The Same God
Sometimes it’s not about doing. It’s about enjoying. It’s about living in the moment – in the Savior’s arms. It’s about relishing the fact that Faith Alone is what saves. It’s about holding on to the truths about our God. Because no matter how much Christmas seems different this year – way earlier, more expensive, too many places to go – our God NEVER changes. He is the same God that sent us his son as that tiny baby over 2,000 years ago.
Thanksgiving weekend I was honored to present a devotion to a group of women that gathered at our church for our first annual Advent by Candlelight. My good friend Christine shared this idea with us (and planned and coordinated it) and it goes something like this: The Sunday night of Thanksgiving, towards the beginning of Advent, the women gather together for a night of reflection and refreshment. A variety of women in the church are asked to “host” a table, which means they can decorate it however they like, bring a dessert to share, and make nice with the guests. J Some live music by the talent we have locally, a devotion, and some Christmas carols make the night complete. You can see how a church can personalize a night like this. You can also see how this can get pretty girly. But it’s good. The Christmas season demands a lot from women, and it makes sense for us to get together and lift one another up.
At first I was tempted to make my devotion a practical list of to-do’s. We ARE really busy. How can we keep our focus on Jesus during this season? But thankfully, Christine reminded me that it doesn’t always have to be about a checklist. In fact, it probably shouldn’t be. It can just be a night to enjoy. A night to be filled up. And then we can leave and hopefully our cup will be overflowing and it will help us get thru the next few weeks.
Every little bit helps.
So the Holy Spirit directed me in this way – not a to-do list. Just a solid couple of minutes in the word and some reflection on that. I want to share the devotion with you, and maybe God can use it for you too. He certainly spoke to me. And I am so honored that He did.
The devotion is based on the following scripture:
I’ve always loved Christmas. I’m blessed to have grown up with wonderful Christmases. But as I’ve grown older and become a mother to 3 children, Christmas has changed a lot. As my brothers and brothers-in-law have married and they have families of their own.. Christmas continues to change.
Because things like the holidays don’t stay the same, it can be a difficult time of year for people. So often we wish we could go back to when Christmas was pure and holy. To a time in our childhood when it was simple and comforting.
As adults, as women during this season, we can sometimes get awfully distracted by the long lines and long lists. By the family calendar and the family drama. It’s easy for us to let all of this shadow the joy that should be had in these few weeks in December.
I’m so blessed to have friends who keep me positive. They get excited about things like Black Friday and Christmas tree decorating! They share their excitement about what they found for their daughter or their husband or their mom. They CELEBRATE the fabulous deal they found on that special gift. And they sing Christmas songs while making the 30th dozen of Christmas cookies.
Thank goodness for women who keep me positive and help me to keep the joy in Christmastime. Christmas HAS changed a lot, but our GOD – whose season this really is – does NOT change. And if there is anything we can focus on this season, anything we want to try to remember in the midst of the chaos – that is it. He is the same God that He WAS, is NOW, and will be forever.
Way back in the Old Testament, I Samuel starts off with the story of Hannah. She desperately wanted a child… and it didn’t help that the OTHER wife – Peninnah – had children and would frequently throw this in the face of Hannah. Eventually, her grief led her to “pour out her soul to the Lord.”
She must have looked like a wreck. She had been crying and hadn’t been eating and she finally just broke down and laid it all before HIM – at the feet of her Lord. We know she must have looked awful, because Eli thought she was drunk, the way her mouth was moving… but she wasn’t actually saying anything… and she obviously wasn’t paying attention to anything other than her despair and her desperate cry for help.
After explaining her situation to Eli, he comforts her with “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
Many of us can relate to Hannah’s grief, to her desperation. Many of us have felt the pain of emptiness one way or another, until finally we break down before our God and get honest with Him about our desires and our hurt.
He IS listening.
He was listening to Hannah.
Chapter 1, verse 24: “After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a 3 year old bull, and ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. When they had slaughtered the bull, they brought the boy to Eli, and she said to Eli, ‘As surely as you live, my Lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord. I prayed for this child and the Lord granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give him to the Lord.”
He was listening to Hannah.
