Away in a Manger One Silent Night

by Jill Rigby Garner

We love, because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19 NASB

The first Friday night in December came again in my hometown, but this year North Boulevard was different. The annual “Jingle Bell Run” was nearing an end. But rather than head home, many of the runners waited to experience the wonder of the first Christmas. Above the sound of jingling bells, the sweet refrain of “Away in a manger” could be heard floating through downtown. Goats, sheep and livestock grazed near a stable. Mary and Joseph took their places near the manger to await the arrival of a newborn who would reign over the earth. Shepherds kept watch with their sheep. Wise Men prepared gifts for the King.

People came from near and far. Elderly folks arrived in vans to view the manger, while school children came to see the animals and meet the special baby. Families gathered round the crèche to be reminded of the true meaning of Christmas. The return of the Live Nativity had finally come. 

As the chorus of “Silent Night” brought the evening to a close, children were invited to come to the manger. The youngest children quickly ran past the livestock to draw near baby Jesus. A precious young girl, not much beyond four, with eyes that sparkled in the soft starlight, climbed in Mary’s lap and asked if she could tell Jesus a secret.  

Mary looked in those adoring eyes and said, “Yes, my child. Jesus came for you.”

The trusting child leaned forward lifting the wrap from Jesus’ face to gently kiss his forehead and whisper, “I love you, too, Jesus.” Not, I love you, but I love you, too. The most profound proclamation of the gospel ever uttered. Tears streamed down the faces of all blessed to hear the words of her heart. Not only did she understand the gospel message, she received it by responding with love to the one who had first loved her.

Out of the mouth of a babe came the poignant message that God loved us first and sent His love to us through His Son that silent night so long ago. He delivered our Savior, who would deliver us from the destruction of sin and the emptiness of ourselves. The One who would heal our wounds with His. The One who would listen when no one else would listen. The One who would walk amongst us, feed us, cry with us and show us how to love.

This Christmas can be different for you too. This Christmas you can find healing from the hurts of the past. Comfort in the pain of your struggles. Peace amidst the chaos and confusion of our world. Courage to walk out your faith. And love everlasting at the manger.

May God’s holy light lead you to Jesus this year to behold with the wonder of a child, the gift of Christmas, as your soul murmurs the words He longs to hear and you long to speak, “I love you, too.” 

Merry, Merry Christmas from my heart to yours.

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 NIV

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Jill Rigby Garner is an accomplished speaker, family advocate, author, and founder of Manners of the Heart®, a non-profit seeking to reawaken respect in our society for the sake of the next generation. By equipping schools, encouraging families and engaging communities in respect-based Heart Education, Manners of the Heart® helps children see beyond themselves and their circumstances to become all they are meant to be. Visit mannersoftheheart.org to learn more.

Join the conversation: What Christmas memory do you have that is most meaningful to you?

Managing Expectations

by Julie Zine Coleman

Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in Thee.
(Charles Wesley, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus)

The year my daughter left for college, she came home for Christmas break brimming with excitement. The house was decorated for the season and goodies were baked in anticipation of the big day. Expectation filled the air.

The family gathered downstairs on Christmas morning to open gifts and celebrate together. After the gift exchange was finished, I noticed my daughter quietly sitting on the couch, looking kind of glum. When I asked if something was wrong, she shrugged her shoulders. “I guess I was expecting too much. I feel so let down this Christmas.”

That’s the problem with holding unrealistic expectations. It dooms us to disappointment.

Expectation was a key component regarding the first Christmas morning, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. For many centuries, God, through his prophets, reinforced what God promised to Adam and Eve just after the first sin. He would send a Savior to set humankind free from the bondage of sin (Genesis 3:15).

The promise was reiterated many, many times, sometimes giving further information about his coming.

  • Abraham was told it would be his descendant who would bless all nations (Genesis 12:2-4).
  • Moses knew he would be a prophet greater than him (Deuteronomy 18:15).
  • God told David that he would sit on David’s throne and have an eternal reign (2 Samuel 7:12-16).
  • Daniel prophesied when he would come (Daniel 9:25).
  • His birthplace would be the small town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

In fact, over three hundred prophecies in the Old Testament foretold many details about his coming and ministry on earth. So was he expected? You bet he was! When he came, the people had all they needed to know to enable recognition when they saw Him.

So then why did so many people miss it?

