A Holy Encounter

The lights were low, the room warm and full of people. I closed my eyes while music and voices swirled around me, my heart swelling with emotion. We were back—together at last—singing carols in anticipation of Christmas. We’d just begun one of my favourites. This year, after many months of restrictions and isolation, its words seemed especially poignant.

‘Long lay the world in sin and error pining . . .’

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Didn’t that describe the journey we’d been on? Regardless of our viewpoints, we’d all suffered loss and heartache—so much waiting, disconnection and wondering.

‘ . . . Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.’

This testing had brought for each of us a fresh awareness of our flaws and need of rescue.

‘A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices . . .’

Goose bumps tingled over my skin as I lifted a silent prayer. Oh, yes, Lord! Our world is weary. We desperately need Your hope.

On through the verses we caroled, our voices rising in measure with our passion, till we neared the crescendo. ‘Fall on your knees . . .’

And there it was again – that tug on my spirit. Every time we sang, ‘Fall on your knees,’ I sensed God’s whisper, Don’t just sing the words. Do what they say. Kneel.

I opened my eyes, scanning the room. People in our church didn’t often kneel. Everyone was caught up in the joy of worshipping together—did I really want to distract them? Wouldn’t they think I was weird?

The pull grew stronger. I breathed deep. Okay, God. I will.

As the words came around again, I lowered myself to the carpet. Closing my eyes once more, I rested my hands on the back of the chair in front of me and continued singing, ‘O night divine, O night when Christ was born.’

My surroundings seemed to fade and I saw myself in a starlit stable, kneeling on a bed of straw. The scene reminded me of a Christmas card I’d seen many years earlier, where Santa knelt at the foot of a manger, his hat in his hands, head bowed before the sleeping baby. That card made such an impression on me, the image was still vivid in my mind.

This time, though, it wasn’t Santa lowered in reverence. It was me. If I opened my eyes, I knew everything around me would look the same as before. So, I didn’t. God was showing me something and I didn’t want to miss a moment.

From my position on the stable floor, I leaned forward and peered into the manger. There He was—Jesus—tightly wrapped, his head covered with dark hair, his tan face glowing with the sheen of new birth. This object of our worship, Who came to offer hope to a world in crisis, was the Son of God—co-creator of the universe, more powerful than any earthly or spiritual ruler. Yet here He was—a baby?

I knew the story. We all knew the Christmas story. Jesus came as a baby. But on this day, I felt it. It became real to me. And I wept.

Jesus looked exactly like any other newborn. So tiny. So fragile.

This mighty one had given up all His splendour, all His elevation above earthly concerns, to become the most vulnerable of humans. Easily crushed. Completely dependent on others to sustain Him.

How could that be? What love must have compelled Him to be reduced to such a state?

In that moment, something shifted inside me. All the hardships of my year—all the challenges I’d been wrestling with—suddenly looked very small. If Jesus could humble Himself in this way, and later lay down His life to rescue me, how could I offer Him anything less?

I wiped my eyes as the song came to an end and stood once more, my heart at peace.

Lord, I’m yours. Whatever you want, I’m willing. You are worthy. Help me to follow you.

I don’t know what lies ahead for me. I don’t feel any stronger than I did before. But I am comforted. Because I know that whatever comes, Jesus gets it. He’s already walked the hardest of roads—and He knows the way through.    

‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

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Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
    rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!’

  Philippians 2:5-8

Christmas Every Day

There’s going to be a pile of presents under our tree tonight. It’s Christmas Eve. For the first time, our four children have bought a gift for each family member. That means that before Mark and I even put our gifts out, there will be twenty presents filling the floor space around our bauble-laden evergreen.

Exciting!

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I love Christmas. I love presents – giving them, getting them, seeing the surprise on each one’s face as they discover what’s inside the colourful wrapping.

But long after all the paper is stashed in the recycling and the gifts are put away, I’ll still be celebrating the One we remember in this special season.

I’ve been pondering two verses in Isaiah chapter 9 of late, words which foretell the coming of Jesus. One particular phrase in verse 7 has stuck with me.

“Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.”

Yes, Jesus came as a beautiful, perfect baby. He was a real historical figure. He was born in a stable and was worshipped by shepherds and wise men alike. Isaiah 9: 6 speaks of that child.

But that exciting time was just the beginning.

Jesus didn’t come to the world just to delight everyone with his cuteness. He grew into a man and lived and loved people from all walks of life. He demonstrated His goodness and power in countless miracles – healings, provision, even raising the dead to life. He then laid down His life, taking the punishment for all the ways we’ve blown it and opening up the way for us to walk right into God’s presence (and live there).

Finally, He rose again (was seen by many witnesses) and still lives today. Best of all – He’s at work in our world.

He is the Wonderful Counsellor – the one who understands us completely and gives the best advice;

Mighty God – able to intervene in our lives and turn things around;

Everlasting Father – the faithful Dad who will never leave;

Prince of Peace – the one who remains steady at all times and invites us to walk with Him in that peace.

Our world is trying to push Jesus out, it seems. In America, use of the word ‘Christmas’ is being replaced by a more generic term.  In our own nation, Victorian public schools will no longer sing ‘religious’ carols at Christmas time as they may offend some students. There are countries where, for centuries, followers of Jesus have been ostracised, beaten, imprisoned and slaughtered, purely because of their devotion to Him.

Yet He continues to work.

Isaiah 9:7 reminds us that Jesus’ rule is spreading, even now, across the globe. Though we don’t hear about this in the mainstream media, He is reaching into the most unlikely places, touching the most unlikely people, bringing His counsel, His power, His beautiful Fatherly love and His perfect peace right into their midst.

Jesus’ rule isn’t one of domination or violence. He hasn’t raised up a terrifying army. He doesn’t force Himself upon us at all. No. He invites us to come to Him. He offers forgiveness, renewal, healing.

When we open our lives to Him, He fills us with His presence and begins to restore us, starting with all the broken places in our hearts.

It’s been thirty two years since I accepted His invitation. There’s not a moment in that time where I’ve regretted my decision. He has changed me more than I can find words to explain, bringing a love and peace that is beyond compare.

Knowing Him is cause for celebration every day.

“For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on His shoulders.

And He will be called

Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end…”

Isaiah 9:6-7a