final_advent_cover5.jpgAnd a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3: 17 (NIV)

I have a reputation as the over-the-top birthday party girl. Last year, my son turned two, and we had a petting zoo, crafts, face painting, Chik-fil-a, and of course ice cream. I know that I should simplify, and I feel guilty about not, but I have given in. I love it. I love making a huge deal out of his big day. I don’t mind blowing my budget or even decorating fifty cupcakes. I have already started planning for next year’s party, and it is only nine months away.

We make a pretty big deal out of Christ’s birthday too. Stores start putting out decorations right after Halloween. We blow our budgets, we decorate, we send out cards, we cook, we shop, and we overbook our calendars. Sometimes I worry that all the presents and commercialization has cheapened this holiday. That we are so busy that we forget that it is indeed a birth we are celebrating and not that crazy-looking bearded man in a red suit. Every year, I tell myself that I am going to simplify: spend less, commit to less, and rest more. These are valiant resolutions, and occasionally I even keep a few of them. (more…)

final_advent_cover4.jpgThe kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Luke 13:44 (NIV)

As a teacher and a mother, I love to see when kids get it. That light-bulb moment when they understand a concept or when my son discovers something new. You can literally see their minds work, and then their faces light up with excitement. What a joy to discover something new!

One of the most popular and well-known Christmas carols is “Joy to the World.” If you can remember the second line, you realize that the source of that joy is “the Lord has come.” There are several Scripture verses that relate joy to some discovery of Christ. Even before Christ was born, John the Baptist “leaped for joy” in his mother’s womb upon Mary’s greeting (Luke 1:44). The angels revealed the great joy of Christ’s birth to the shepherds (Luke 2:10). Finally, Mary and the disciples were filled with joy upon the discovery of His resurrection (Matthew 28:8 and Luke 10:21). (more…)

final_advent_cover4.jpgThough you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. I Peter 1:8 (NIV)

Every Christmas I try not to miss it, to miss Him. I make it my goal to complete all my myriad tasks in an organized and timely fashion, so when the time comes, I’m serene, peaceful, and ready. I hurry and scurry and plan and prepare, so that when The Moment I’ve set to enjoy Jesus comes, I don’t overlook it.

The truth is I usually still manage to miss it. Every year I fall further behind. More unexpected guests show up, or my Christmas banana bread implodes, and I’ve got to make another batch. When I finally look up from the holiday wreckage, I discover that it’s time to pack up the ornaments, and I haven’t met with Jesus at all. (more…)

final_advent_cover4.jpgFor the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10 (NIV)

Last Christmas, my husband Corbin and I hosted the main course of a progressive dinner. I spent the day cramming every baby swing, rocker, Christmas bin, countless papers and mail, and anything else that would constitute clutter into the garage. The day also included a forty-minute hostage rescue as three-year-old Basden locked herself in the downstairs bathroom, right after five-year-old Hudson proceeded to pull a heavy pewter stocking holder off the mantle onto his forehead, resulting in a purple and blue goose egg. After a full day of cooking, cleaning, setting up Christmas decorations (picture Corbin wrestling with strands and strands of white lights, including splicing wires), and placing tables and folding chairs all over the house, we were finally ready for our guests. (more…)

final_advent_cover4.jpgBut Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:40-42 (NIV)

Last Christmas we entertained family at our house. We served dinner and opened presents. Later while everyone visited, I headed to the kitchen to clean up. There I stood alone with the dirty dishes feeling irritated and resentful. Then I remembered something my sister and I say to keep each other in line; “Stop being a Martha.” With a smile, I put down the dishes and began to enjoy my family along with everyone else. (more…)

final_advent_cover4.jpgSo [the shepherds] hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word . . . and all who heard it were amazed . . . . The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:16-18, 20 (NIV)

The shepherds were no doubt hard workers, but they were nowhere close to the top rung of society in Jesus’ day. Yet, they received their own personal invitation, from angels no less, to go see the Christ child. Scripture does not tell us what expectations the shepherds had, but they were clearly not disappointed because they left glorifying and praising God. After all, can you envision the shepherds’ delight at finding the Christ child exactly as the angels had described?

When I think back over past Christmases, my joy appears to be tied to the expectations that I had. For instance, as a child, I enjoyed Christmas if Santa delivered the gift that I had requested on my wish list. Amazingly, my Santa, a single mom on a tight budget, always came through–even when the gift was a Swatch watch that required her to travel to a city over an hour away. (more…)

final_advent_cover4.jpgEvery good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. James 1:17 (NAS)

Do you wander the aisles aimlessly hoping the right gift will jump off the shelves at you? Or maybe you stare at your budget willing more money to appear because otherwise you don’t know how you will buy gifts for every member of your extended family. Or perhaps you’re trying to decipher what she meant when she said, “You know me and what I like. . . .”

Whether we’re rushing around at the last minute or trying to find a gift for that hard-to-buy-for person, buying gifts at Christmastime can be more stressful than enjoyable. Even once we purchase the gift, the anxiety remains until the receiver opens it and genuinely seems pleased with our selection. How do we retain the joy of gift giving during this busy season? The answer will look different for each person, but here are a few of my thoughts. (more…)