Because the prophecies were all mixed together, people didn’t understand that there would be two comings. The first would be to rescue people from the bondage of their sin and clear the path to a relationship with God. He would accomplish this by suffering on a cross, dying, then rising again. The second coming is still to come, when Jesus will finally rule the earth and every knee will bow to him. But for those waiting for the Messiah, it was hard to comprehend that the suffering servant and the victorious king could be the same person.

The people assumed the suffering servant in prophecy was Israel. They were looking for a messiah to lead them out of political oppression and restore their nation to peace and prosperity. A baby born in a stable to innocuous parents from Nazareth did not fit their expectations. So they missed him the first time around.

The same kind of blindness exists today when it comes to expectations. Some of our ideas about God are straight out of our imaginations. And when He doesn’t measure up to those ideas, we are disappointed. We are stunned when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer or whose life is cut short unexpectedly. But God never promised we would be protected from difficulties. His Word assures us that suffering will be part of his plan for us. We shake our fist at heaven when he does not give us what we ask. But we must ask in accordance to his will.

To avoid having our expectations crushed, we must inform what we think about God with what He tells us in His Word. When we base our expectations on His promises, His character, and His history as revealed in Scripture, we will never be disappointed.

One day, He will return. And no one will miss it this time around. “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27 NASB). Come, thou long expected Jesus. We await you in glorious expectation. And you will not disappoint.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

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About the authorJulie Zine Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or crafting. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens in God’s Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a revealing look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: Has God disappointed you? What were you expecting?

The Shepherds and the Lamb

by Crystal Bowman

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29 NIV

In most nativity sets, you will find a shepherd or two or three. It’s because the shepherds were the first to hear the good news that Jesus, the Messiah, had been born. In Luke 2:8-12 (NIV) we read, And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Through the years, many have debated why the angels announced the news to the shepherds first. In Bible times, shepherds were the low rung on the social ladder. They were dirty and smelly and probably not well educated. Some have suggested that this shows how Jesus came to demonstrate His love to everyone—even lowly, humble, scruffy shepherds. Though that is certainly true, there is more to this story.

Most shepherds cared for their flocks in fields that were in the wilderness, far away from any town or city, so the proximity of a field near Bethlehem was an exception. The lambs being bred in the fields near Bethlehem were designated for sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem. The shepherds who raised the lambs were trained by priests to inspect the newly born lambs to check for imperfections. If they determined a lamb was free from defects and qualified for sacrifice, they would wash the lamb and wrap it in strips of cloth. 

Like most Jews of that time, the shepherds anticipated the coming of the Messiah who had been promised long ago. With his birth, the days of animal sacrifice would soon end. Upon hearing the announcement from the angels, the shepherds left their flocks and raced to the town of Bethlehem, where they found the newborn King wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a manger. It’s no surprise that these shepherds were overjoyed to see Jesus! Believing and rejoicing, they ran through the town and shared the news with everyone they met. 

As we enter into this most holy season of the year, I pray that we will dwell on the true meaning of Christmas; that God loves us so much He sent His only Son to pay for our sins and restore us to a right relationship with Him. Jesus came for everyone—rich and poor, male and female, educated and uneducated, kings and queens, common people, and scruffy shepherds. May we share the joy and excitement of Jesus’s first visitors and run to the manger to see the perfect sacrificial Lamb.  

This article is brought to you by the Advance Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Crystal Bowman is a bestselling, award-winning author of more than 100 books including, Our Daily Bread for Kids.She and her husband have three married children and eight huggable grandchildren.

When a child’s grandparent or great-grandparent is afflicted with dementia, it’s difficult to explain the disease in a way that helps the child understand why the person they love is not the same. I Love You to the Stars–When Grandma Forgets, Love Remembersis a picture book inspired by a true story to help young children understand that even though Grandma is acting differently, she still loves them–to the stars!

Join the conversation: What part of the Christmas story is most meaningful to you?

 In Doubt or Disappointment: Trust in the Gift-Giver

by Patti Richter

How can this be? Luke 1:34 NKJV

The girls’ faces fell an inch apiece after opening their mutual birthday present. Our small audience of parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles had expected a more enthusiastic response. While the eight-year-old dutifully recovered in time to produce a polite smile and a “thank you,” her six-year-old sister summoned the courage to swallow disappointment.

