Preparation

What do you do when you’re expecting someone into your home? You probably clean, and clean everything. You might add some decor. Maybe you light a few candles to make your home smell good and feel cozy. But do you pray?

I admit, I usually don’t. If I do, it might sound something like “God, please give me the strength to get through this social interaction.” Socializing takes a lot of emotional energy for me, so my prayers are usually pretty selfish before any of those interactions.

My husband and I didn’t prepare anything before we adopted Belle. I found her at the shelter, sent him a photo, and his response was that we were going back to the shelter when he was off work because he was sure we would be adopting a dog. We had been thinking of getting a pup for a while, but the actual act of adding her to the family was spur of the moment.

We didn’t prepare anything before we adopted our male cat, Raptor. We thought “hey, maybe Sabrina could use a friend?” And we wanted another cat.

And I didn’t prepare anything before I adopted my female cat, Sabrina. She was with her litter in the veterinarian office I worked in at the time (I was 16), and I told my mom to hold her because I wanted her, and we left with her that day.

Prayer wasn’t even a thought in any of these instances. And there wasn’t a lot of preparation for a lot of decisions I’ve made.

In Luke 1:39, we see Mary visits Elizabeth, who is 6 months pregnant with John, and in verses 46 through 55, Mary praises God, beginning with “my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” Verse 56 tells us Mary stayed with Elizabeth for 3 months.

Three whole months. Can you believe that?! There is a brief explanation about Mary in these verses in my Bible. I won’t copy out the whole thing, but here’s the piece that stands out: “It is clear that she did not claim to understand it herself, but simply worshiped God in humble acknowledgment of the phenomenon engulfing her existence” (italics mine). Mary didn’t have a physical place to prepare–we know Jesus was born in a manger–but she prepared her heart through worship. Think about what could have happened had Mary not worshipped God after the news.

That’s what this season and the weeks leading up to Christmas are all about: preparing our hearts.

I admit, I have not been great at it. Even though I’m in a slightly better head space this year than I was last year, the season sort of snuck up on me, and I have allowed work and responsibilities to get the better of me. I am tired and cranky, and by this point, I just want my vacation. But I’ve been trying to get myself back into that heart space. I have been playing Christian music on my drive to work in the morning and home in the afternoon. I have been sending up small prayers throughout the day. When I get frustrated (as anyone who drives in the DC area is bound to be), I try to check myself. Because my heart needs to be right.

Think about how different we would be if we worshiped the Lord in acknowledgement for our existence. We may be anxious for what lies ahead, we may not understand the path, but we can prepare ourselves by worshipping the One who does know.

. . . . . .

How do you prepare your heart?

Is it sometimes hard for you to prepare your heart for God? Why?

Different Versions

Have you ever had an experience with a friend, but they seem to remember it differently than you? That’s how I’m feeling as I am reading about the birth of Jesus.

Luke doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on His birth. In fact, Luke 1:39-56 is all about Mary visiting Elizabeth while Elizabeth was pregnant with John and Mary worshipping God. There are only 20 verses, Luke 2:1-20, that talk about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Needless to say, even after looking at footnotes and related passages, I left these passages feeling a little disappointed. Advent is about waiting expectantly, hopefully, with joy, and I felt…underwhelmed.

So in my desire to more fully know this story, I turned to another gospel: the book of Matthew. There is a significant difference between these two gospels, one that I had forgotten when I took on this endeavor, but one that is interesting to see.

Matthew 1:18 through Matthew 2:23 is the birth of Jesus, His family’s escape to Egypt, and establishing their home in Nazareth. Luke doesn’t cover any of that. I don’t know about you, but one of the things I remember most about the story of Christ’s birth is the star, the angel coming to the shepherds, and the wise men. Matthew covers all of that.

But what I find really intriguing is that while Luke writes about Mary’s visit to Elizabeth and the reaction to the pregnant Mary by Elizabeth’s unborn child (John), Matthew writes about Joseph’s struggle with the news of his betrothed’s pregnancy. Joseph was concerned about what he would do with this woman who was pregnant though they were not yet together. And in his worry and attempt to solve it on his own–by “putting her away secretly” (Luke 1:19)–an angel appeared to him and told him not to be afraid, that this was by design of the Lord.

