“It’s the season of mothers!” the bright pink ad declared. I smiled. Well, maybe I smirked. In my mind, I was editing. Perhaps it is a season to celebrate mothers, I thought, but there is no such thing as a season of mothers. Motherhood is a vocation — a holy calling — and it is the call of a lifetime, not limited to society’s little box. It’s not an item for a list of life goals. It’s not just another endeavor to pursue. It’s the beckoning of the Holy Spirit to a path of sanctity. It’s an invitation to create a haven for a family where souls are nurtured and God is known. With motherhood, comes the call to create home. I think that Mother’s Day might herald the beginning of the “season of home” for women.
It has been a too-short Advent. I can’t quite find my rhythm. Every day, I make my list, and every day, I scratch things off (unfinished) or move them to another day. A growing sense of urgency with this system, I am aware that there are fewer days this year than most. Eventually, I cannot move items forward. Time is running out
Advent is urgent. Hurry! It’s coming! There is a pressing message to pursue joy, to run after it so that on Christmas Day it will settle upon your house and bathe everyone in twinkly lights and cozy experiences that become cherished memories. In a culture where most Christmas parties take place before Dec. 25, anticipatory joy has become the joy. Clearly, though, the “joy of office parties” is not the deep, resounding joy of the Gospel.
But is time really running out on this season? We spend Advent in a flurry of the joy of anticipating joy, then the day of the beautiful feast comes, and then what? For many of us, there is a post-Christmas let down. Cookies have been baked, presents opened, guests come and gone. Then, it’s just over. The twinkly lights fade to gray, and winter gloom settles on wrinkled wrapping paper and cookie crumbs.
In truth, though, the Christmas season begins with Christmas. You can claim a season of extended joy for yourself. Further, in the quiet of Christmas night, you can see more clearly into the joy of the new year.
There is more joy. It’s far from over. Joy is not the revelry of festive cocktails and little black dresses and presents perfectly wrapped. True joy is the gift of unmerited grace.
True joy is knowing that even if you moved things along on your Advent list until you ran out of days and left them unfinished, a Baby was born — the God who created you — who will complete the good work He has begun in you (Phil 1:6).
Often, our Advent days are filled with so much merry-making, there’s not a lot of room left for Christ. The days after Christmas unfurl wide and unencumbered and ask us to invite Him in for the season and then to extend His stay into the year that waits.
As the vigil lights are lit on Christmas Eve, joy has just begun. Love is born. He brings power — a power not of men or women, but of God. It is an infinite power that is not bound by calendar days or tick marks on to-do lists. It seeps into the hard spaces of tricky human relationships and it fills the gaps of less-than-ideal communication. Love is the light for the dark days that does not rely on extension cords or replacement bulbs long sold out at Home Depot.
This is joy about which we must be intentional. We have to fight for it. Under house arrest, St. Paul exhorts us to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.” Far from the comfort of a Christmas tree and freshly unwrapped presents, he knew we’d struggle to find and keep our joy.
Christian life is both present joy and anticipatory joy. It is knowing now that we are loved beyond measure by a God who delights in us, and knowing that He wants nothing more for our lives than to bring us to Him in heaven. Life is Advent before paradise.
We can reclaim the season of Christmas, using those days to steep in the miracle of Christ’s birth. One day, there will be no let down after joyous events. One day, joy will be complete and eternal. In this, we find the confidence to pursue today’s joy. In this, we abandon all notions of control or merit, even in these last days of Advent when we erroneously behave as if the entire holiday rests upon our work.
It’s not about that work. It’s not about us. It’s about Jesus who came to bring the peace of heaven to sinners who daily fall short of God’s glory. He brings it today, and Christmas day and next year. That’s the joy.
Take a deep breath and exhale. Time stretches before you, full of joy to be claimed. Let the future joy of heaven overflow into the here and now of this December life and into the new year.
It was the day after Thanksgiving, still early in the morning. The question caught me off guard.
“How’s your joy?”
Out of the blue, and not at all the usual morning conversation, I asked for the question to be repeated.
“How’s your joy?”
Tears spilled, unwelcome, in silence, down my cheeks. It seems a little ridiculous now, and I’m sure fatigue was a factor, but two other things were happening in that moment. I was struggling with the waves of emotion this season brings, and I was astonished that someone was taking inventory of my joy. Someone cared about my joy.
