Let Your Hearts Be Light

Christmas candlelight

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas…” It’s always been my favorite Christmas song. I know that’s not very spiritual. Don’t get me wrong- I love a strong “Hark the Herald Angel Sing,” and good “Come All Ye Faithful” in a candlelit sanctuary on Christmas Eve. But when the words “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your hearts be light,” pour through the speakers, it speaks to my spirit.

“Let your hearts be light…”

In years past I remember hearing the phrase in the middle of the fray, rushing from event to event, sitting in a dark parking lot waiting for a late Nutcracker rehearsal to finally end, hustling to get it all done, bought, wrapped, sent, cooked… you know the drill. It was like a beacon to my weary soul- “let your hearts be light.”

But this year, in this 2020 Christmas season, it has become much more than a warm holiday sentiment. In this strange moment, when it feels like I have whiplash from the sudden stop, like all the air has been sucked from the room and the vacuum of silence hurts my ears, it feels different. While I systematically erase plans from our calendar as they get cancelled one by one, as I wrestle with deep disappointment from another quarantine after a positive test, as I console heartbroken children after more loss, “let your hearts be light” feels simultaneously impossible and paramount.

How?

I don’t know how you are feeling about Christmas 2020. Some may be ready to throw in the towel as we limp along, praying that the dropping of the 2021 ball  will magically provide some sort of relief. All the cancelled plans and traditions, the cancelled gatherings and traveling may have caused you to want to “cancel Christmas” just like the plot to a darling children’s Christmas special. But this doesn’t feel darling.

I have seen people declare that they will “Christmas so hard” this year as a rebel cry of revolution, trying to cram a year’s worth of cheer and happiness into one fragile month. But that feels risky to my bruised expectations.

May I propose another option?

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your hearts be light.

I think this is actually the year for our merry little Christmas. We say it every December, don’t we? We’ll slow down. We won’t go overboard. We’ll refuse to get sucked into all the rush, the pressure, the keeping up. Less will be more. But we cross the finish line of Christmas night panting, exhausted, and definitely overboard.

The answer is certainly not to cancel Christmas. After all, celebration is a spiritual discipline. Jesus calls us to over and over. Feasts, Holy Days, Sabbaths. Jesus loves a good celebration- water into wine anyone? The world is looking to the people of God like never before to see that we still hold hope, that we are who we say we are in this season, and that our reason for celebration is not shaken.

So what is the key to “letting our hearts be light” in light of 2020. May I propose a few practical keys I am holding to that I found in a super obvious Christmas passage? I  hesitate to even point to it because I’m sure you’ve spent many an Advent morning camped in it already. Ecclesiastes 5:18-20, you know, obviously! No?

Okay, hang with me.

Like any gift under the tree, we should read the tag to find out who it is from before we open it. This one comes straight from King Solomon, the richest, wisest man to ever live. He had every earthly possession one could dream of and had lived every experience you can imagine. His intelligence and power knew no bounds. Here is the gift he is giving us today:

This is what I have observed to be good: this it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink, and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them – for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil – this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.” Ecc. 5:18-20

No matter what the 2020 toll has been on your life, if you are reading this you are breathing. And if you are breathing, you are still eating and drinking. It’s the simplest gift. Food, drink, sustenance. The gift of provision. The gift of the table. The Christmas season is filled with eating and drinking, and the toil it takes to get those meals on the table. And though the feasts may be smaller, and the wine may be cheaper this year, the gift of the table endures.

Solomon pushes us to recognize that it is not only wealth and possessions that are the gift, but the ability to enjoy them. How often do we pray for the blessings and forget to enjoy them? Your Christmas 2020 budget may look a little different than you 2019 budget did. Your “wealth” may feel a bit less sure. But we all know a Scrooge or two who has more than their share and lacks the ability to enjoy it.  Just like a parent wraps a present for their children with the intention that they enjoy it to its fullest, God deeply desires us to enjoy His good gifts in our lives. His sovereign hand is on your lot, and He is glorified in a dark world when we are happy in our work.

So first, PRAY for the ability to enjoy every bit of this weird Christmas season. Write the words “ENJOY” and “ACCEPT” somewhere you can see them as you go about your Christmas work and know that is a gift your Father longs to give.

Secondly, SIT DOWN Sister. The house looks fine. The gifts are great. We are after a merry little Christmas this year, remember. Your heart being light is more important than the lights on the house or the tree, I promise. Schedule time into the season to enjoy it. It won’t happen by accident. This will be the only Christmas that that child will be that age. This may be the last Christmas with that family member at your table, or that beloved dog sleeping under the tree. If 2020 has taught us anything it is that we really can’t count on anything staying the same. So stop. Take it in. Don’t look up in January and realized you never took the time to enjoy it.

Third, STOP comparing your wealth, possessions, and lot to anyone else’s. We all know the damage the comparison trap can do, and yet so often I find myself walking straight into it like a moth to a Instagram flame. I am not called to accept your lot. I am not called to be happy in your toil, even when it looks a whole lot prettier or easier than mine. Also, stop comparing your lot to your own expectations, to what you thought it would be, to what you think it should be, to what was. Can you live with gratitude in the tension of what is good even when it’s not perfect? When we surrender our expectations we find contentment, but comparison will steal our joy.

