Candy canes, Christmas cookies, hot cocoa, fruitcakes, and families feasting…this season is filled with food and memories of food shared with those we love.
But there is no feasting in the Biblical tales of the Nativity. No cookies or pies, no roast lamb or goose, no hot cocoa or fruitcake. So is it wrong to celebrate Christ’s birth with tasty treats?
I don’t think so. (And not just because I enjoy tasty treats!) We’ve spoken recently about seeing Jesus as the Light of the World, and hearing the Word of God, and feeling the warmth of God’s Love…God speaks to us through our senses, and taste is no different. There is nothing inherently sacred about Christmas cookies. And even foods like pretzels and candy canes, which can be symbolic of prayer or the shepherd’s crook, or other religious symbols, are still ordinary.
But the Bible is not silent about food and feasting. In fact, King David said:
” Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! “
And Jesus would invite each of us to “taste and see” His goodness as we remember His death and resurrection:
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
As we prepare to celebrate the Nativity of our Savior, may we engage all of our senses to recognize His goodness, and may we share the memory of all the good things He has given us– physical and spiritual. May we delight in the tasty treats, but let us also remember that Jesus is also the “Bread of Life,” and the “Living Water.”
Also, in this time of bounty and excess, remember that we are to “taste” and see God’s goodness, and to share it! Christmas gluttony does nothing to remind us of God’s goodness, and may prevent other “hungry souls” from being able to enjoy. And that doesn’t just apply to food. May we be eager to share– food, laughter, hugs, good news, compassion, and the truth. The sweet and the bitter…may we taste and recognize our health, strength, and life in the Goodness of our Great God.
Thank you, Jesus, for being our nourishment. Thank you for precious memories shared around tables–food and fellowship, laughter and love. Thank you for being God With Us in every “sense.”
Have you ever been to a conference for work, or a large meeting or convention, where you were required to wear a temporary name badge? It might be a simple sticker with a space to write your name, or it might be a pre-printed card set inside a clear plastic pouch attached to a lanyard or a safety pin. It may have a stripe or box in a bright color, and/or an introductory word or phrase, such as “Hello..” or “My name is…” Perhaps you’ve had to wear a name tag for work on a daily basis, or you have to carry an ID tag pinned to your shirt, lapel, or around your neck or waist.
Such tags serve a purpose; they are functional, if boring, and even if they are also annoying, they are temporary. Some of them give a little more information, such as where you are from or what company, or plant, or building you represent. Name tags make it easy to identify someone and put a name to a face. But a name tag cannot reveal much beyond a person’s name. Sometimes, a name tag doesn’t even meet that simple criterion. I have a simple name, Lila, that is commonly misspelled and misspoken. I have had people look right at my name tag and call me, “Lisa,” “Lily,” or “Leah.” Wearing my name on my shirt or hanging from my neck may (or may not) make me identifiable. It does not make me knowable or known.
When we come before the Throne of God, we need no name tag. God not only knows our name, He knows us intimately– our thoughts, our attitude, our fears, our hopes, our weaknesses and strengths. He has numbered the hairs on our heads, and knows the words we will say before they reach our tongues.
This knowledge might cause us apprehension– there can be no hiding from God–even if we can lie to ourselves about our actions, motivations, and feelings, we can’t lie to Him. But this intimate knowledge should also ease our every fear– God knows all about us, and loves us unconditionally.
Prayer can be many things– joyful, contrite, needy– but it never needs to be small talk!
A Psalm of David. 103 Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! 2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: 3 Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, 4 Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, 5 Who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. 6 The Lord executes righteousness And justice for all who are oppressed. 7 He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel. 8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. 9 He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever. 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 As a father pities his children, So the Lord pities those who fear Him. 14 For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. 16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, And its place remembers it no more. 17 But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting On those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children, 18 To such as keep His covenant, And to those who remember His commandments to do them. 19 The Lord has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all. 20 Bless the Lord, you His angels, Who excel in strength, who do His word, Heeding the voice of His word. 21 Bless the Lord, all you His hosts, You ministers of His, who do His pleasure. 22 Bless the Lord, all His works, In all places of His dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Often in our churches, we focus on two factors of our relationship with Christ– worship and obedience. Worship focuses on His majesty and worth. Obedience focuses on His power and authority. But when the Psalmist speaks here, he is actually focusing on another element. Blessing isn’t so much about majesty or authority; it isn’t about obedience or worship. It is about communion. We bless and are blessed, not just by a word or deed, but by the speaker or doer–they bless us by what they say or do, but they ARE a blessing to us for who they are.
