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Are we to achieve or receive Christmas?

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I had a full day of activities planned:   Sunday morning worship, stopping by a friend’s open house, volunteering at the Christmas party through Mosaic Ministries, and attending our church’s Christmas concert.  But the snow starting falling and didn’t stop falling, and I began hearing news of the cancellations and postponements.  Suddenly, my afternoon and evening were wide open.  I was able to receive the gift of a Sunday afternoon nap, the gift of curling up with a good book and a cup of hot tea, and the gift of having the time to make a video of the snow to send to my nephew who lives in Nairobi and for whom snow is very exotic.

This unexpected snow day reminded me of the insight about the Advent season expressed by Craig Barnes, president of Princeton Theological Seminary, in his book “The Pastor as a Minor Poet.”  He asserts that, according to the stories of Jesus’ birth, God is the only one who is giving at Christmas.  The role of everyone else is simply to receive the gift of salvation.  Yet, in all of Craig’s years of ministry, the only ones who understand this are children.  He writes, “I have never had a child come to see me to talk about the stress of the holidays.  They aren’t worried about making it to all the parties, buying the perfect presents, maxing out their credit cards, and travel plans.  As every child knows, the only stress of Christmas is how we possible can wait for it to arrive— the day we receive so much.”

It is easy for adults to get consumed with holiday-related stress and anxiety, and I love Craig’s invitation to become like a child.  Imagine if, in the next week, your only stress was impatience to receive the precious gift that is coming:  the gift of Jesus, our Emmanuel, our Savior, our friend.  Yes, we have much to give this season—giving generously to those in need, giving of our time and talents in service to God and God’s people—but the focus is not on commitments and our activity.  Let us take time to savor God’s graciousness.  Let us find time to rest.  Let us prioritize our time in order to receive the gift of God’s peace.

Craig Barnes writes, “Every day this week you have to decide if you want to achieve your life or receive it.  If you make achieving your goal, your constant companion will be complaint, because you will never achieve enough.  If you make receiving the goal, your constant companion will be gratitude for all that God is achieving in your life.”  May gratitude be ours in abundance as we choose to receive, not achieve, this Christmas season. 

With eagerness for the day when we receive so much in Christ,


Posted by Emily Mitchell with

Emmanuel: God With Us

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Imagine that you are hosting some folks from out of town.  They are old friends, and you are initially excited to have them visit over the holidays.  But eventually you are consumed by all the menu planning, the bending-over-backwards coordination of dogs and kids and sleeping arrangements, and the sheer exhaustion of playing host.  Possibly there is a sigh of relief when they leave, but then you realize that, in your busyness to do things for them, you missed out on spending time with them.   

This is loosely one of the scenarios given in an excellent sermon by Pastor Sam Wells.  The deacons and I watched his message at our retreat in August, and I encourage you to watch it as well because it captures well the truth that, although God does much for us, the God that we see in Jesus is One who chooses to be with us.  (The sermon is 25 minutes long and well worth your time.)  As followers of Christ, our privilege is to pattern ourselves after God and become people who practice the ministry of being with others in love and compassion. 

Our current sermon series is called “Emmanuel:  God with Us,” and each Sunday, we are using a different Christmas carol to help guide us to better understand and celebrate Christ’s coming near us.  I love Christmas carols, and I’m excited to sing them with you in worship to God over the next couple of weeks.  Together, we are anticipating with eagerness the birth of Jesus, when “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14), or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases it, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”  God choose to tabernacle with us, to pitch a divine tent next to us, though we are miserable offenders.  The Lord is that close.  This is extraordinarily good news, and I pray that this Advent season, the Holy Spirit will fill you with faith and hope and wonder anew at the mysterious and glorious nearness of God who took on flesh and became one of us.  Because of love, God desires to be with us. 

Love first,


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