Wait Right There…

pregnant-mary

These days, if I like a song, I download it immediately. There’s no waiting to go to the mall to buy the cd. We watch shows on DVR or On Demand. If I’m ordering an item online, two days seems like a reasonable delivery time…any longer of a wait is quite pesky. If I miss a loved one, I can instantaneously exchange words via text or even Facetime. I am quite thankful for these wonderful technologies that make life easy and on-demand. But, my need for instant gratification is only being fed more and more. Instant gratification rules the lives of my children. We don’t have to wait long for much of anything anymore. But waiting is good for the soul. Waiting builds anticipation and increases appreciation.

Advent is a precious season of expectant waiting – a time ripe for longing for a God who was made man, in the form of a helpless babe. In the sixth month of her pregnancy, the Angel Gabriel appeared to young Mary and told her that she was pregnant with the Son of the Most High. Can you even imagine what those last three months of her pregnancy must have felt like as she waited for this mysterious God-Child? What would the God-Baby look like? How can God even become human? She must have worried about how she could ever live up to expectations as His mother?! Then, Jesus was born. Shepherds and Wise Men (Magi) visited. They spread the word that, truly, the Savior…the Messiah…the Lord had been born to an unwed virgin in a manger. No pressure, Mary – you just have to raise this God-Child to adulthood.

Then, thirty plus years pass as she waits to see how her son, the Son of God, is going to be a Savior. Oh my, can you imagine the waiting? Do you think she ever nagged him? “Jesus, it’s wonderful you are a carpenter like your dad and all, but aren’t you ready to step it up? You’re almost thirty now.” I can’t imagine her wait, her anticipation.

Each Advent, we have the opportunity to wait. We wait for the celebration of the birth of Christ. I was recently struck by this particular version of “O Come Emmanuel” by Allen Levi, Ed Cash, and Bebo Norman that I have loved for almost twenty years now. The lyrics and the slow, almost hopefully somber tune capture our desperate need and hopeful expectation for the arrival of our Lord – Emmanuel, God with us. This hopeful waiting captures the essence of Advent.

“Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel.”

And even though we are still waiting during advent, we sing:

 “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel. Shall come to you, O Israel!”

In this first week of advent two thousand and sixteen years after Christ was born, we still wait. Because waiting is good for the soul. Yet we also rejoice; for the Light of the World has come to shatter the darkness. I think I might wait until Christmas Day to belt out this fabulous version “Joy to the World” this year. It’s going to feel good. Because some things are just worth waiting for.

We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
even as we put our hope in you. –Psalm 33:20-22

*You can download these beautiful versions of “Oh, Come Emmanuel” and “Joy to the World” on iTunes here.

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Wait Here to be Called

 

Mary and Gabriel

I don’t like to wait. I don’t like to wait in lines at amusement parks. I don’t like to wait in the carpool lane at school. I don’t like to wait to be seated at restaurants. Our kids can’t wait to open their Christmas presents. I can’t wait for the magic of Christmas Eve. And to be completely honest, sometimes, I can’t wait for all of the holiday craziness to be over, so we can get back to our routine.

Yet, the Christmas season, particularly Advent, is a season of waiting. The focus of the Advent season, of course, is to prepare for and celebrate the birth of Jesus…and anticipate Christ’s return. Advent reminds us of the importance of waiting.

This past Sunday at church, we lit the third Advent candle, symbolizing joy. Yet, our pastor acknowledged all of the pain in this world. Friends are grieving the loss of loved ones. We are heartbroken by the inexplicable violence and terror in our society. We feel the darkness when lives seem broken beyond repair. In the midst of this season of both joy and pain, we were reminded by our pastor of the words of David, who faithfully sang to the Lord, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent…” Psalm 30:11-12.

During Advent, we are waiting on the birth of Emmanuel – ‘God With Us’…A God who not only lived and died among us, but a God who promises to be with us in the middle of our joys and our pains. We wait with a spirit of hope. We wait, with faith, for a God who brings peace to our hearts in the greatest times of pain and can even turn our wailing into dancing. When we wait on the Lord, we ultimately put our hope in something greater than our circumstances. Psalm 27:14 encourages us to wait in hope: Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”

We also wait for God to guide us throughout our lives. I once saw an airport sign that said, “Wait Here To Be Called.Wait Here To Be Called”  I chuckled to myself thinking it would be nice if it was that easy. We wait for our calling – to be a spouse, to be a parent, to find the right job or career – to be used by God in some unique way. We wait, not knowing how or when God will answer. Psalm 37:7 reminds us to be patient, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…”

Whether or not we like it, we spend much of our time waiting – waiting for the next stage of life, waiting to feel God’s call, waiting for the pain of death and the pain of sin in the this broken world to lessen. We wait for heaven. We wait for Christ’s return.

The airport sign made me think a lot about waiting on God.

But perhaps instead waiting to be called, our calling is to wait!

