So much fills our senses this time of year. Baubles on trees. Music jingle-jangling through every speaker. And stories of all sizes and skill-sets. From tall tales told by uncles around the table to the newest holiday book on display at the store, from romances set in Pinterest-styled living rooms to bedtime dramas about flying reindeer, stories abound.
But none are as foundational to this season as the one Linus has been telling every year for fifty-seven years. “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field…” (ref. Luke 2:8-14, KJV).
This inaugural chapter of our Advent series finds itself within an ancient yet most alive story that grounds itself in the goodness of God. For since the fall in the Garden of Eden, God has been implementing a plan to redeem what has been torn apart. He’s been working to restore His relationship with us.
As we turn the pages of history to look back at all God has done, our faith builds because we see with fresh eyes just how good He is. We’ll also witness how this perfect plan of His pulls us into the story He is still writing.
Remember: The Bigger Story
Since the saga of Christmas is part of a bigger story–that of redemption, that of God desiring to dwell with His people–it’s good to name the steps He’s been implementing in His great rescue plan.* Turning to early chapters in the story, we see God’s blueprint of redemption revealed through unlikely heroes:
- Noah, through whom God extends redemption to his family of six.
- Abraham, by whom God sets aside a chosen people.
- Moses, through whom God delivers a newborn nation.
- And David, by whom God offers redeeming power to an established nation of millions.
Step by step, the goodness of God seeps through His people at each point of restoration until the main character leaps onto the page.
Even before His arrival, it’s obvious Jesus is different. He is miraculously conceived. His coming is announced by angels. Stars grow brighter and move about to lead some distant magi to Him. And his parents have to travel to another town–when His mother is heavy with child–for a reason only God could control.
His birth is startlingly ‘normal,’ albeit set in a stable. But eight days later, prophecies spoken over Him at the Temple confirm what Mary and Joseph have been told by angelic beings. Then, the holy family has to make a quick escape to Egypt to avoid Herod’s murderous plot against Him. Our hearts race at each turn.
But, when the apostle John describes Jesus as the Word made flesh (John 1:14), we pause. We zoom out a bit to see how this baby’s story fits into the bigger one. Ah, yes.
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
“But you, Bethlehem…
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old….”
“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given…”
We knew this would be the way God’s Redeemer would make His appearance.
Only God can restore the rift separating us from Him. So, since we could not go to Him, He came to us.* (EE) And, that is very good.
Reflect: His Goodness
God’s story gives us many glimpses of His goodness. His provision of manna, quail, and water for the million-plus people wandering a desert–every day for forty years. The conquering of the fortified town of Jericho with walls falling at the sound of trumpets. His saving of Rahab and Ruth. His gift of a child to Hannah. His forgiveness and love of David. The sending of judges and prophets to save His people, again and again.
Never does God’s character change. Nor His goodness wain.
So, at just the right time and perfect place, Jesus steps into our story. That Word made flesh–who tabernacled among us. Human and divine. Teacher and deliverer. Son of man and Son of God. Out of His immense love for us, God sends His only Son not only to dwell with us but to die for us (John 3:16).
The more I read the Old Testament, the more I see God’s enormity. From beginning to end, He extends grace. He enters humanity’s mess. He executes His plan at every stage until this moment we’re reflecting on. Christ’s birth. The Messiah’s arrival.
This baby born in a manger is the gift of all gifts. We don’t even need to unwrap Him to feel His goodness. His love. His peace.
God is so big and so good that I often marvel in my smallness. I can look at a Christmas tree and realize that He knows the number of every needle on every tree, just as He knows how many hairs our heads hold. I can stare at the stars in the sky and sense the stretch of the universe before me. And me, this little speck in the middle of it–yet He knows me. He loves me.
Just as He knows and loves you.
Realign: With Our Redeemer
We carry these remembrances and reflections with us into this busy season–not just for sentimentality’s sake but for a lining up of our hearts with His.
So that we remain in our Redeemer at every moment.
So that we can offer the grace we’ve been given.
So that we share the goodness of God with all who cross our path.
I’ve been praying for holy alignment in my own life for several months now. It started with Beth Moore’s Align study. So, now when I feel myself slipping out of sync with Him–you know, those moments of panic or self-pity–I return to Him. I turn on a worship song and lift my hands in surrender to Him. Or I pull out a written prayer and speak it aloud.** Or I sit in my favorite chair asking the Spirit to help me “recenter my scattered senses” back onto the One I adore.***
Realigning with my Redeemer is making all the difference.
