Shoulders

Rest, even in our quarantined world, can be hard to come by.

Just recently, I have surfaced on the other side of coronavirus. My symptoms were mild compared to most, though I found myself tired constantly. My nature is to push through, and so after a week of not allowing myself to rest because I wasn’t “that sick”, it all caught up to me. Then, I had to rest because my body wouldn’t let me function otherwise.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

– Isaiah 9:6

This month, Isaiah 9:6 has been on my mind and heart. Usually, the beautiful names of Jesus are the focus of this verse — Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Oh, what a Savior we have!

Yet, what I’ve been contemplating since the early start of the Christmas season this year is that the government will rest on His shoulders.

At this juncture in history, and the chronicles of our nation, words like steady, secure, peaceful and gracious aren’t used to describe our ongoing circumstances. So many are hurting and struggling. Yet, Isaiah 9:6 declares that the government rests on His shoulders. I think we’ve forgotten that. Christmas is about trusting that Jesus came to shoulder the mess and sinfulness of our world.

I will admit that too often I allow the stressors and burdens of life and of this world to rest on my own shoulders. I want to handle it, even when I can’t. I want to make things happen, when it’s not up to me. I hold onto and bear what I wasn’t meant to carry.

Jesus came into this world to set us free and give our weary souls the rest we may not have even realized we needed.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

– Matthew 11:28

I can know this verse is true because of what Jesus carried on His shoulders as He climbed Golgotha and was raised up on the cross. He took on my sin, my shame, my burdens, my guilt. All of it rested on Him. He was the only One who could bear it. He gave His life so I could be free of it, and could finally experience the blessing of living in full trust and dependence through faith.

Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Matthew 11:29

This Christmas, please know that Jesus didn’t create you or me to carry all that we’ve placed on our shoulders. He is there, right now, ready to join us, and shoulder the weight of the burdens we haven’t even spoken out loud to anyone. All that He asks is for us to come to His side, and let Him do the heavy lifting. Give Him your heart, and follow His steps.

There, beside the Savior of the World, we will find rest.

The Advent that almost wasn’t

It’s the third day of December.

Usually by this time of the year, I’ve posted my annual “Make Christmas Count” appeal, and detailed how families can really invest in their children by planting the Gospel message deep in their hearts during Advent.

It’s the third day of December, and I have no well-thought out posts or programs to share with you.

Since my kids were very little, my husband and I have made it a priority to countdown the days to Christmas and spend quality time together as a family focusing on Christ’s story every day in December. We have made precious memories each year, and it’s become a tradition all of us anticipate.

Yet since October this year, when I’ve thought about what we were going to do for December, my only reaction was stress.

Our Christmas season is action-packed, with barely any breathing room. How are we supposed to squeeze in an Advent family experience amidst school music programs, Nutcracker ballet performances and church activities? Stress, with a capital S.

Thanksgiving hit, and I knew it was make or break time. None of our previous plans really fit where we are a family this year, and especially our schedule for this December. So, were we going to do Advent or not?

As I scrambled, trying to draw up plans for an abridged program to work around our chaotic schedule, I finally just stopped. I looked up at my kids, my family, my home. I saw the sparkle in my son’s eye as he worked to hang ornaments on the tree in just the right places, and heard my daughter’s delightful glee as the Christmas lights came on.

Advent calendar boxEach child arranged, and rearranged, our many Nativity scenes that particular day. While I was looking over their progress, I noticed Jesus was missing from one of the groupings.

“Lauren, where is baby Jesus?” I asked, beginning to look around on the floor and behind the entertainment system.

My five-year-old came running over, with an excited grin.

“Don’t worry Mom! I put Jesus in the Advent calendar.”

She had tenderly placed Jesus in our Advent calendar’s Day 25 box, as the gift for us on Christmas Day.

All the planning and stress of the holiday season doesn’t make Christmas more special or bring Jesus into our celebrations. He is already there.

Advent isn’t a program to squeeze into Christmas. Advent reminds us to slow down and treasure our Savior, to celebrate that Jesus came and He is coming again.

For our family, focusing on Jesus this Christmas will be our priority. If that means adjusting some of our plans, fine. But, we are each committed to enjoying each day as it is, even if our schedules are crazy, because it’s a day to lift up Jesus together.

Family Book of AdventAfter all my stress, God reminded me of a little book my father-in-law had given me a few Christmases ago called The Family Book of Advent by Carol Garborg. Last Saturday, I picked it up and read it in one sitting, immediately knowing this simple book, with it’s applicable Biblical devotions and optional activities, was just what our family needed.

So, December 1, we all woke up early, and snuggling together under the covers we began our Christmas Countdown. When we finished our short Bible story, we went out to the living room in our pjs, put up the number of days until December 25, and jumped up and down in anticipation of Christmas and what God had in store this month for each of us. Later that night, after a full evening of dance lessons and errands, we carved out time to create Christmas wreaths. Just like a circle never ends, we can know that Jesus is always King.

The kids hold up their Advent wreaths, where we will add different names of Jesus from Scripture during the month.

The kids hold up their Advent wreaths, where we will add different names of Jesus from Scripture during the month. Of course, they wanted ribbon infused with glitter, which we will also have all over our floors the entire Christmas season!

Yesterday, Dec. 2, we had another early morning Bible study, this time curled up on the couch in our pajamas. We considered God’s promises in the Old Testament, and how God always keeps His Word. After AWANA, we wrapped a present and placed colored pictures of leaves, an angel, food and hearts inside. They remind us of the promises that God never leaves us, God sends His angels to watch over us, God feeds the birds of the air and He will take care of us too, and that nothing will ever separate us from God’s love.

Jackson and Lauren open our present filled with God's promises.

Jackson and Lauren open our present filled with God’s promises.

Today, we will have our family time this evening. No day this Advent season will be the same. I’m also not sure how blog-worthy our Christmas Countdown will be this month, though I will try to share some of our experiences. But, that’s not the point.

When we look back on these years, we aren’t going to recall the specific activities, ornate art projects or detailed decorations.

We will remember that we were together, and Jesus was there.