent, which is Jesus’s promised return to earth to set everything right and establish His never-ending kingdom. I read Jesus’s words in Revelation 22:12,

“Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with Me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.”

I read in Mark 13:26-27 this –

“At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And He will send His angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.”

Jesus’s return – something to look forward to for sure. But in the meantime, I need not be idle. Advent is filled with the activity of preparation for my Redeemer’s return. I need to prepare my heart –

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.” (Psalm 51:10 & 7-9)

Yes, I need to let God clean me up. I need to let God do His transforming work in me, making me ready to receive Him when He returns. I will take God up on the offer He made to me in Ezekiel 36:26 when He said –

“I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

A heart of stone can’t receive God’s gift of Jesus, but a heart of flesh, tender and open, can. Ironically, I need God’s help to prepare for His return. I can’t clean myself up, but my Heavenly Father can help me prepare a way and a place for Him to enter in and to make His home with me. That is the goal of Advent – to be ready and able to receive Him each and every day of my life. After all, Jesus calls to me and to you, dear readers –

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20)

Advent opens the door in anticipation of Jesus’s arrival –

“Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” (Psalm 24:7)

sincerely, Grace Day