06 December 2015

His Gift and My Presence

'Tis the season for anticipation, and I feel its gleeful ebb like a shoreline wave about to break and send me sprawling across the sand. It's powerful joy.

Advent--the time of waiting, of eager fingers and giddy smiles, of traditions and countdowns, of candy canes and carols, of nativity scenes and garlands--it is the time when we all look for God. Truly, we all find what we're looking for too. The source of our hope and peace and purpose will surface at Christmas, even if that god is not Whose birthday we celebrate.

Our family is reading Ann Voskamp's Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, which takes us through the story of the Bible (the story of Jesus) in preparation for Christmas. It has reminded us already of our need for His coming--and isn't this why we celebrate? As a child myself, I would ponder why Christmas was the biggest holiday on the planet, specifically to the church. After all, Jesus hadn't done anything yet when He was born in the stable.

But this is where I was so wrong. This month-long Advent trek through the Bible story is reminding me why Christmas is deserving of celebration: He came.  He didn't have to; He doesn't owe us anything. Yet He came. His gift is His presence.

I learned the value of this in earthly form when I left for college at 18. My journeying from Hawaii to Virginia was shocking both to me and my family. Three flights and six time zones away, I felt out of reach and would often cry in my first semester while on the phone with my parents. My dad said something then that I'll never forget: "If you ever need me, no matter where you are, I will always come to you."

That was my comfort. I took that promise and plowed through homesickness and culture shock. Now, I think back and realize he didn't say, "If you ever need me, I'll fix your problem." No, it was his presence that he promised. It was that promise that was my comfort. It was a comfort because of his character. I know my dad loves me.

In a similar way (yet divine and incomparable), God loves me and promises His presence. And I did need Him, and He did come. He left home to be uncomfortable, unaccepted, and unrecognized because I needed a Redeemer--we all do. And we know the heartbreaking yet glorious ending to His earth-bound story: He gave us life by His death.

God came then, and we commemorate that each year at Christmas. Yet He comes still. The gift of His presence continues now, and that is a comfort solely because of His character. We know He loves us, and we know He is good.

Much to my shame, though, too often He must still feel uncomfortable, unaccepted, and unrecognized in this temple, in my self. Do I recognize His presence as a gift? Do I commune with Him as One with me, near and nested in my soul? Or do I project Him as far away--a distant deity uninterested and uninvested? If the latter, it is my presence that lacks, not His.

The Advent reading for December 3 echoes still in my head. Ann says this after reviewing the fall of man in the garden:
When we've fallen, and when we're lost, God comes with one question. Not the question "Why did you do that?" Not the question "What did you do wrong?" The very first God-question of the Old Testament, of the whole Bible, is a love question howling out of God's heart: "Where are you?"

Doesn't the answer to that question sum up our soul condition? This is the heartbeat of Christianity: intimacy with God. He asks this not every Sunday, or once a day, but constantly. He gives us the gift of Himself. Then, in that ever-close, all-knowing, fully-just presence, He asks me: "Where are you?" My answer reveals everything, for it is my connection to God that defines my righteousness and dictates my joy. When He asks, I don't want to answer "I'm lost in the world" or "I'm hiding from You in shame."

Instead: may my presence be my gift, and may my answer be "Here, Lord: near."

Merry Christmas, all,

How are you preparing for Christmas? I'd love to hear of your traditions and what you're learning during Advent.

Related articles you may also appreciate:
Staying Steadfast through the Go-go-go
The Virgin Birth: A Christmas devotional (guest post by Dr. Rhoades)
No Room At the Inn: A Christmas devotional (guest post by Dr. Rhoades)

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