When God Does the Unexpected

Unexpected God

Christmas has always been my favorite season. After all, what’s not to like? But this Christmas season is a bit different, as my celebration is muted because of the loss of someone precious to me.

What about you? It may be difficult for you, or someone you love, to celebrate this year. Burdens of loss, financial pressures, health complications, or depression can build an impenetrable wall, brick by brick, separating you from the joy of the season. And yet, when you least expect it…

God has a way of showing up.

He did it for me last week.

Someone I didn’t know well took me aside at a holiday gathering. She shared how she had suffered from depression most of her life. When she attended my husband’s memorial service this summer, she heard the story of his battle with depression. She also learned how God had healed him—not of his cancer, but of the depression he struggled with for decades.

My pastor closed the memorial service by doing something unexpected. He sensed the Holy Spirit prompting him to pray for the healing of those there who might be suffering from depression.

In her words, “Who goes to a memorial service to be healed of depression?”

Indeed. Who does?

But that day, God showed up unexpectedly. And four months later she took me aside to share how she had not experienced a day of depression since the memorial service.

Two thousand years ago, God also showed up unexpectedly, this time in the life of a teenage girl. He showed up with news delivered by an angel—news that turned her life upside down, and then turned the world upside down. Or maybe a better description would be right side up! Still, the religious leaders of His day failed to see Him because they were convinced God would reveal Himself in a different way. They refused to consider the possibility that God might be moving in another direction.

God is still showing up unexpectedly. But if we’re laser-focused on what we’ve decided He should do, we’ll miss the work He wants to do in and through us.

Like my husband, you might be praying for healing in one area, only to learn God is at work in another area of your life.

Trust your heavenly Father to wrap you in His grace and surround you with His peace. Then trust Him to work sovereignly to fulfill His perfect purposes. You just might find He will give you what you need, when you need it.


Waiting for Emmanuel

Waiting for Emmanuel

What is the longest you’ve waited for something you wanted? In this age of instant gratification, wait is a four-letter word in more ways than one.

The oven takes too long, so we microwave our food…then stand in front of the microwave, counting off the seconds because even that takes too long!

Dial-up Internet service wasn’t fast enough, so we converted to DSL, only to replace DSL with high-speed Internet.

Remember the days when we waited to see the photographs we took? We developed the film and printed pictures from the negatives. Polaroid film provided photos within minutes, but even that took too long. Now we can see our digital photos instantly.

Since we work hard at not having to wait for anything, it can be difficult for us to understand how long ancient Israel waited for her Messiah. The original prophecy for His coming can be traced all the way back to Genesis 3:15 in the Garden of Eden. But the prophet Isaiah spoke of Him by name: Emmanuel.

‘Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14 NIV).

The ancient Latin hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, translated by John Mason Neale, has its roots in Isaiah’s prophecy. Emmanuel is God with us. Today Christians understand the historical reality of Jesus’ coming and experience the presence of His Holy Spirit.

But 700 years before the first coming of Jesus Christ, Isaiah spoke an amazing prophecy of the One who would be born of a virgin – God incarnate. Beginning with this prophecy, the hymn writer included other names and characteristics of Emmanuel. He was the Son of God. The Dayspring who brings light. Wisdom personified. The “Desire of Nations” who would someday bring peace.

The saddest part about this is not that Israel waited 700 years for Isaiah’s prophecy to be fulfilled. No, the saddest part is that when Jesus came, the religious leaders failed to recognize Him as the One for whom they had been waiting.

Have you been waiting for peace and wisdom and light in your own life? Don’t be like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. Recognize the source of all these things is Jesus Christ, and Him alone.

Enjoy the planning, preparations, and anticipation while you wait for Christmas to arrive. But as you check off the days, recognize that you no longer have to wait for the answer to your deepest needs. Emmanuel has already come.

My Christmas Ornament Angel

Christmas ornament

Every day of the Christmas season is magical when you’re eight years old. Bright lights, colorful decorations, dazzling trees, gaily-wrapped gifts, and mouth-watering treats combine to create an enchanting time from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day.

During my childhood, the second most important day for me in December—next to Christmas Day itself, of course—was the day the lights of Christmas migrated from the streets and the stores into our living room. The day we put up the Christmas tree.

First, dad assembled the tree branch by branch, longer boughs on the bottom, shorter limbs on top. Mom untangled the strings of multi-colored Christmas lights and wrapped them on the tree. Then it was time to bring the ornaments out of their boxes—twelve compartments to a box, with a blown-glass ornament resting in a tissue paper nest in each compartment.

As much as I wanted to, I did not help with this process. The branches were too unwieldy, the old-fashioned light bulbs too fragile, and the glass ornaments too delicate to be handled by eight-year-old fingers. Even so, I watched all of these preparations with a worshipful gaze. A decorated tree in our living room meant Christmas was only a few short weeks away.

But everything changed the day of my eighth Christmas. That Christmas, as our family celebrated the holiday at my aunt’s home, I opened a small box. Nestled in a bed of tissue paper was an angel.

She was the most beautiful Christmas angel I had ever seen. Less than four inches tall, she wore a fur-trimmed red gown and a tiny halo over her soft white hair. A Christmas gift from my godmother.

Aunt Ramona didn’t have children of her own back then, and my sister and I were the blessed recipients of her bountiful love. She opened the way to a multitude of firsts in our lives. The first time we went ice-skating, horseback riding, and camping. Even more important, the first time we attended Sunday School. It was my aunt who first taught me about Jesus.

Now Aunt Ramona had given me my first Christmas ornament, long before Hallmark became inextricably linked with the tradition of exchanging annual Christmas ornaments.

Christmas would never be the same.

Although I wasn’t allowed to handle the fragile blown-glass ornaments Mom so carefully unwrapped and hung on the tree each year, this angel was different. She was my very own, and I eagerly awaited her emergence from the storage box of Christmas decorations.

You would have thought she was made of silk and china instead of polyester and plastic.

When I held this little angel in my hands, my dreams soared. I felt like I could do anything, be anyone, and go anywhere: the sky was the limit. Stretching to my full height, I would carefully grasp the metal hook and position her on the tree in a place of honor, my reach extending a bit higher with each passing year.

It’s been more than fifty years since I first held that tiny red and white angel. She came with me when I married and stayed with us each time we moved. She even survived a relocation of a thousand miles from New York to Florida.

Where ever I am, this little angel never fails to release a flood of memories each time I lift her out of her packaging and lovingly position her in a prominent place on our Christmas tree.

I’m grateful for my Christmas angel. I’m also grateful for the related memories that grow more precious with each passing year. Memories of adventures with my own fairy godmother.

Now it’s your turn. What’s your favorite Christmas ornament?

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