My granddaughters’ gift included mere words and images in a brochure that promised a future event—one whole month away. Family members jointly contributed to this bigger-than-usual present: one week of summer horse camp. Considering the girls’ ages and interest, it seemed to us like the perfect choice. And, sure enough, the camp soon delivered days of happy smiles, and the girls appreciated the wonderful gift.

Meanwhile, however, the girls had to get over the loss of their expected toys and trinkets. They needed to learn the details of the coming event—and trust their gift-givers!

In a similar way, the Gift of Christmas has come to hopeful souls across the ages. God offers us Heaven, but we crave the things of Earth. Does an audience of winged creatures wonder at our lack of joy?

Gender-reveal parties are always exciting. Friends and family members of parents-to-be come together to discover the expected child’s gender, typically through a sudden burst of pink or blue balloons, confetti, silly string, or smoke. These events are something like God’s “reveal” of the Son he sent to the world. Except God’s means of surprise included sudden bursts of bright angels.

The Gospel of Luke provides “a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled”(Luke 1:1 NKJV). Luke begins with two long chapters full of amazing details surrounding two sets of parents-to-be and the greatest event in history: Christ’s birth.  

In Chapter 1, we see Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, who is too old to conceive. Then, an angel of the Lord named Gabriel brings glad tidings of a son who would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Though Zacharias doubted, Elizabeth “brought forth a son,” and, according to the angel’s words, they named him John (Luke 1:11 – 20; 57 – 63 NKJV).

Gabriel next appears to a virgin, saying, “Do not be afraid, Mary . . . Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God will give him the throne of His father David . . . and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:26 – 33 NKJV).

 Mary’s face may have fallen a bit. Though she trusted God, Mary was engaged to Joseph, and she needed more details. Gabriel explained, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke:1:35 NKJV).

Luke, Chapter 2, begins with Jesus’ birth, after Joseph, “of the house and lineage of David,” traveled with Mary to Bethlehem under a decree of Caesar Augustus to register “each to his own town” (2:3, 4 NKJV).

An angel soon announced the Savior’s birth to shepherds in the fields, “and the glory of the Lord shone around them . . ..  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:8 – 14 NKJV).

The shepherds accepted the good news of God’s Gift. And they were not disappointed.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Patti Richter lives in north Georgia with her husband, Jim. She is a freelance journalist and long-time faith columnist at BlueRibbonNews.com with more than four hundred published articles. She volunteers for Arise Daily, using her editing expertise.

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Patti is the co-author of the award-winning Signs of His Presence—Experiencing God’s Comfort in Times of Suffering. It is the story of Luann Mire, whose godly husband was blindsided by an indictment due to a former employer’s tax fraud. The resulting prison sentence and restitution took the once joyful couple into a long season of suffering as they fought judicial tyranny. Helpless to change her situation, Luann endured a painful examination of her life and found God faithful to His promises.

Join the conversation: To what are you looking forward this Christmas?

Let It Be Simply Christmas

by Tama Fortner

Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19 NIV

Other people do things at Christmas that don’t work for my family. And I’m learning—a little reluctantly at times—that’s okay. Like those adorably cozy pictures of the smiling family, happily decorating the tree together.

Sigh.

Starting that very first Christmas when I became a mom, I dreamed of creating those moments with my own family—reminiscing over special ornaments, drinking hot chocolate with extra marshmallows, Christmas music playing in the background.

Yeah. No. Didn’t happen.

As it turns out, my family doesn’t like decorating the tree. Never has. Never will. Oh sure, they’re happy to help with one or two ornaments, but then—as my son recently admitted—“There are better things to do.” I still take the photos, of course. But I’m just going to confess it here: they’re a lie. They’re completely staged. Yes, (practically) every year there’s a picture of my three gathered around the tree, happily hanging an ornament. But I’m telling you right now, they’re smiling because they know that as soon as the pictures are snapped they get to leave and go do whatever they want.

As with all shattered dreams, it took some time (and a little grumbling) for me to come to grips with that. But now, I enjoy my alone time—just me and the tree and all the sappy Christmas movies no one else wants to watch. But it’s a lesson I took far too long to learn.

What is it about Christmas that brings out the comparisons and the competition? I don’t know about you, but it’s almost like there’s this nagging sort of little tape measure that creeps into my thoughts. It’s constantly whispering, “Do you measure up? If you don’t do that—or this, or the other—then you won’t!”

So I would rush and scurry and “add a little more to” until I was ready to drop—and my family was ready to drop me! Then, one day, I found myself asking, “What exactly am I trying to measure up to? And why? And what if I didn’t?”