Advent and Christmas are not always joy-filled, happy seasons. For many people, they come with heavy emotional baggage, tightly wound with twine of guilt and doubt and fear. ‘Tis the season of perfectionism and performing for love. ‘Tis the season of reconciling all the memories of falling short, of looking for love and not finding it, of dashed dreams. People bring a whole lot sadness into the season of joy.
Despite the ubiquitous commercials hawking diamonds and luxury cars wrapped in enormous red ribbons, this is the season set aside for reflecting on how God met the broken and the imperfect and the sorrowful, and became Hope Incarnate. Joy Divine. It is the season of gifts, to be sure, but there is no need to buy a bow that is more expensive than Christmas dinner. The real gift of the season is the Giver. The gift is God. He is the one who looks upon the broken and the broken-hearted and tenderly binds the real wounds — the ones that spill into tears the morning after Thanksgiving.
It’s such a simple question: how’s your joy?
We try so hard. We want to be competent and nurturing and creative and self-donating. We want to be all the things we know we were created to be. But we also want to be noticed and appreciated and cherished. More than any other time of the year, this is when women knock themselves out trying — trying to be all the things to all the people, and trying to capture the elusive “Christmas magic” and make it our own.
It’s not magic.
Grace is already ours to have, and with the grace, comes the joy. We think so much about presents this time of year. We have our lists and our budgets and our heartfelt desires to buy the perfect thing, to give the perfect package. Deep down, we really long to be given the perfect package as well. The truth is that there is no bow for the gift He gives, and His gifts are the only perfect ones.
What we really want, sometimes without knowing it, is to be wholly loved by God. The reality is, we already have that gift, but often, we don’t recognize it. He gives us Himself and with that sacrificial gift, He saves us for Himself. Tenderly, He lifts our chins and wipes the tears from our cheeks. He sees our pain — sees the scars of sad Christmases past, sees the broken pieces of shattered human relationships, and sees the tired shuffle of people striving under their own power. He sees it all and it’s in the broken sorrow that He makes His presence known.
This is the season of presence, not presents (though I don’t suggest you leave those out altogether). It is the season of sitting in God’s presence and letting Him present Himself to us. It’s the season of filling ourselves with Him — inhaling His grace. Then, we can be truly present to one another, blowing the breath of peace over our people, whispering genuine joy into the December craziness.
Though never perfect, we are the best gift to one another when we are like Christ. There is joy in presence. Be still with God, then bring that still, steady hope to your corner of the world. And somewhere along the way, in the busy of your days, ask someone, “How’s your joy?”
Slow down and hear the response. Be present and share the gift of Christ.
At Take Up & READ, we are so pleased to offer you this labor of love! When you study Stories of Grace this autumn, invite your children to come alongside you. There are two versions of our children's study. In both versions, you will find the same scripture for each day of the women's version. Then, there are some wondering questions for you and your child to ponder together. Later, while you're journaling, children of all ages have room to write their hearts, too. In the primary version, the questions are simpler and the lines are larger. In the big kids' version, upper elementary children have a chance to do some pretty detailed lectio divina, appropriate for the age. Together, you can memorize the same verses and your children will have the same beautiful calligraphy pages to inspire their Scripture memory work as you do. And, there are puzzles you can all work on together (or your whiz kid can solve before you do;-).
The team at Take Up & READ loves knowing that this book and these children's journals will find their way into your home this fall and we can all listen closely to the stories Jesus told and hear Him with our hearts.
In Stories of Grace, you will find thirty-one days of Jesus' stories carefully collected for you. Along the way, we've provided meditation essays, journaling prompts, space for your notes and drawings, beautiful calligraphy pages, and prayers we will pray with you.
A free children's version of Stories of Grace will be available to download at Take Up & READ very soon.
A free Group Study Guide is available as a companion to the Stories of Grace journal. Gather a group and study together. You can access the group guide here.
The 7x10, beautifully designed, 148-page book offers more than 4 weeks of Scripture readings.
This book includes:
• Scripture readings for every day and notes for further reading in your Bible.
• Devotional essays for each reading
• Prompts for you to ponder as you listen to the Holy Spirit
• Beautiful, hand-drawn calligraphy throughout
• Ample space for journaling and note taking and some doodling, too.
Join us at Take Up & Read this autumn and lean in to hear Jesus share the mysteries of grace.