Jesus gave Himself so we could live like Him. Not some people, but all who will believe (John 3:16). Not some of the time, but any time that we’ll align our hearts with His (Ephesians 4:22-24). Not a little bit like Him, but full of His character–every fruit of the Spirit (Galaitans 5:22).
Friends, our Redeemer came to earth to live among us and to make a way, through the pouring out of His atoning blood, for us to dwell with Him. Immanuel, God With Us, beckons us to draw near–to enter this story He is writing in us, about us, and through us and to seek His goodness with every turn of the page.
Heavenly Father, we marvel at your expansive reach–across time and space. How incredible and humbling it is to know that in the midst of all You do and see and know, You see and know and love us. Thank You for your Great Rescue Plan–for going before and making a way for us to be redeemed to You. Lord Jesus, You are the Savior we have been praying for. In our humble hearts You dwell. You are in us; You are for us; You are God With Us, Immanuel. We sit in these truths–right now–allowing the goodness of your presence to permeate our entire beings. Thank You, Jesus. Holy Spirit, we pray that You would continue to be our Helper, our giver of God’s wisdom. In this busy season, we especially ask that You would help us keep our hearts and minds aligned with the Father’s. We ask for eyes to see as He sees and ears to hear as He hears. Then hands to do as He leads. How grateful we are for your indwelling presence. In Jesus’ name, amen.
(inspired by Psalm 139:7-10, Isaiah 14:24, Epic of Eden, Casting Crown’s song “God Is With Us,” Galatians 5:17, John 14:26 , John 17:20-21, Colossians 3:23-24, 2 Timothy 1:14)
- Welcome to Advent! Every year we lean into the four weeks preceding Christmas as a time to remember, reflect, and realign our hearts with our Father in heaven. Advent, meaning ‘arrival of a notable person, thing, or event,’ is meant to help us keep our focus on the coming of Jesus. It’s a season to celebrate the original advent of Christ and anticipate His second arrival. And on this blog we will focus specifically on the ways Jesus is God With Us. I hope you’ll invite a friend to take part with us!
- Rhythms: I love the idea of connecting with God in rhythms–what Eugene Peterson calls “unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:29). Rhythms help us keep moving toward God with practices and a heart posture that move in and out as each day and season allows. For most of us, Advent (aka: the Christmas Season) is so jam packed with plans and to-do’s that our rhythms need to adjust. Rather than let go of all prayers and studies, we can pick up rhythms that fit our pace and place. With this in mind, I’ll suggest one rhythm a week during Advent that I’ll call our Praise Rhythm because the hope is we’ll find creative ways to praise Immanuel as we go about our days.
- Week One Praise Rhythm: Anytime this week you see a poinsettia, immediately offer a praise to Jesus, thanking Him for shedding His blood for your redemption.
- Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
- Christmas music is here, and this playlist is specifically curated for our Advent series, God With Us! Some of the songs capture the overarching theme perfectly while others touch on specific topics we’ll hit each week. But all of the songs anchor us in the reality of what happened that night in Bethlehem all those years ago–Jesus came to earth to dwell among people! What a miracle to celebrate!
- *When I allude to The Great Rescue Plan, I am pulling in the language used by Dr. Sandra Richter from her book Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament.**** I reference her work a lot because IT’S SO GOOD. 🙂
- **There are so many great ‘pre-written’ prayers we can pick up anytime we someone else’s words to help us realign with God’s heart. The Psalms, to name a few. But, one I’ve been going to a lot this past year is Victor Matthew’s “Believer’s Warfare Prayer.” It’s just long enough to break through the muck of my mind and powerful enough to push back all the untruths. Again, so good.
- ***A friend and I jumped into Beth Moore’s study, Align: 31 Days of Prayer Aligned with God’s Desires, this last summer. And wow! About a week into it I really felt my prayers deepening and saw the Word of God fill my prayers. I’m so excited that it’s available again on her site. If you need something to jump start your New Year, grab a friend and do this!
- We’re a flock. We’re a fellowship of believers. We’re a community. Know that you are not alone. You’ll walk these paths with Christ at your side and your sisters hemmed around you.
- As you feel led, share in the comment section. I’d LOVE TO HEAR how the Praise Rhythms help you keep in step with God this season. Do share!
- God’s goodness needs to be shared. One way to do that is to share this site. 😉