That moment was when I began to reclaim the joy of Christmas. That’s when I decided that decorating the tree with a cheesy movie for company was okay. And that’s when I decided to refocus our holidays on the One who should be at the center of it all.

I love Luke 2:19. It’s the verse about Mary pondering and treasuring up in her heart all the miracles surrounding the birth of the One who was both her Son and her Savior. That image encourages me—as I’m pulling out ornaments and memories, decorating our tree—to do a bit of pondering and treasuring myself.

Because it never ceases to amaze me that Jesus chose to leave heaven and step into this world. Chose to be born a helpless infant. To grow up stubbing His toes and banging His thumb with a hammer in that carpenter’s workshop. To be spat upon and crucified. For me. For you. For all who would call Him Savior.

When I ponder those things, that pesky measuring snaps closed. Jesus didn’t come so that I could compare or compete or try to perfect. He came so that I could savor this season of celebration and the wonderful truth that He has saved me.

Will you join me this Christmas in setting all that nonsense of comparison and competition aside? Will join me in taking time to ponder and soak in holy moments with God and family and friends? This year, let’s let it be simply Christmas.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Tama Fortner is an ECPA award-winning and bestselling writer with more than forty titles to her credit. As a ghostwriter, she has collaborated with some of the biggest names in Christian publishing to create inspirational books for children, teens, and adults. But her greatest accomplishments happen in a happy little home on the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee, where she lives with her family and an incredibly lazy dog who doubles as a footwarmer.

Tama’s newest title, Simply Christmas, releases September 28th from Ink & Willow and is available for pre-order now. Catch up with Tama and all her latest book news at www.TamaFortner.com.

Join the conversation: What things have you learned to do without at Christmastime?

Loving God, Loving Others

by Christina Rose

“Just then a religious scholar stood before Jesus in order to test his doctrines. He posed this question: “Teacher, what requirement must I fulfill if I want to live forever in heaven?” Jesus replied, “What do you read in the Law? How do you understand it?” The religious scholar answered, “It states, ‘You must love the Lord God with all your heart, all your passion, all your energy, and your every thought. And you must love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” Jesus said, “That is correct. Now go and do exactly that and you will live.” Wanting to justify himself, he questioned Jesus further, saying, “What do you mean by ‘my neighbor?’ Luke 10:25-29 TPT

The Pharisee lawyer tried to trap Jesus with the question, “What do you mean by ‘my neighbor?’” thinking he would trip him up and make himself look good. Jesus saw it coming and he responded with The Parable of the Good Samaritan. He told the story of a man who traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho who was attacked by robbers and left for dead.

Both a priest and Levite who were traveling down the road passed by, ignoring him. But the third man, a Samaritan, took pity on him and bandaged his wounds. He put the man on his donkey and brought him to an inn, giving the innkeeper money to look after the injured man and promised to return for him. Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him. ”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37 NIV).

We lived in a wonderful neighborhood full of young families and retirees. The park and playground were always full of happy kids playing and laughing. And then there was Rose.  Rose was a retired schoolteacher who lived alone across the street. She had lived in the neighborhood for many years and often took walks to visit her old friends and check on the young families.

One day as we were leaving the house, Ashley groaned, “Mom how does she do it? She must peek behind her curtains all day waiting for us to come out of the house. Now I’ll be late for practice again!”  It seemed every time we opened our door, she opened hers and headed across the street to talk to us. As she moved very slowly with her arthritic feet and was in the early stages of dementia, it required great patience to make her understand that we were on our way to somewhere and couldn’t be late.

One year early in November, she shared she had already bought our Christmas gifts. I gulped. We always had a quiet Christmas with our little family, and it had never occurred to me to invite Rose. She could be loud, bossy, cantankerous and frankly, a lot of work. I didn’t know how to tell her she wasn’t welcome on Christmas day, so I invited her. She then asked me what she could bring for Thanksgiving, so I caved and invited her for Thanksgiving, too.

This began years of inviting Rose over for holidays which could be challenging at times, but even more challenging would have been knowing that she was sitting across the street alone.  One year after dinner, she looked at me with tears in her eyes, and said, “I wish you were my mother.”  She was old enough to be my mother, but in that moment my heart melted. There was just a little lonely girl inside that cranky old lady who had lost her mother at a young age. My compassion increased in that moment, as I realized how much Jesus wanted me to love my neighbor Rose, which we did until she passed away a few years later.

