Sunday, December 18, 2011


Recently I read to the girls the story of Jesus' birth via the words of the Jesus Storybook Bible. I love this Bible; it always presents the Word to me in a fresh light and through the innocent eyes of a child. This chapter was relating the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mary:

There was a young girl who was engaged to a man named Joseph. (Joseph was the great-great-great-great-great grandson of King David). One morning, this girl was minding her own business when, suddenly, a great warrior of light appeared--right there, in her bedroom. He was Gabriel and he was an angel, a special messenger from heaven. When she saw the tall shining man standing there, Mary was frightened. "You don't need to be scared," Gabriel said. "God is very happy with you!" Mary looked around to see if perhaps he was talking to someone else. "Mary," Gabriel said, and he laughed with such gladness that Mary's eyes filled with sudden tears.

"Mary, you're going to have a baby. A little boy. You will call him Jesus. He is God's own Son. He's the One! He's the Rescuer!" The God who flung planets into space and kept them whirling around and around, the God who made the universe with just one word, the one who could do anything at all--was making himself small. And coming a baby.

I was so captured by Mary's reaction in these verses: She was frightened, and when Gabriel said, "God is very happy with you!" she looked around, sure he was speaking to someone else. Why would God be happy with her? What had she done to deserve such praise? Why shouldn't she be terrified of this luminous heavenly being?

I can relate so much to Mary in this interaction, and maybe you can, too? I feel it's easy to see my own faults and keep track of all the ways I don't live up to being the mom, wife, friend, or child of God I ought to be. There are so many things to be and do and I just never seem to have enough energy and patience to do them right. If anyone showed up and said joyfully, "God is very happy with you!" I would think they'd had a little too much egg nog.

But the truth is, God is very happy with me, and if you have believed in Jesus, he is very happy with you. And that is a truth I choose to believe even when I feel it to be untrue. Because of Jesus' perfect life and sacrifical death, his record has now become mine and yours in God's eyes. It's amazing, too good to be true, unfair even! Why would God lower himself to be born in such meager circumstances, not even in a house, but in a barn for animals? Why would he live among us sinners and choose to be rejected and ignored and scorned and ultimately killed like a criminal?

He did it for me and for you. He came to be "Emmanuel," God with us. So we are no longer alone in our failure and sin and shame and loneliness. Even when those things threaten to overtake us, His joyful voice brings light and truth to our lives as he says, "You are accepted. I am happy to call you mine." (John 1:12-13) He can relate to any and all temptations and feelings we experience because his life here on earth was no bed of roses. He often didn't have a place to lay his head. His friends betrayed him and abandoned him. He was not esteemed or valued or given the respect he deserved. He had no beauty or majesty that drew people to him. He was a man of sorrows and familiar with pain (Isaiah 53).

I don't think I could handle it if God was unfamiliar with pain. Just think of a time you were feeling heartbroken or alone and maybe you talked to someone who just didn't "get it." They didn't think you should be so upset, or they were visibly uncomfortable with you being so vulnerable, or they encouraged you to do something to cheer yourself up. Clearly, they thought you needed to get yourself together and cheer up a bit, for everyone's sake. Really helpful, right?

Then consider Jesus. Consider the friend He is to you. He can authentically say, "I know how you feel. I am with you, and I love you." He welcomes us in whatever condition we come and is so happy we have come. He is no longer the God who is far off. He came as a baby so he could be Emmanuel, God with us.

We are moving to Nashville this week and leaving Atlanta, the place where all our children have been born and where the bulk of our "Joseph memories" lie. It is here Joseph learned to walk, made his first friends, discovered "Moe's," and many more essential life lessons. :) We are hopeful and grateful for this new move, but Atlanta has such a special place in our hearts. We have been revisiting places that were special to us as a family and saying "goodbye" again to another chapter in our lives. I don't even understand all we are feeling, but I'm grateful to have a Savior and a friend who does. I've been reminded anew this season that God is not far off in our lowly human states; he came to be with us all those years ago so we could have a God who relates and knows and understands. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Merry Christmas, and may we all feel God's nearness this season.