Joseph is described as a just man. According to a Word Wealth section in my Bible, this description means the following: “upright, blameless, righteous, conforming to God’s law and man’s. In the NT, it is used primarily of persons who correspond to the divine standard of right made possible through justification and sanctification.” So, Joseph was a man of God, by God’s own definition, and even he was afraid.

How many of us have gone through a situation where we have no idea how it started or what will come of it, but we are afraid? Maybe we are afraid of what others will say. Maybe we are afraid of what we will be like when it’s over. Maybe we hope that by hiding it away, it will go away. And have you ever wished God would just come down to you and say “Don’t worry–this is by design” followed by specifically the good that will come from it? I know I have. Heck, I still do.

But that’s the incredible thing about Christ’s birth: He is the way God told us not to be afraid. And I was reminded of that when I read this passage. That is what this season is about: waiting for Jesus without fear.

We are going to be afraid. We are going to go through all the possibilities in our minds of how to solve our problem. We are going to wonder. But God is telling us that we should not be afraid, that if we just wait we will see God with us.

Why Start There?

One of the questions that was asked at my small group last night, and which is very fitting to my personal study right now, was: why is the book of Luke is the book most people navigate to when they begin to study the nativity or the story of Jesus? So that is where I wanted to start: why I’ve chosen to follow the story of Jesus through Luke.

The Bible I own is a New Spirit Filled Life Bible. It was gifted to me by a friend in ministry when I was in college, when I chose to actually declare my faith. If you’re not familiar with this type of Bible, let me explain why I like it. Each book has an introduction that includes the history, proposed authorship, context, connection to Christ, and personal application that can be found in that book. Then, there are a multitude of footnotes and Word Wealth boxes that help you navigate and analyze the text further. As someone who spent years studying words and texts, I appreciate this on a deep level.

Luke 1:3 explains that his aim is to “write…an orderly account” of Jesus’ life. For someone like me who likes chronological explanations, this is a hug contributing factor to using this book. But the introduction to Luke states that “Luke stresses the fact that Jesus is not merely the Jewish Deliverer, but the Savior of the entire world.” In other words Luke writes for the gentiles, the rest of us.

This time of year is the also the time most of us want to feel closer to and see the Lord. And the introduction to the book of Luke states that “no one who reads this book should feel he [or she] is beyond the reach of the gospel of salvation.”

I pray that as we begin reading, we remember that: we are never beyond the reach of Jesus.

. . . . . .

What faithful reminder do you need this season?

Have you read Luke before? What were your thoughts?

What is your “go-to” book in the Bible when you want to refresh yourself?

Day 24: Practice

How did it go? 

Another week, another “Therapy Friday.” For the first time in a few weeks, I didn’t leave wiping away tears. (I’ve noticed I still struggle to make eye contact with my therapist though. Is this normal?) Whatever clicked yesterday (or when I was in California) seems to have stayed.

I feel more confident in my abilities. I have a better idea of what I want. I feel more empowered, more capable, to change my current environment.

I feel a little more at peace with myself.

I’ve also started reading my Bible differently.

What did I learn?

It’s interesting what you can learn from the unlikeliest of places. The Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast reads Harry Potter “as if it is a sacred text.” (Note: as if. It does not treat the novels as a Bible.) The hosts discuss one chapter a week through a specific theme, and they use sacred reading practices to analyze pieces of the text.

Regardless of how you may feel about using sacred reading to read Harry Potter, the podcast has actually taught me new reading practices for reading my Bible. My favorite reading practice they use is lectio divina.

The practice is adjusted for reading the novels—the hosts choose a short passage, discuss what is literally occurring in that moment of the text, discuss what the text could mean allegorically, discuss what that particular passage reminds them of, and then discuss what the passage calls them to do.

Reading my Bible in this way has made me feel closer to God. It has made me feel that certain passages are speaking to me, that I can find meaning in places I didn’t think I could before.

I’ve decided to work through the book of James and start from the beginning. While I am not very far along (since I just started), I’ve already noticed a difference in the way I approach my Bible reading time. I credit this reading to helping me maintain some positivity, even when I don’t know if I can.

Most of all, I’ve learned when we don’t know how we can push on, God will be there to help us to our feet.