“It’s the most package-ful time of the year!” Delivery vans abound in our little suburban neighborhood, rushing to fulfill the orders of list-checking online shoppers. Even though we live in one of the retail capitals of the world, I still do most of my shopping online – it’s quieter, cheaper, and also I get packages.

When I see that Amazon delivery van pull up (or lately just some random person in a car – it’s like ‘Uber Amazon’ or something?) I can barely contain my excitement. Even though I always know exactly what’s inside that box (and it’s rarely for me), I still feel like a kid opening a present!

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Another reason I look forward to December every year is the opportunity to push pause on whatever book of the Bible I’ve been studying and focus for a few weeks on the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth. No matter how many times I’ve read these passages, I always open them up to find something new!

This year as I was looking over the opening chapters of Matthew, I couldn’t help but notice Matthew’s pattern of pointing out how the events he was describing had been predicted hundreds of years before. Matthew knew that to his Jewish audience, “what the Lord had spoken by the prophet” (Matthew 1:22) in the past carried great weight, so he made sure to point out that these events were the fulfillment of those promises.

But after spending the majority of this year in the book of Isaiah, I wondered why God gave these prophecies in the first place. Was it to prove His supernatural future-seeing power? Was it so people would see the fulfillment and trust Him as a result? Maybe. But in my research I found it was less about the proof and more about the anticipation the prophecies generated in the hearts of God’s people.

Anticipation keeps us watching. Anticipation gives us a reason to keep waiting when nothing seems to be happening. The prophecy referred to in Matthew 1:22 is found in Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”. This was a promise of hope to a struggling people – not only could they look in the past and see their God’s faithfulness to them, they could be on the lookout for His saving, in-the-flesh presence to come to them in the future.

This promise is quickly followed by a warning in the next chapter as the Lord commands Isaiah “not to walk in the way of this people” by giving in to fear (Isaiah 8:11). Though a promise from God can inspire great anticipation in a human heart, it can also lead to great disappointment when not fulfilled on our envisioned timeline. Verse 19 specifically warns against a temptation God’s people (still) face – to expedite the fulfillment process by going to other sources for answers.

But Isaiah declares:

“I will wait for the LORD,
who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob,
and I will hope in him.” (8:17)

In our technology-driven world, delivery dates are guaranteed and every package can be tracked. Waiting and watching aren’t necessary with free two-day shipping and apps that put everything we want to know in the palm of our hand. I don’t even have to listen for a knock at the door anymore because Amazon sends me an immediate notification that my order has been delivered – complete with photo proof!

When Isaiah and the people of Israel heard the prophecies about the Messiah, they had no idea when, how, or what the fulfillment of them would look like. But maybe God didn’t give them specifics because He wanted them to keep anticipating – He wanted them to actively wait. As they sought Him for direction and answers, keeping their attention on Him, they would be more likely to recognize when the ‘package’ was delivered!

As believers today, we put high expectations on the promises of God. We know that we’re not guaranteed a happy or easy life, but we do believe we’ll see His work in our lives. It’s in His very nature to redeem, so we expect to see Him redeem our mistakes. It’s in His nature to heal, so we expect to feel His healing touch in the areas where we’re broken. It’s been His plan from the beginning to use people as conduits of His power, so we expect Him to use us in noticeable ways in the lives of others.

This anticipation is a good thing! It’s on purpose because it keeps us aware. It keeps us on the lookout for what God might be doing. There are no tracking numbers or delivery dates – He doesn’t need to have it all done by Christmas or wrapped up by the end of the year. In fact, we may never see the fulfillment of these things in our lifetime! But who knows? Maybe the delivery truck is right around the corner 😉

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Christmas movies are the best. I love the nostalgic reminders of Christmases past and the warm, fuzzy feelings of holiday joy, but mostly I love the humor! From the family-gathering shenanigans of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” to the naivete of a human-sized “Elf” wandering around New York City, these movies take the “magic” of Christmas and turn it into “real life”.