Over the years I found many neighbors who needed someone to care. My firefighter neighbor was standing in his driveway one morning, sobbing. His wife of many years had just died, and he didn’t know how he would live without her. Another friend was standing in her front yard in shock. Her husband had unexpectedly died of a sudden heart attack. Sandy worked the night shift and needed to borrow milk and diapers at five am.

We were born to love and help one another.  Reaching out to neighbors with gestures of love glorifies the Father and honors his son Jesus, who died to give us eternal peace.

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35 NLT)

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Christina Rose is an author, trainer and speaker certified by the John Maxwell Team of Leadership.  She is a DAR (Daughter of the American Revolution) whose ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War. She is a world traveler, surfer, foodie, cappuccino loving chocoholic and a devoted mom to kids and dogs and auntie to many nieces and nephews who live around the world.

Christina’s book, My Appeal to Heaven, is her story. With her young family on the verge of falling apart, Christina finds herself in a desperate situation with no resources other than herself.  After appealing to heaven, the Lord takes her on a journey of awakening and miraculous empowerment. That power is available to us all, especially those who need hope and freedom.

Join the conversation: Have you been blessed by loving a neighbor? Please share!

Happy Birthday Jesus!

by Kathy Howard

A few years ago, while speaking at a ladies’ Christmas event, something unexpected happened. I had planned to read portions of the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke. But as I began to read from my open Bible, I discovered I did not need it. The words flowed from memory – KJV style.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  Luke 2:4-5 KJV

But I’ve never purposefully worked to memorize those sections of Scripture. The passages were imbedded in my heart simply because my father read them to our family every Christmas Eve. It was part of our family tradition. My dad desired to keep our hearts and minds on the real meaning of Christmas. To keep Jesus at the center. He felt the same way about Easter, Thanksgiving, and every other holiday. While he enjoyed the cultural aspects of these celebrations, he always honored God first and encouraged us to do the same.

As our own children grew, my husband and I worked to carry on that legacy. For instance, when our kids were old enough to understand, I began baking a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas Eve. We even had candles and sang “Happy Birthday.” It was a simple, but effective way to help our children remember why we celebrate Christmas. Like the magi, we worshipped Jesus.

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:11 KJV

Jesus is also the reason for all the other celebrations in Scripture. On one level, the Old Testament feasts celebrate God’s physical provision and miraculous deliverance. But ultimately, they all point to the coming Savior and His provision of eternal life.

As each holiday and family celebration approaches, we can find creative ways to keep Jesus central. For instance, for Christmas, make a birthday cake and sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. For Thanksgiving, print psalms that express gratitude to God and ask different family members to take turns reading them at the dinner table.

As our families enjoy holidays and other special events, let’s intentionally point them to Jesus. Let’s make Him the center of our days and the center of our families. Whatever else we may celebrate, let’s acknowledge Jesus first. He gives us every reason to celebrate. Jesus is every reason to celebrate.

**This post is adapted from Kathy’s new book, “Heirloom: Living and Leaving a Legacy of Faith.”

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Kathy Howard is a treasure hunter. She hunts for the creamiest chocolate and richest coffee. She searches for cherished stories of faith that still impact hearts. And, she digs deep into God’s Word, mining His eternal truths for herself and to share with others. With more than 30 years of experience, Kathy has taught in dozens of states, internationally, and in a wide range of venues including multi-church conferences and large online events. She has a Masters of Christian Education from the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary.

Kathy is the author of 10 books, including the “Deep Rooted” devotional series and “Heirloom: Living and Leaving a Legacy of Faith” (October 2021).  Kathy and her husband live in the Dallas/Ft Worth area near family. They have three married children, six grandchildren, and two accidental dogs. Kathy provides free discipleship resources and blogs regularly at www.KathyHoward.org.

The Plenty Nests

by Doris Swift

There’s something about children in the house at Christmastime that adds an extra measure of joy to the season. My heart yearns for those crack-o’-dawn Christmas mornings when jumping beans would shake us awake, their Christmas list items wrapped and waiting beneath the tree. This late-night-wrapping mama would roll out of bed and make those littles wait while I “put the coffee on” and popped cinnamon buns into the oven. I’d light the tree and give the okay, standing camera-ready as they rushed by like the wind, wide-eyed and giggly, the likes of which you only experience once a year.   

