All the ho ho ho-ing and season’s greetings, Christmas carols, crowded malls and grocery stores, packed restaurants and TV commercials promised happiness and warm fuzzy feelings, a Christmas of unsullied glee. Even the angel’s song, quoted in Luke, promised peace on earth. We had so much to look forward to as we decorated trees and hung wreaths, baked cookies and wrapped gifts. So what happened? Where is all the peace on earth?
Why do we still have a world in which two police officers are murdered as they sit in their squad car? What do we say to their children when they open the last gifts they will ever receive from their father?
What about the families of the school children slaughtered in Pakistan to make a political statement?
The ones beheaded by crazed Isis militants for refusing to deny Jesus, the one whose birth was meant to bring peace?
The ones who have lost a child or spouse to disease or accident?
The ones whose children died too young, live with grave disabilities, or never lived at all?
The one who doesn’t even have someone to grieve?
The one whose family has been desecrated by joblessness, abuse, unfaithfulness or addiction?
What do we do with all the broken pieces of our world, and our lives?
I can only see the manger as the portal to joy if I see the empty cross standing high above.
The child who began with a bed of straw became the man who ended with a crown of thorns.
It is a strange, seemingly twisted reality: He died to conquer the darkness.
He rose as king, opening the door for each of us to pass through the valley of the shadow of death into marvelous light.
My earthly heart still feels pain, and my earthly eyes still see darkness,
but my heart knows the wonder of the manger.
Beyond the stable, beyond the hills of Judea, and beyond that cross
The neighborhood is so dark in January. When I walk my dog at night, I miss the sparkle of Christmas lights on houses. I miss the bright warmth of Christmas trees shining through windows.Most of all, I miss the soft glow of the manger scene, the gleam on the faces of the shepherds and wise men. But is it more than light in a dark room that I miss? Could it be the innocence and purity of that scene?
After all, when the wise men left, Joseph was warned in a dream to take the child to Egypt. As they slipped away in the night, Herod sent his soldiers to kill all male children in Bethlehem under the age of two.
The dark world, full of pain and hurt, seemed to quickly absorb the light.
As I face the hurt or pain in my life, and in those I love, I could easily slip under the weight of darkness.
My child and grandchildren are going through a painful experience. My mother sinks further every day into her own dark world of dementia, yet still painfully aware of what she is losing. My sister has suffered months with undiagnosed misery. My brother went for what we’d hoped was an easily treatable cancer, only to find it much more daunting, and he faces many weeks of radiation and chemo.
I am certain you have your own list, pockets of pain or hopelessness. Prayers too long uttered. Joy so slow in coming.
Oh yes, the darkness is very present. Always threatening to overcome the light.
But we can’t stay at the manger. That was just the beginning. It was only a glimpse of the light.
In the strangest twist, it took the greatest darkness of all, that manger-child growing into a man and allowing himself to be nailed to a wooden crossbar and hoisted up, for the cruelest death the Romans could produce, all the fury of hell thrown at one body. The blackness of death. And three days. Three long days and nights of darkness. Loss. Hopelessness.
Then morning came — the day we’ll celebrate months from now, with odd objects like bunnies and colored chicks and baskets of candy – and with the Dawn of Morning Light came the light that overcame the darkness.
What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out. John 1:4-5 The Message
We won’t find what we need longing for a warmer, more secure time. Nor in turning away, ignoring the pain, or anesthetizing the pain with food or busyness — whatever the drug of choice. Not waiting for a better future, the someday when everything will be right.
The light we long for is either present, here, now, or it isn’t powerful enough for all that we face.
In another strange twist, we don’t run after the light. The light finds us. We look around, and see.
God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace. Luke 1: 78-79
Each time His light flashes into our lives, illuminating the way like a crack of lightning, our certainty grows. Over the years, every experience builds our story, within His story.
Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him. II Corinthians 3: 16-18
So if the darkness is pressing in, if your road is through the gloom, even through the valley of the shadow of death, don’t lose heart.
I’ve heard his voice. I’ve seen the light enough times to know it is there, even when I can’t see it.
At times, we have to sit in the shadows, wait for the story to play out. But in the fullness of time, he will appear. Watch for the light.