God asks us to wait patiently in hope and expectation because He can heal our hearts, give us peace beyond understanding, and clothe us with great joy. So, this advent season…enjoy the wait.

The Angel, Gabriel, rocked young Mary’s world with inconceivable news of an unplanned child. The life she had been waiting for would look entirely different than she could have ever imagined. Gabriel told her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; God loves you dearly.” (Luke 2:30 PHILLIPS).

And the same is for you as we celebrate Advent.

Do not be afraid; God loves you dearly.

The Thief of Joy

The Elf on the Shelf

The lines have been drawn. Which side are you on? If you are a mother of young children, or if you know any young families, you may have heard of The Elf on the Shelf. Less than a week has passed this Christmas season, and I have heard more mention of the infamous Elf than Jesus and Santa Claus combined. Not bad for a newcomer in an ancient tradition.

It seems that some moms embrace the Elf with gusto. The Elves in these particular families play funny pranks and show off naughty deeds like spreading flour all over the counter or removing ornaments from the Christmas tree. I recently learned of a creative Elf who is encouraging his family to do good deeds and acts of love. The parents of ‘creative’ Elves often enjoy posting pictures of their Elf’s shenanigans on Facebook or Instagram.

Then, there are the Elf haters. These parents have decided that the Elf is annoying, creepy and unnecessary. The camp of the Elf haters is most definitely growing. These parents enjoy slamming the Elf on the Shelf on Facebook. But, I have to wonder, do these folks express their distaste for the Elf on social media because they carry a bit of guilt that their Elf is not quite as exciting and creative? Are they annoyed that they feel pressure to have their Elf be more ‘fun’?

You see, when it comes down to it, I think Santa knows exactly what he is doing. He sends the ‘fun’ Elves to families who thrive on creativity, pranks, and imagination. To these families, I say, let your (inner) Elf run wild. And he sends ‘laid-back’ Elves to families who don’t quite have the creative juices or emotional or physical capacity to pack one more detail in their days. That’s the kind we got. Our Elf, Bell, is a charming little guy. However, he is fairly simple. He shows up in a new spot each day, keeps an eye on the kids’ behavior, and reports back to Santa each night. Not many shenanigans.  I don’t want him setting bad examples for my hooligans. I just hope he isn’t telling Santa how often I lose my cool!

When it comes down to it, I think we should make peace with the inner-Elf we have been given. If creative parents thrive on a ‘fun’ Elf, let’s not make them feel badly about their efforts. For us less creative or too exhausted parents with a ‘laid-back’ Elf,  let’s celebrate the Elf that we have. No need to get your panties in a wad about other people’s Elves. Because you know what, comparison is the thief of joy.

In a season that boasts the phrase, “joy to the world,” let’s encourage each other to find our own joys. And let others have theirs. If your joy is in Jesus, celebrate the birth of our King. If your joy is in your family, take as much time as possible this Christmas season to just be together. If your joy is in the traditions of the season, blow up that front yard Santa and put those stockings by the chimney. I expect all of these sources of joy are appealing to most of us. That’s why the ‘hap-happiest season of all’ has been sung about my many artists as ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

The key here is to not compare oursELVES with our neighbors. Because we’ll never find our true joy there. The reason comparison steals our joy is that by comparing ourselves with others, we will ultimately be annoyed by them or green with envy. And who wants to be the grinch?!  Even without realizing it, I fall into this pit of comparison and am oppressed by these emotions of being annoyed or envious daily. Whether or not you have an Elf on the Shelf in your house, let’s all find ways this holiday season to find our own joy and celebrate those of each other.

It does me good to focus on the actual ‘the reason for the season’. We should take heart in knowing that Jesus, our God who was born as a tiny baby to two nervous first-time parents, came so that we may have eternal joy. And it’s helpful to remember that for many people, it’s not the most wonderful time.  This season can be painful for some.  No matter the sorrows we face in this tough, hard, prejudiced, sin-filled world – He will come again. If we just put our hope in Him, our hearts will rejoice, and no one will be able to take our joy away. In the meantime, we are told that if we ask, according to the will of God, our joy will be full.

This Christmas, I’m all about ‘joy to the world’. But that seems like a lot of pressure, so I’m gonna start by focusing on our family. I’d like to teach my kids how the original Sinterklaas*, good ol’ Saint Nick, actually focused on giving, not getting. I think my little rugrats are ready for that. And, I’m asking God for a simple time of celebration. Bell, our Elf, is welcome to watch from whichever spot he has chosen to perch himself for the day. He just better not get in my way.

“There’ll be much mistltoeing
And hearts will be glowing
When loved ones are near
It’s the most wonderful time
It’s the most wonderful time
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
– written by George Wyle and Eddie Pola

*I’m a big fan of a book our Nana recently gave us.  If you want a good explanation to share with the kids for the combination of the traditions of Santa and Jesus, check it out: Buck Denver asks…Why Do We Call It Christmas? The Real Story Behind The Holiday by Phil Vischer (the Veggie Tales dude)