One of my favorite Christmas movie scenes is when Scott Calvin, a middle-aged, career-minded dad inadvertently becomes Santa Claus and after a hectic night of delivering gifts and visiting the North Pole, wakes up believing it was all a bad dream. Several months later, still in denial of his new identity, Scott comes downstairs to find the front hallway of his house filled with hundreds of boxes containing “The List” which he is now responsible for “checking twice”. Before seeing this movie, we had all seen artistic renderings of Santa looking over his “naughty or nice” list, but none of us had thought of the sheer volume of paper such a list would call for!

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Originating with the story of a kind third century monk named Nicholas who used his inheritance to better the lives of those in need, “Santa Claus” has become a fixture of American Christmas tradition. Over the centuries, the jolly old man with the white beard has even gained supernatural powers like teleportation, manufacturing gifts out of thin air, and, of course, “know[ing] if you’ve been bad or good” (“so be good for goodness sake!”). As Santa’s popularity spread, the first two powers had to develop in order to answer the questions of inquisitive little minds and the third was the natural outcome of our human need for control.

As much as we are born with a desire to attain things for ourselves (which our six-year-old’s Christmas wish list is evidence of!), we are also born with a desire to contribute. Contributing makes us feel strong and independent. Contributing gives us a feeling that we can direct our destiny. More than just a parental ploy for some peace, our “naughty” and “nice” world perpetuates the belief that we are earners of favor. If we perform actions that enable us to label ourselves “nice,” we feel entitled to receive good “gifts” as a result.

When you read the angels’ announcement of Christ’s birth in Luke 2:14, you might, at first glance, think it fits nicely into this mentality: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Our natural inclination is to read into this that God is like Santa – giving this “peace” to those who’ve earned it by their “pleasing” acts of obedience.

But Psalm 147:11 reminds us that “the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” Putting our hope in our contribution is the opposite of what pleases God. What pleases Him is putting our hope in His contribution – because it’s all His contribution!

Everything good thing I do is not something I’ve contributed, but rather something I’ve received. My “nice” is only the result of the steadfast love of God which has been gifted to me through Christ. The source of my obedience is not myself, it’s the work of His Spirit in and through me. It’s all received.

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We’ve heard it said that “Christmas isn’t about getting, it’s about giving!” but I’m not sure that’s true. Christmas is about understanding how much we’ve received because God, in His steadfast love, came to earth. Christmas means “mercy in its fullest form” is ours, not because we deserve it, but because it is being offered. And the more we open our hearts and hands to simply receiving this love, the more we – and everyone we interact with – will benefit from it.

“Prince of Heaven” by Brooke Ligertwood & Scott Ligertwood (Hillsong Worship)

Earth in shadow restlessly hold
Labours waiting in silent hope
For the promise it longs to know
What heaven holds

Then the angels in holy haste
Lift their anthem Your Saviour lays
In a manger in humble form
Your King is born

Hail The Prince of Heaven comes
Angel choirs sound the call
For this babe wrapped in a cloth is
The incarnate Word of God
All the kingdom and its power
Resting now in this child
Prince of Heaven
Jesus hope of the world

This means mercy in fullest form
Loving kindness forevermore
Son of David and Son of God
He is Christ The Lord

King of Glory we gladly greet
Born in wonder and majesty
Forever worthy the earth will sing
Oh Prince of Heaven we worship Thee

We can know Him this Prince of Peace
In light of mercy confess our sin
Lay our burdens at Jesus’ feet
And with gladness sing

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There are a few things no one could have prepared me for in becoming a parent. Laundry is one of those things. In our pre-kid life, laundry was an occasional chore. Once a week (or maybe every other) the basket would fill up and we’d run a load.

But with kids, laundry is constant! Just when you’re feeling accomplished – you’ve collected, washed, dried, folded, and put away a load, you look down and it’s time to start all over again. You think it’s bad when you have infants or toddlers, but nothing can prepare you for having three girls who purposely change their clothes multiple times a day! It never ends!