We couldn’t be more sure of what we saw and heard—God’s glory, God’s voice. The prophetic Word was confirmed to us. You’ll do well to keep focusing on it. It’s the one light you have in a dark time as you wait for daybreak and the rising of the Morning Star in your hearts. II Peter 1:19 The Message
What kind of darkness has pursued you?
How have you been surprised by the light?
January 6 is Epiphany, a day celebrated by Christians throughout the world, focusing on the wise men who traveled a long way, following a star. When they found Jesus, they knelt before the infant king with their gifts. What did he give them? What did they carry away in their hearts? Since they listened to the angel’s warning and returned to their homes without telling Herod where to find Jesus, they must have gained something far stronger than their fear of Herod’s soldiers.
What did you seek at the manger this Christmas?
Can you hear the angels singing,
Grace revealed that holy night?
Light to brighten all our darkness
All our wrongs He will make right.
Come and creep up to the manger.
God in human form now lays.
Hear him whisper that he’ll love you
Through-out heav’n’s eternal days.
Drawing closer to Jesus — that is where real life begins.
Go on back to the manger, and listen for those whispered words.
He says, “I love you.“
“I knit you together in your mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13)
“I have called you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
“For I know the plans I have for you“(Jeremiah 29:11)
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)
As I began to type those verses, I was amazed at how they flowed. Love-words I found planted in my mind, sinking through the years ever deeper into my spirit.
When I was six, my grandmother promised me a dime for every verse I memorized — a lot of money, for her and for me!
Of course, I started with the shortest verse, “Jesus wept” John 11:35. Many times since, this verse has reminded me of his compassion, his understanding of our pain.
Later I learned: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.“ (Hebrews 4:15-16)
We lived with my grandmother for five months when I was in the fourth grade. I joined the Pioneer Girls at Ocean City Baptist Church. “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path,” was their motto. Verses I memorized for badges, and love poured into me by the leaders, prepared me to receive Jesus the next summer when I stayed with my grandmother after my brother died. The following week I dedicated my life to serve as a missionary.
Years later, when I finally made it to the foreign mission field in Honduras, I began to memorize verses in Spanish. In another language, they are stored in a different place in the brain, and for me, in the heart as well. So the Word went deeper.
After eight years, we returned to the States and suffered culture shock and depression. In a Navigator’s training class in Salt Lake City, founded on scripture memorization, I began to get back on my feet.
The Gospel of John starts, “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was God…..” Drawing near to Jesus begins with our experience of God becoming real in our lives, as the wise men at the manger, and grows as we get to know the living Word.
So I want to encourage you to take in the Word. Yes — memorize it.
I know from facilitating Beth Moore Bible studies that many feel they can’t memorize. We are all busy, and often time and sleep deprived. One more thing to do isn’t how we want to start the year.
But if we want more of Jesus, The Living Word, then honestly seeking him and having his words in our minds helps him to transform our lives.
For me, music is tied to worship, such as the verse above I wrote for Christmas to add to the song “Here is Love.” Music is a great way to learn scriptures. So, if you’re like me, find a song, or put a tune to the verse you’re learning. It could be your spoon full of sugar.
If you think you’re a hopeless cause, Ann Voskamp has come up with Scripture Memorization for the Rest of Us: The Jesus Project. Click on it at the bottom and read her blog. She even offers downloads of beautifully designed memory verses.
With so much I could have said today, I hesitated to talk about memorizing Bible verses, because it can be just another must-do, or mechanical, or even something to pump up our pride, or to hide from pain. (We’ve probably all known someone who could quote the Bible, but behaved in a way we certainly don’t want to follow.)
But if we read, learn and mull over the Word of God because we are hungry for The Word who is God, to bring real life into us, that’s where the treasure is.
When I want to know how much air to put in my tires or what kind of antifreeze I need, I consult my car’s owner’s manual. If I want to bake a cake, I consult a cookbook (now, often virtual). And when I’m designing a new garden bed, I study the soil, micro-climate and plant needs.
Would we be wise to do less with our lives? Dig into your owner’s manual and plant some of that wisdom in your mind. (Sorry for all the mixed metaphors.)
If your life needs a jump-start, transformation, healing or simply more guidance, then I encourage you to seek more of Jesus, however you want to come.
“In the presence of a king, don’t ask for small gifts. He is God!” Charles Swindoll, Insight for Living, 30 Dec 2013
My New Year’s Prayer for you:
I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength! Ephesians 1:17-19 (MSG)