Now, let’s be clear about something. I suspect – that when Hannah was dreaming of having a family, I doubt this was her vision. I’ll bet when she daydreamed about having a child, she had plans to watch her children grow – from a front row seat. I suspect she’d planned to nurture and feed and comfort her children as they grew into young adults and went off into the world. Not visit them once a year.
I’ll be this wasn’t really the sort of thing Hannah had in mind for herself when she married – years of an empty womb; painful words from the women in her household; and desperate prayers to her God.
But after all of this, and then GIVING birth to her baby boy and watching him grow – knowing she will fulfill her promise to her God – her perspective has changed.
Nothing is the same as it was. And she sees things differently now. We know this because of her song of praise.
Hannah’s prayer reflects this new perspective – she has a perspective focused on God. It isn’t about her anymore, or her precious son – it’s about the God that has lifted her up, from a place of disgrace to a place of honor. When she talks about the arrogant, she is talking about Peninnah – but she’s giving it to God. She understands that God works in mysterious ways, often not as we expect. And in fact, using what seems bad, for good. Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done.”
Her prayer’s focus, is that God is ultimately the one in charge. But it also reflects that He is NOT a DISTANT God ruling from afar. But He is hands-on – “raising the poor from the dust and lifting the needy from the ash heap.” This same God, who provides for the humble, is the ultimate authority… and her last verse prophetically looks ahead to his ultimate plan: This God, “He will give strength to His king and exalt the horn of His anointed.”
Fast forward nearly 1100 years. It has been almost 430 years since the last word from God had been spoken by an Old Testament prophet.
There’s a young girl, who is planning a wedding.
And the last thing she needs is a baby.
But an angel comes to see her and says, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!”
And Mary is scared and confused right from the start and thinks ‘and what kind of greeting might that be?’
She seems suspicious.
So the angel explains that she should not be afraid – that the Lord has found favor with her, and she will give birth to a child, to whom God will give the throne of David.
Somehow – by the grace of God, surely – Mary takes it all in and says “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be as you have said.”
She is an obedient girl.
And she probably quickly realizes, the control is not in her hands.
Ever since I started paying attention, I have been intrigued with how Mary handles all of this. Maybe because she is a woman, like us. Maybe because I like character development.
What must she be thinking?
This had to seem crazy to her.
But she heard what he said – her son was to rule over the house of Jacob forever. He will be great.. He will be called the Son of the Most High.
Surely seeking some degree of reality, she quickly heads out to see Elizabeth. All these things must be rushing around in her head on the way there. She’s trying to make sense of it. Could it be real? Is this really happening to me?
She finally arrives, and greets Elizabeth.
And before another word can be said, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and even the child within her responds with praise. Elizabeth is much older than Mary and more than likely someone she can trust. Luke 1:6 says both Elizabeth and her husband were upright in the sight of God.
So she comes in and immediately Elizabeth responds, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”
Mary’s response must have been relief and joy. Oh, good – someone who knows!! Someone who won’t think I’m crazy! Wait! Someone to reaffirm what the angel said!
Mary is overcome with comfort in Elizabeth’s words and suddenly realizes what all this means.
And Mary said,
“My soul glorifies the lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is His name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”
This is the same God that comforted Hannah..
This is the same God that kept Rahab safe from the Israelites..
That comforted Naomi when she lost her husband and both of her sons..
And led Ruth to a new land, a new husband, and a place in the line of the chosen one.
This is the same God whose touch healed the crippled and the blind
men, women, and children
who dared to believe in Him.
The same God who gives living water to the thirsting woman at the well..
Who teaches Mary and Martha
and comforts them.
Who stands before a weeping Mary Magdalene
and sends her off to share the good news of his Resurrection, of His Life.
This same God is waiting for us to turn to Him.. His arms open wide, welcoming us with all of our faults, with all of our questions, with all of our sin.
He’s listening when we turn to him and pray for Joy, in the midst of chaos, when we are hungry, and seek to be filled with good things.
When we are feeling lonely
Because we have been waiting in line for hours in Target
or we are searching for a joyful heart because we were fighting traffic all day long,
or desperate for patience as we try to get our 3 children to sit still for just one decent Christmas card picture! J
This is the same God,
who is listening,
us this Christmas
as He has so many Christmases before.
“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call him name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”