Oh, for just one more glimpse of that sparkle in their eyes, smiles a mile wide as wrapping paper flies. Where did the time go? Our seasons change, don’t they? Time moves on, our littles grow up, and we mama birds must teach them to fly.  

While some may say our nests are empty, God encourages us that “He has made everything beautiful in its time…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV).

And whatever the status of this mama bird’s nest or yours, we can choose joy, and we can choose to be glad. For although we may miss the seasons of old, God brings new seasons of life to experience. We can take comfort in remembering that those old seasons were once new, too.

In John 15, Jesus prepares His disciples for what was to come. He was leaving, and He knew it would be hard for them to bear. He told them what it meant to abide in the vine, bear much fruit, and how much He loved them. He told them all those things so His joy would be in them; that their joy may be full—because He would never leave them empty.

That is true for us, too: Jesus will never leave us empty when we abide in Him. His joy remains in us throughout the seasons of our lives, even the hardest ones. We are full of Jesus- joy. What could be better?

So young mamas, enjoy every moment and know this: Sleeping-in on Christmas morning is overrated, even if you just went to bed an hour before. Be careful not to blink—because all that talk about time going by quickly? It’s not a cliché. Savor every moment, and don’t sweat the lack of quiet time. Your home will be quiet soon enough, so invite your littles into your moments with the Savior.

And they-say-your-nest-is-empty mamas, your nest is full. We can hang onto memories, but let’s not miss the new ones waiting to be made. This is not the end of the story, because the old story is not gone, it is just stretching and growing and becoming something beautiful in its time.

So how about we change that phrase empty nest to plenty nest? Our plenty nests, where abundance flows with the fullness of love, peace, and joy. Where loving arms of sweet grandchildren wrap around us like a warm blanket. Where the Holy Spirit dwells and Jesus is Lord. Praise God, our nests are plentiful!

May your plenty nests be blessed this Christmas as you celebrate the Savior, who makes our seasons beautiful and our joy full.

You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.  Psalm 16:11 (NKJV)

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Doris Swift is an inspirational blogger, speaker, author, and host of the Fierce Calling Podcast. In ministry for more than thirty years, she is passionate about helping women study God’s Word, walk in their calling, and use their gifts to impact the world for Christ.

How would your life change if you discovered your past has purpose? In Doris’ book,

Goodbye, Regret: Forgiving Yourself of Past Mistakes, you’ll take a journey into the life of a woman who came face to face with her past. A woman who was set free when her ordinary day intersected with her extraordinary destiny. A woman with a history of past mistakes.

Join the conversation: How would you describe your nest today?

Looking Past Our Imagination

by Julie Zine Coleman

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think…” Ephesians 3:20 NASB

Every Christmas Eve, our kids carefully chose the best Christmas cookies and arranged them on a plate alongside a glass of milk. One year we even left hay for the reindeer. I can only hope Santa brought that hay up on the rooftop to them, rather than invite them into our family room. But in any case, it made the holiday that much more fun while my children were young.

Like it or not, Santa is a big part of the American traditional Christmas. He is pictured as a benevolent old man, working all year up at the North Pole with his elves to prepare for his delivery of Christmas gifts to the children of the world. Unless, of course, you have been naughty. Then it is coal for you.

I personally love Santa. I don’t mean to offend any of you Santa-haters out there. I just had such wonderful memories of rushing down the stairs as a child to discover if HE had come. I wanted my kids to experience the same magic for a least a few of their early years. So we always left a snack and a note of encouragement for the old guy before snuggling under the covers on Christmas Eve. And we were never disappointed when morning arrived.

Where our many ideas of Santa come from? How did the original St. Nicholas, very real and very human, morph into a sort-of omnipresent being who sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake? Since when did the benevolent man, known for his generosity toward the oppressed, start making a list on who is naughty or nice? How did he get the magical ability to slip unhindered down the flu into the fireplace below, only to rise back up to the rooftop with a twitch of his nose? I suspect many of our current traditions on Santa have come from the poems, stories, and songs written about old Kris Kringle in the last few centuries. In short, he is a product of our collective imaginations and bears little resemblance toward the original third century character.  

I wonder if we have reduced the meaning of Christmas story details in much the same way. Our remembrance and understanding of a quaint manger scene and angels’ pronouncements can bear little resemblance to what God was revealing about Himself through them.

In reality, the events surrounding the birth of Christ speak volumes about the power of God.

