Last Christmas (Wednesday)

by Ruth Hallstead

Christmas comes with a lot of expectations. Gifts promised or assumed, family traditions, seeing old friends, lots of food… the list goes on and on. Most people have a special place in their heart for this season, and any disappointments can be hard to take. Over time this can cause cynicism or simply ambivalence rather than the enchantment that used to accompany the Christmas season. In “Last Christmas”, a certain apprehension can be heard. “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart. The very next day, you gave it away.” The singer has been hurt, and they haven’t forgotten that heart wrenching feeling. What is holding you back this Christmas season? Are you worried that you won’t have time to check everything off your list? Perhaps this is the first time you’re going home since summer and you’re concerned that too much has changed while you’ve been gone. Maybe you’re remembering relatives’ and parent’s prying questions, and you just don’t want to go there again. This worry can hold you back from experiencing the true joy of Christ’s birth. It can distract you from what really matters. So this Christmas, don’t hold back. Even if you still feel pain from something LAST Christmas, jump fully in. Surrender completely to the Lord, and prepare for His coming with joy and hopeful expectation. Keep in mind the words of Mary after finding out she was to be a mother “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38). She was scared. She was unsure what was coming next, except for one thing: God was with her. And that was enough. Whatever happens THIS Christmas, we have the same promise. God will be there, and Christ is coming. And that is cause for one heck of a no-holds-barred, Christmas morning as a kid, we made the playoffs, kind of celebration.  

Last Christmas (Monday)

Have you ever had a broken heart?  I don’t mean just romantically, though that’s the broken heart this song is talking about, but there are other ways your heart could be broken like the loss of a friendship or the change in what you thought your life plan was supposed to be.  Whatever it was, you probably know what I mean when I say it’s excruciatingly painful – the type of thing you wouldn’t wish on The Grinch before his transformation.  Hopefully, you also know that it gets better. (If you don’t know that, consider this your standing invitation to come talk with any of us at Wesley about it.)  That being said, this song makes me think of the heartbreak God feels when we give Him our heart one day and take it away the next day.  Insert the story of Hosea.  Hosea is an old testament prophet that God instructed to marry a prostitute. And so Hosea did and he loved her like crazy.  But, she cheated on him time and time again and every time Hosea was heartbroken.  But, God told him to go get her back.  Hosea 3:1 says

Then God ordered me, “Start all over: Love your wife again,

   your wife who’s in bed with her latest boyfriend, your

       cheating wife.

Love her the way I, God, love the Israelite people,

   even as they flirt and party with every god that takes their fancy.”

We are told countless times throughout scripture that our God is a jealous God. He wants all of us and when we split our love or gifts or make other things more important than Him that breaks his heart.  Not because He doesn’t want us to be happy or enjoy life, but because he knows that the love He is offering us is will bring so much more joy than the cheap imitation we get from other sources.  Plus, if we truly love God like we say we do, why would we put Him through the pain of heartbreak over and over again?  In what ways did I give my heart away to something other than God?  This Christmas, to save God (and me) from tears, I’ll give it to someone special (aka Jesus).

Away in a Manger (Friday)

I love Thee, Lord Jesus

Look down from the sky

And stay by my cradle

‘Til morning is nigh

 

Be near me, Lord Jesus

I ask Thee to stay

Close by me forever

And love me, I pray

 

I love that verse so much.  Despite being a touch too tone deaf to sing it prettily, I’ve always found the music and the words to be calming and really put me in the Christmas mood.  The way it asks Jesus to stay with us until morning always brings to my mind the verse that says “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  While it’s so sweet to ask Jesus to stay close to us, this verse is providing details on exactly how to make that happen.  You see it starts with the ask. Like in the song, our actions invite Jesus into our hearts in lives.  We must willingly draw near to Him to recognize that He is always close by and loving us.  The verse I mentioned before is James 4:8 and the passage around it provides a little more insight into how exactly we can draw near to Jesus.  The message version of James 4: 7- 10 says,

“So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.”

