Well, the most wonderful - I mean the most frantic - time of the year is upon us...December!
When I was a child, I LOVED December. There were Christmas parties, decorations, lights, music, the smell of evergreens and Christmas cookies baking, and the almost unbearable anticipation of waiting for Christmas morning. In all these exciting childhood memories, however, the ones that stand out most are of the simple Christmas pageant at church and the beautiful candlelit Christmas Eve service. Even as a very small child, I could sense the holiness of the birth of Jesus in these moments. Pondering this miraculous event was intoxicatingly wonderful, as if heaven was appearing on earth for a moment. And it was.
At the front of the church, an old creche was reverently displayed. I loved when mom or dad took me to see it up close. Made of wood and filled with straw, an electric light bathed the holy family with a golden glow that seemed almost magical. I'm sure I must have touched the straw to make sure it was real! Time was spent studying the faces of the shepherd and the wise men. Time was spent quietly beholding the scene in silent wonder. The advent season leading up to Christmas was never a stressful time. It was a time of quiet adoration. December passed slowly because every day was a day of preparing to celebrate the Lord's birth.
Unfortunately, December has not been quite so reverent since I've grown up. Instead of drawing near to the Lord, the Advent season has become more of a marathon of finding and purchasing gifts, decorating, and preparing for gatherings of friends and family. For me, December is also the busiest time of year for my ministry. Waiting? Pondering? Worshiping? Beholding? There is no time for that!
But this year is different. My husband bought an old manger scene on Ebay. It's not fancy like the one in my childhood, and it has Spanish moss instead of straw, but it still stirs my heart in childlike wonder. Handel's "Messiah" plays in the background as I write tonight. Candles are lit, and the fire is glowing. Together, my husband and I are pausing to listen, to worship, to wait upon God, and most of all, to behold Him, and it's wonderful.
This act of beholding is all about stopping to spend time in the Lord's presence simply pondering what happened in a little town called Bethlehem over two thousand years ago. The word "behold" means to, "fix the eyes upon, to see with attention, or to observe with care." Beholding the Lord is not lack of action. Beholding Him in worship is the most active thing we can do with our time! It's a choice to keep the eyes of our hearts on the Lord above all the busyness going on around us and all the worries and fears that threaten to consume us.
And here's the miracle! As I have set aside time to read the Scriptures, to pray and just to rest in the presence of the Lord, my heart is becoming like the little manger scene - still, holy, and glowing. Out of that gentle peace, my daily tasks are finished with more ease than before. My mind is quiet and clear, and plans are made without confusion or strife. Seflishness has given way to selflessness as I look for opportunities to give to those around me each day. Day by day, I ask the Lord to show me how I can prepare my heart to receive more of His love and to be changed by that love. Ah, the childlike simplicity of not striving, just beholding!
My friend, I hope you, too, are inspired to leave behind the chaos and materialism that the world has made of Christmas. Instead, this year, create space in your schedule, in your mind, and in your heart for the Lord to be born anew! Pause and behold the wonder of Christ with us, Emmanuel!
"Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11)