God is worthy of our worship and obedience, but he wants us to be a blessing– to come to him in Love and fellowship, and to be blessed by Who He Is as we meet with him.
Today, worship God. Obey Him. But let’s take time to bless Him and be blessed in return as we spend time with the Lover of Our Souls.
In my pursuit of prayer, I have found it helpful to keep a Prayer Journal. One of the reasons is that I can look back and see what prayer concerns and issues I prayed for weeks, months, or even years ago. I also save space in my journal to go back and fill in how God answered those requests, or what the progress has been in those areas of concern. see also: Proactive Prayer Points
The Bible warns us to be very careful about looking back…the most famous example is the tragedy of Lot’s wife (Genesis 19). In looking back, she lost her chance to rebuild a life after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and was turned into a pillar of salt. In the book of Exodus, the newly freed Israelites grumbled about their circumstances and looked back with fondness on their lives in Egypt, forgetting their oppression in their homesickness for certain foods (Exodus 16). Spending too much time and energy on the past leaves us with little motivation and energy for the present or future. The past should never become more important to us than moving forward. If we long for the past, if we romanticize it or cling to it, fearing the changes and opportunities to come, we can stagnate, and miss the blessings playing out right before our eyes.
But we should take some time periodically to look back in order to gain perspective. The same Children of Israel who grumbled about leaving Egypt, once they arrived in the Promised Land, were commanded to remember their wandering in the wilderness, and told to teach their children about the past (Deuteronomy 8). Holidays and religious rites were instituted as reminders of the past. But this kind of looking back gives us renewed encouragement, incentive, and momentum to keep going by showing us how far we’ve come, and reminding us of God’s faithfulness.
I am especially encouraged when I see how God has answered prayer–so often, I’ve forgotten about trials and struggles that have come my way–issues that seemed huge in the moment, but in hindsight look insignificant. Sometimes, God’s answers were immediate and breath-taking. Sometimes, they were subtle and were revealed in several stages. Sometimes, the answers revealed how God was working beyond anything I imagined! Often, the requests reveal how I have grown (or not!) to trust him more or to listen better to those around me.
And, just like that, I have material to add to today’s prayers– gratitude for prayers answered, hope for new growth, praise for God’s faithfulness, and confession for times I have doubted or looked back in envy or regret.
God knows our innermost thoughts, wishes, and needs. So why do we pray? We’re not telling God something he doesn’t already know. He asks us to seek him, though he is omnipresent. He tells us to knock, and the door will be opened, yet he also says he stands and the door and knocks. Is this another Bible mystery? An oxymoronic enigma?
I don’t think so– I think it is a case of God laying out some ground rules of relationships– his with us, us with him, and even us with each other. God is spirit, but he ask us to build dwelling places where he can meet with us– temples, tabernacles, churches. He wants to abide, to live in relationship and companionship. Ultimately, he offers to dwell in each of us. But he has created each of us as a unique being. And just like a unique building, we have walls and windows and doors. When we reach our eternal dwelling place, this will still be so. We will be changed, purified, sanctified, and glorified, but our souls will not be subsumed or merged into a single temple or a single “soul.” Heaven is not like Nirvana. God is eternally God and we are eternally his creation. Living in communion is not the same as merging or evolving into something not ourselves. We remain uniquely individual, and as such, we need to learn to take initiative to open our doors and windows– to interact, to serve, and to honor each other.
Have you ever been blindsided by someone who expected you to read their mind? You know they are hurt and angry, but you find out later (sometimes much later!) that they wanted you to comment on their new hairstyle, or they expected you to ask them out for coffee. Maybe you know the pain of being on the other end– wishing someone would notice your weight loss or ask about your day. God wants us to learn to reach out, to ask, seek, and knock, instead of isolating ourselves behind locked doors. We are to be active, not passive, about noticing others, sharing with and including others, and serving others. But we are to do it in love and humility– with grace and mercy and love, not with bullhorns, fists, or combat boots.
God is the Almighty one– yet he stands at the door and knocks. He could barge through our stubbornness and rebellion, and drag us kicking and screaming to the altar. He could tear down the walls of isolation and storm crush our pretentious justifications and excuses. But he stands, waiting for us to open the door, and seek his face. The one who spoke the universe into being waits for us to begin the conversation!