As we celebrate Advent on Sunday and the coming time when Jesus came to be literally near us, I felt really challenged by this passage.  Where in my life do I need to yell no to Satan? In what ways can I adjust my routine and habits to get serious about drawing close to Jesus? How can I say a quiet yes to God in more ways than just seeing this song?

 

p.s. If you’re feeling like being convicted today, the rest of James 4 also has some more specific tips and wisdom regarding this issue.  You can check it out here 🙂

Away In a Manger (Wednesday)

toronto raptors applause GIF

by Hannah Alford

During the Christmas season, people get wrapped up and stressed out over the gift-giving and material part of Christmas, but sometimes we need to go back to our roots. In the Christmas carol “Away in a Manger” we see how Jesus came from nothing, just a baby in a stable filled with animals…

“Away in a manger no crib for a bed

The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head”

The Christmas season is not just presents, Christmas trees, and Santa; it’s a day for us to remember all God’s glory that he brought to the world when Jesus was born. It is a reminder of how something so small, has the potential for great and wonderful things. So take time out of this Christmas season, and think about all the blessings you have and really try to see God’s glory around you every day. “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’” (Luke 2:13-14) It may not be as obvious as a host of angels singing praise in blinding light (although that would awesome if it was) but it’s there and sometimes it just takes a few minutes out of your day in quiet prayer and meditation to begin to see it.

Away in a Manger (Monday)

by Ruth Hallstead

You’ve eaten the turkey, stuffing (or dressing?), cranberry sauce, maybe some pie… and now you’re back on campus. It was great to see family, or maybe just hang out with friends over the break. But classes resume today and it’s crunch time. Project deadlines loom, finals are rapidly approaching, and before you know it you’ll be home (again, or maybe for the first time since summer). In the hectic three weeks ahead of us, it’s easy to forget why we have a break. The babe is “away in the manger”. While Christmas music, decorations, and sales surround us, we can quickly get caught up in the materialistic side of Christmas. When this happens, it’s time to take a break and bring it back to the Lord. We learned about Bold Prayers a few weeks ago, and how powerful starting the day with prayer can be. When school starts to overwhelm us, or when we lose track of Christ in the flurry of the “holiday” season, prayer becomes increasingly important. Prayer allows us to center ourselves, and bring the focus back to where it should have been all along. So in the next few weeks, as you begin to drown under the stress/excitement of projects, tests, shopping, and seeing your family; swim back to the surface. Take a deep breath, and in that moment, pray. Do that as often as necessary, even if your prayer is no more than a word or short phrase, or a scrap of scripture. Additionally, try to set aside a time (even if it’s five minutes while you walk to class) to pray with purpose throughout the day, and remember, “Do not worry about anything, but pray about everything” (Phil. 4:6)

You’re Welcome (Friday)

disney how far i'll go GIF by Moana

In Moana, the titular character ventures out to the real world, despite her dad’s fears of danger.  Sometimes, when I look into the real world I feel scared of the danger out there.  I mean, the news is overwhelming and, honestly, the world is kind of a mess. (Wade even preached on it at the beginning of the year. Check it out here.)  But, Moana was sent on a mission, much like we are, to try to return love to the world. In that journey, Maui wants her to be thankful for his help.  Unfortunately for her, he also caused all her problems.  Lucky for us, we are a bit more fortunate in our God.  Not only will he guide us, but we get to say thank you for so many things, not the least of which is knowing how the story ends.  As Romans 12:28-29 says, “28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”  SO, yeah the world is in chaos.  Sometimes, it seems like our mission is too dangerous and too difficult and it’s hard to find reasons to be thankful in the midst of that.  But, we know how the story ends.  Disney always has a happily ever after and in the very end our God’s kingdom cannot be shaken – that’s a few pretty good reasons to be thankful.