Let’s start with the angels. While we might tend to think of angels as harmless characters, fluttering their wings to hover over the roof of a stable or fields of a shepherd, they are really quite the opposite. For example, in 2 Kings 19, God sends an angel to destroy the army of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, killing 185,000 men. An angel killed the first-born in every Egyptian household the night of Passover in Exodus. Jesus referred to angels as a formidable army when he asked Peter, “Do you think I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53 NASB). These are no cherubic, impotent beings. Yet God uses these frighteningly powerful creatures to announce the good news. His very messengers displayed the power of God.

Another power-revealing aspect of the Christmas story is in how God orchestrated circumstances to fulfill prophecy given hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. He prompted the great Caesar Augustus, the most powerful man alive, to require every family to go to the city of their family origin to register for a census. Thus Joseph and Mary were forced to go to Bethlehem from Nazareth, just as she was preparing to give birth, in obedience to this decree.

How did the Wise Men know where the Savior had been born? God placed a sign for them in the night sky prompting their trip to Israel in recognition of the birth of a king. We don’t know if the “star” was a super-nova, planets in alignment, a comet, or even some supernatural event. We do know God performed the supernatural in the heavenlies at other times, such as the day the sun stood still in Joshua 10 or actually moved backward in 2 Kings 20. Whatever it was, God placed “the star” in the sky as an unmistakable sign guiding the wise men to come and worship.

Circumstances of the first Christmas were perfectly arranged by one very powerful God.

St. Nicholas had a real history, but that reality has been replaced by the whims of our imaginations. Let’s not miss the intended impact of the details in the Christmas story. While the quiet manger scene pictured in nativity sets around the world is dear to our hearts, it should remind us of more than the generosity and goodness of God. The coming of Christ was more than a sweet baby asleep in the hay at the edge of town. It was an unmistakable display of the power of God.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

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About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a revealing look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: What fun traditions does your family practice around Christmas?

Not What I Expected

by Crystal Bowman

The year 2020 was not what I expected. I had several story hour programs scheduled at bookstores. I was looking forward to teaching courses at writers’ conferences. I planned on flying to see my out-of-state grandkids to celebrate their birthdays. Some of my kids and grandkids were going to stay with us for a few weeks in August. I bought a backyard toddler swimming pool and splash pad. I couldn’t wait to see my little ones laughing and splashing in the warm summer temps.

But none of that happened. Like the rest of the world, I was not expecting a global pandemic to bring my life to a screeching halt.

When God sent his Son into the world more than 2000 years ago, Jesus was God in human form. For hundreds of years, prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah. They spoke of his birth, his ministry, and triumphal reign. They even knew where Jesus would be born. In Micah 5:2 (NIV) the prophet tells us, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clansof Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”  And in Isaiah 7:14 (NIV) we read, Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.”

The name Immanuel means God with us. But when Jesus came to earth, he was not what the people expected. The Jews were looking for a conquering king who would deliver them from Roman rule and establish an earthly kingdom. They were looking for a Messiah and Savior who would make all things right. But things didn’t happen the way they thought they would. Instead, Jesus’ followers watched him die a criminal’s death on a rugged cross. This was not what they expected, but it was part of God’s plan to make a way for people to be forgiven and restored into fellowship with God.

Even though Jesus told his followers he would rise from the grave, they didn’t fully understand what he meant. When he appeared to them after his resurrection, they were surprised because they were not expecting to see him again. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples once again asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6 NIV). They still didn’t understand.  

Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom of peace and justice which comes through God’s grace and mercy. Through faith in Jesus, we become citizens in the kingdom of heaven. His kingdom is here and now, but many don’t see it.  

When Jesus returns, he will establish his kingdom on earth and will reign through all eternity. He will make all things right and we will live forever in peace. It’s a kingdom we will see, and it will be better than we expect.

At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord
 (Philippians 2:10-11 NIV).

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Crystal Bowman is a bestselling, award-winning author of more than 100 books including, Our Daily Bread for Kids.She and her husband have three married children and seven huggable grandchildren.

When a child’s grandparent or great-grandparent is afflicted with dementia, it’s difficult to explain the disease in a way that helps the child understand why the person they love is not the same. I Love You to the Stars–When Grandma Forgets, Love Remembersis a picture book inspired by a true story to help young children understand that even though Grandma is acting differently, she still loves them–to the stars!

Join the conversation: How has God surpassed your expectations?