11 years into this gig and I still feel like I can’t get a handle on it. The only option, of course, is to keep plugging away and as my mother suggests – do a load a day, no matter what. I’m still working on that goal and I’m guessing I’ll get there around the time our youngest heads off to college. 😋

More constant than laundry in my life is my self. Just about 40 years into this gig and I still feel like I can’t get a handle on my sin. Just when I think I’ve got an area under control, I look down and there’s another mess ready to be cleaned up. No matter how much I’d like to have it all together – folded and nicely organized on a shelf – I don’t think that’s ever going to happen!

In the opening address of his gospel, John takes some time to introduce his main character – Jesus. He holds nothing back in making sure the reader understands that Jesus is God and that only through Him can we know God and experience His glory. In verse 14, John says “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Before Jesus, the closest anyone had ever been to seeing God’s glory first-hand was Moses when he returned to Mt. Sinai after the ‘golden calf incident’. God had spoken His law to the people through Moses and they had responded by saying, “‘We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.’” (Exodus 24:7) But, feeling abandoned after Moses’ delayed return from another visit with God, they gathered up their gold, “‘threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!’” (Exodus 32:24 – one of my favorite lines in the Bible 😉 #humans) How quickly a clear commitment to obedience was traded for the mess of sin!

Before one of his next trips up the mountain, Moses asked God to show him His glory as an assurance that He was still with them. “And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence.’” (Exodus 33:19) When this happened a few verses later, that name was defined: “‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished;’” (Exodus 34:6)

The name – the very definition of God’s character – was grace. Even in their blatant breaking of the covenant, their God was, at the heart of His nature, committed to them and willing to restore and continue the relationship. He showed His faithfulness by revealing to them His commands, by enforcing those commands for their good, and by offering them the substitution of animal sacrifices to cleanse them from their guilt. We don’t tend to think of it this way, but it was all grace – it was all His “unearned covenant love”* toward them.

When John described Jesus as “full of grace and truth,” He was using the same terms as the “abounding in love and faithfulness” found in Exodus 34:6.* John states that “out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.” (John 1:16) Though “grace and truth were clearly present in the law… Moses could not witness their fulness because he could see only part of God’s glory. Their ultimate expression would come in the Word/law enfleshed [in Jesus]”.*

Jesus was not only completely full of the glory of God’s grace and truth, He was so full that He overflowed it to the people around Him. He embodied compassion and in the ultimate act of grace, He became the final, once-for-all substitute for the cleansing of sin.

That cleansing and restoration are available, as John says in verse 16, to all who will “receive” it. The word “receive” in this sense, is a verb meaning to “actively lay hold of,” emphasizing the initiative of the taker.* It is an act of our will to receive the grace offered to us when we first believe in Him (John 1:12), but it is also an act of our will to constantly receive the constantly available grace that is already ours.

Over the past few years, I’ve transitioned most of the girls’ laundry over to their responsibility. It’s a little risky given that they use Catalina, a tomato-based salad dressing, on almost everything they eat (and then wipe their hands on their clothes) – but it’s a risk I’m willing to take!

Not only are they learning about the consequences of changing your outfit multiple times a day (and motivated to stop using their shirts as napkins), they are learning about the constant. Almost every time I hear whining about how “I don’t have any clean pants!” and I make a suggestion that they might want to do some laundry, the reply is: “I just did it the other day!”

As constant as my sin is, grace is more constant. But as constant as grace is, its power in my life is limited to my awareness of it. “The fulness of the supply is constant;” says commentator Charles Ellicott, and “the power to receive increases with the use”.* Sure, it would be nice if I had gotten all cleaned up the day I accepted Christ or maybe if I just had to deal with a small pile here and there, but it’s the daily loads that keep me actively receiving. My daily acceptance of grace increases its power in my life. It’s never a chore to hear the simple truth of grace because every moment I hear it is a moment I need it!

*The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament, p. 781
*The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament, p. 250, John 1:14
*The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament, p. 250, John 1:16-17

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