The words in the email stung.  As I blinked back tears my defenses went up.  ”But, I did this for you…I was thinking about you.” I kept repeating to myself.  What had started out to be a fun, playful and thoughtful event had just turned quite ugly in a matter of seconds.  It came out of left field and I wasn’t prepared for it.  Nor did I really know how to respond.  So I waited.

I had planned and prepared for this Christmas season.  The month of November came and I spent the month serving others.  This inspired me to get all my busy work done early i.e Christmas shopping, running around – you know, the hectic stuff of the season.  Get all this done and then in December spend my time focusing on Jesus.  Living and breathing and being in the presence of God.  Sounds great right?

Until I received that nasty email.

I lost my focus on Jesus. I was focused on me.  I was trying to be helpful.  I was trying to be nice.  I was trying to be thoughtful.   Did you notice the “I’s” in there.  Yep, I lost my focus all right.  This put me in a very foul mood for a few days.  It was during this time I was suppose to be putting up my tree and decorating my house.  My birthday is in December so it’s a family tradition, we decorate around my birthday.  We’ve done this since I was a little girl.  But this year…..was different.

I put our tree out, put a skirt around it and then left it.  No decorations, No lights.  I was unmotivated and uninspired.  Image

The days turned into a couple of weeks and even though I was choosing to focus on Jesus and being in the presence of God, the tree stood bare.

Really, Lisa, I kept admonishing myself, you should get some decorations on that tree!  But I couldn’t do it.  It wasn’t that I was still upset or even uninspired.  Other decorations found their way out of boxes and into the house, but the tree still stood bare.  Every time I thought about getting something out, I reminded myself that it wasn’t about the decorations, it was about Jesus. It was about being in the presence of God.

I began looking at the empty tree and it reminded me of the empty tomb.

It does sound strange to think of an empty tomb when everyone else is celebrating a baby being born.  But I was.

That little baby, in a manger, represented the gift I would receive as a young teenager.  That same gift that gives me hope to this day.  So much hope.  That precious gift, given so long ago shows me I’m loved, unconditionally.  It whispers that I can’t do anything to earn His love, it’s already there.   This precious gift glistens and glimmers like lights on a tree reminding me there is beauty in brokenness.

My tree will probably not have fancy ornaments this year.  But it will have a cross on it.  This cross will remind me of Him.  It will remind me of the sacrifice a little baby came into this world to do – for me.  And for you.

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I’ve been reading through the Gospels lately.  I love good stories.  I like to read about each character, discover the conflict and read the final climax of a story.  Even better if it’s wrapped up in a happy ending.  So it’s easy for me to read the story of Christ and get so wrapped up in the drama that I find myself skipping through the story just to get to the end.  There is so much to learn, so many minute nuggets in His Story you can’t go skipping through it.  You have to read slowly, purposefully and allow God to show you the story.

Yesterday, I asked you to sit with me and hear the story of Jesus’ birth.  Won’t you take some time today as we finish hearing the best part, the greatest present we could receive this Christmas season.  Put down the to do list for just a moment, grab your coffee and sit.  Enter into the presence of the Holy One for a bit.  You won’t be disappointed.Image

One thing I have found so curious in these stories of Jesus is what is going on around him at any given moment.  There seems to be so much chaos.  Crowds pressing in, wanting something…healing, a teaching, or sadly to trip him up and catch him in a lie.

For instance, in Mark 5, Jarius, a synagogue ruler begs Jesus to heal his daughter.  There are crowds of people pressing in on Jesus but his heart is filled with compassion and he goes with Jarius to his home.  As they are walking, a woman who has been bleeding for years approaches Jesus.  ”If I could just touch his robe I know I’ll be healed”, she says.  Not Jesus, touch his robe.  And he knows!  He senses power has left him and someone is healed.  Jesus turns around and asked “Who touched me?”

So much going on around him, but he knows someone needs forgiveness.  Scared to death, trembling, this woman admits what she has done. Jesus tells her your faith has healed you.  There is a young girl sick and dying waiting for healing and yet Jesus stops to offer forgiveness to another sick one.

Here’s what I find so fascinating about this story.  He’s not in a hurry, he’s not caught up in the drama of the moment.  I know what your thinking, but this is Jesus.  He can bring anyone back to life.  Yes he can and yes he does.  In fact, he does just that for the synagogue ruler’s daughter.

