12 Gifts of Christmas / 7th Gift – Rest

 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29

Our plane had finished climbing to 30,000 feet and the pilot quietly announced that we were now free to move about the cabin, but my eyes were still tightly closed in prayer. No – I wasn’t just being religious – I was really terrified of flying! But on a six hour flight it is hard to pretend that you are sleeping for very long. When eventually, I opened my eyes, I noticed a young Chinese man seated across from me, gazing out his window in delight. We struck up a conversation and I learned that he was coming from Hong Kong to the United States and that this was his first time on a plane. The difference between His joy of watching the clouds and the scenery lay in stark contrast to my dark fears. Though I truly believed that if I died I would be with Jesus, I was still gripped by anxiety and my neighbor’s obvious joy made me feel ashamed.

He was enjoying the kind of rest that in our hurry towards Christmas, we all need to remember. Maybe we miss God’s purpose of rest because we feel that with any sort of inactivity we might be missing out. But God is at the controls of our lives and has given us complete freedom to move about the cabin and find rest as we delight in seeing where God is taking us on our journey.

We would be a lot more at ease if we remembered that Jesus patiently lingered nine unhurried months in the waiting room of Mary’s womb. Shepherds learned the Good News of great joy as they rested with their flocks. Even after Jesus was born, He rested in the place the Father had put Him while He was growing up in the tiny village of Nazareth.

In fact, Jesus had brothers and sisters with whom He had to share a straw mattress on the floor and eat the same simple family meals that Mary cooked. Never once does the Bible record a complaint, or reveal an attitude of impatience with him. Jesus simply waited for the day when His Father’s work would begin and He rested in the place where he was. Maybe it was there in Nazareth where He was taught to give thanks for bread and fish. While taking care of his chores He learned to wash feet for visitors, celebrate weddings and handle wood and nails. Then He patiently and painfully endured the cross for us, all the while resting in the thought that the end of hIS journey would be perfect. then before the resurrection Jesus rested three long days in the tomb. That same Jesus who could take a nap in a boat in a storm now invites us to also come, put our trust in Him and celebrate rest for our souls forever!

The Return of Jesus

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.           2 Peter 2:12 ESV

Last year the nativity scene at the entrance to our community was hit by raiders who must have decided that it would be a great joke to make off with the baby Jesus, leaving an empty manger. The rest of the Christmas season Mary, and Joseph remained along with a few sheep and camels but the child did not return even for Christmas Eve.

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When December of this year rolled around I looked forward hopefully to a reunited Holy Family. But my hopes were dashed when I saw the same lonely group appear forlornly kneeling around an empty place on the hay. And then this morning Jesus made His appearance. No doubt this Baby in the Manger is firmly anchored and watched over by security cameras.

Just like last year’s manger robbers, some of our lives have been robbed of a Christmas joy and are facing the holiday alone, tired and maybe even bored with the entire ritual. But we have a hope and a far better one than the replica of baby Jesus in a manger scene.  We have God’s promise that just as wise men traveled thousands of miles with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, Jesus has promised to return with His gifts of forgiveness, peace and eternal life. So whether we live alone in an apartment, lie in a hospital bed or are blessed with a loving family: we have hope. Our King will certainly return and when He does He has promised to fill forever that empty place that waits for Him in our hearts.  Nativity

One Christmas Faith

One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in you all. Ephesians 4:5-6 KJV

It’s the Holiday season and everywhere you look there are elves, reindeer and the big guy in the red suit. But without any desire to offend anyone I need to get this off my chest:  I hate Hallmark movies! Okay maybe not all, but how is it possible to produce dozens of Christmas themed films without having a single one about the birth of Christ? I will admit that to their credit at least Hallmark keeps things family friendly for the holidays; but then the question needs to be asked: Just what are we celebrating?

It might feel uncomfortable to insist that Christmas is only about Jesus because it runs counter to our inclusive culture. But Paul makes it crystal clear that real faith is exclusive and unique. If people choose to celebrate Christmas while leaving out Jesus they are completely missing the point. There are not a thousand different ways to get to God: there is only one. We are lost and in need of a Savior and that is why God sent His Son. The verse from the Old Christmas Carol says –

No ear may hear His coming

But in this world of sin

Where meek souls will receive Him still

The dear Christ enters in*

Oh yes there is only one Christmas faith, but the good news is that no matter who we are, what we have done, or what others think of us; if we open our hearts to receive Him; the dear Christ still enters in!

*O Little Town of Bethlehem Lewis Redner 1868