It’s nothing for Jesus to feed 5,000 people or to bring his best friend back to life after being dead for 4 days.  It’s his purpose while here on earth.  To seek and save the lost.  To show us God’s love.

It’s not understood at the time.  Even his disciples can’t seem to get it right.  They kind of understand and then it’s lost on them.  No one sees the big picture.  Even the night he is betrayed, Jesus knows what his purpose is.

My favorite moments in Jesus’ story is when he is alone with God.  He takes time out of the chaos to be alone with his Father. To pray, to talk, to listen to God.  It seems to give him strength, clarity.

While here on earth, he taught us what to do.  To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

But in order for us to have a relationship with God, Jesus had to make one final sacrifice.  Because our sin separated us from God, Jesus gave us the ultimate gift in being that sacrifice so we could be with God forever.  He showed us how to love others, to take care of each other, but his best gift?  That was to make a way for us to be with God.

Jesus best present was giving us the presence of God.  So this Christmas season, take some time, a lot of time and fully be present in the presence of God.

He loves you, cares for you and wants to spend time with you.  The chaos won’t stop.  It will continue to swirl around you, but don’t let that stop you from slowing down a bit and seeing God in this season.  Invite Him into your home, your heart.

God doesn’t want us to do, he wants us to be…still….with Him.

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, Might God Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

May I share a story with you?  Pull up your chair, grab your coffee, tea or hot chocolate and sit a minute.  For in the hustle and bustle of this very busy season, this story should not be told in a hurry.   To be sure, there is chaos swirling around.  Everywhere.  I know, there are a litany of things that need to be done.  List to check off, groceries to get, parties to attend.  That does not include the stress this season brings of not enough money, not enough time, just not enough.

No, for this story to be heard, actually heard, you need to sit and be still.  It’s a story we hear every year at this time and I think we would all agree it’s a special story and one for most of us is central to our lives and beliefs.  But somehow in all the chaos it gets glossed over.  So let’s start……

It was told long before it happened, from the beginning of time this event was spoken about.  But after a long silence, on one chaotic night this story began…..

Luke 2:1-7 (NIV) 
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn

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Seven verses, tell the story of Jesus coming into this world.  So much packed into 7 short verses.  But so much more happening before to set the stage for this night.

The Angel Gabriel visits Mary to give her the news:  

“The angel went to her and said,” Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you.”  Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angle said to her “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, his kingdom will never end.  How will this be? Mary asked the angel since I am a virgin?  The angel answered, The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.  For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:35-36

First off, I love that the angel tells Mary she is highly favored.  Not once but twice.  Mary is young, just a teenager.  But God sees her heart.  She humbly accepts this call even though she doesn’t quite understand it all.

It was not the best time for a young expectant mom to be traveling, when Caesar Augustus calls for a census.  The trip, approx 70 miles would take 3 to 4 days to walk.  Because of the census, what normally would be a small town of a few thousand people was very crowded with lots of visitors.  I imagine the city was busy and somewhat chaotic.

We see pictures of a peaceful family marveling at a beautiful baby laying in a manger.  Labor is not peaceful, nor is it usually quiet.  Giving birth is difficult and hard.  For a first time mom, those painful contractions catch your breath and you definitely don’t feel in control of your body.  I would venture to say there was nothing peaceful about it.  Scripture doesn’t tell us who was there or even a specific place except that they placed him in a manger.

I have 4 kids and although we had lots of visitors each time God blessed us with a little one, we did not have an angelic army singing praises to God.  That was reserved for God’s Son.  No, this was no ordinary birth, nor was it a peaceful quiet night.

What I love about this story is that with all the chaos swirling around this little family, an unusual and what appeared scandalous pregnancy, traveling to a crowded city, having a baby in an unfamiliar place, is two young people willing to do whatever it was God asked them to do.  Their focus was not on themselves it was on God.  They sought the presence of God.

In this season of our own chaos, what are we seeking?  Are we looking at our to do list, our own agendas or our we seeking the presence of God.  Jesus was our present two thousand years ago, but the gift wasn’t complete then.  A much bigger present was to come.

Join me tomorrow for the best gift of all……..