When we unwrap the gift Solomon is offering- when we eat, drink, find satisfaction in our Christmas toil, when we enjoy exactly what we have this 2020 holiday season and accept our lot this year- what are we promised? Ecclesiastes 5:20 says, “They seldom reflect of the days of their life because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart. (NIV)” The NKJV says, “For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him (her) busy with the joy of his heart.”  That is the kind of busy I can get behind this Christmas, how about you? Finally, the Message says it like this, “God deals out joy in the present, the now. It’s useless to brood over how long we might live.”  

None of us could have known all that 2020 was going to deal us. And the truth is, the moment the ball drops to usher in 2021 is not magical. We don’t know what is coming. Maybe like never before the enemy has come to “steal, kill, and destroy.” He has divided. He has burdened. Our weapon? Light hearts. Embracing the simplest things; the table, good work to do, the present- just as it is. It is not a question of having the gifts, it is a question of letting them be the gifts.

The Word says that God will keep us so busy, so occupied with gladness of heart, we won’t have time to worry about what we thought it was going to look like, or what it might look like in the future. I don’t know about you but I have spent a lot of wasted time this year “unduly dwelling on the days of my life.” Worrying. Comparing. Regretting. Grieving. And I want to say no more!

So that is my prayer for all of us this 2020 Christmas… that we will be so occupied with gladness of heart, busy with joy in the now, that we would look up to find we have indeed had a very merry little Christmas.

Let your hearts be light.

Day 30: A Bigger Dream

Opening Prayer:Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.”

Daily Scripture Reading:

  • Genesis 45:5-8
  • Genesis 46:1-4
  • Philippians 2:3-4
  • I John 4:19-20

In the end, Jospeh’s dreams were fulfilled. We read of at least 3 different instances in which his brothers literally bowed down before him (Gen. 42:6, 43:26, 43:28). I wonder what those moments felt like. I wonder if he had that lightening bolt thought, “this is it. It’s happening. This is my dream coming true.” I imagine the road had been so long and his personal transformation so enormous, that moment was very different than what his 17-year-old self thought it would be.

In the beginning, I believe Joseph was like most of us, assuming his dreams were about himself. By the time he was standing above his bowing brothers, second in command of all of Egypt, he was clear that God had sent him ahead of them to save their lives. And not only their lives, but the future nation of Israel, fulfilling the promise God had given to Abraham generations before. And not only the nation of Israel, but the family line of Jesus, protecting the Messiah’s lineage hundreds of years ahead of His arrival. Though Joseph had one of the most adventurous, exciting stories in the Bible, he knew and we see that it was just a small chapter in God’s greater story.

Is this how you look at your life? Are you still assuming that the plans and purposes God has for you begin and end with the fulfillment of your own dreams? The tidal wave of our self-obsessed culture is hard to fight. We see everything through the lens of “me.” But what if that raise wasn’t just to fund your dreams? What if that new job wasn’t just about your own upward mobility? What if that new home is to open to the lonely? What if that experience- good or bad- wasn’t intended to terminate on your own personal growth? What if your broken heart was to heal someone else’s? What if your blessings are to bless others? What if it’s all a part of a bigger dream?

In I Corinthians 3:9 we are called God’s co-workers, or co-laborers. We are the conduit of His power, grace, healing and love to this broken world. And we bring all of this with all we are. We have to embrace His bigger dream for the redemption of His world. We get to tell our small chapter of His great story with our lives.

Our boy Joseph was a foreshadowing of Jesus. He left a comfortable home and a loving father to live as a foreigner among hostile people. He was betrayed, falsely accused, and eventually became the savior of his family. In Joseph’s story we see Jesus’ heartbeat for His people. And for those who call Him Lord, we have that same heartbeat inside of each of us. Will you live your dream in context of His?

Today’s Big Questions: Do you see your dreams in context of God’s bigger dream for the world, or do they begin and end with you? Try to identify how the dreams God has given you can fit into the bigger dream of loving on others and redeeming the lost.

Prayer Response: Today, ask the Holy Spirit to speak clearly to you about how your dreams, plans, and life are a part of God’s bigger story. Ask for specifics. Does He want you to financially bless someone today? Does He want you to tell your story to someone? Is He asking you to invite someone into your home? Confess if you have believed that your dreams are for yourself only.

Optional Action Step: On this, the last day of this devotional, take some time to journal your final thoughts. Make a bullet point list of lessons you have learned from the life of Joseph or areas of growth you have experienced. God does not desire more information in our heads if it does not translate to transformation of our hearts.

Closing Prayer:Now to Him who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Day 29: What Was Meant For Evil

Opening Prayer: Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.”

Daily Scripture Reading:

  • Genesis 41:50-52
  • Genesis 50:20
  • Psalms 135:6
  • Proverbs 16:4
  • Romans 8:28

The Sovereignty of God. It is a theology that entire denominations have been built and broken on. Questions like what does God cause and what does God allow are more than just semantics. Where does God’s control end and free will begin? How do His plans interact with the sins of man and the will of Satan to steal, kill, and destroy? People a lot smarter than me have been arguing these points for centuries and we will not perfectly answer these questions today.

What is not in question is God’s hand in every twist and turn of Joseph’s story. He was with him in the pit, in Potiphar’s house, in Prison, and in the Palace. He used the good, bad, and ugly parts of Joseph’s journey to bring Him to Genesis 50:20 where Joseph declares to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Joseph’s brothers intended death, but God intended life. Joseph’s brothers thought it was the end of his dreams, but knew it was just the beginning. We may never know the exact line of what God causes and what God allows in a fallen, broken world, but we can be confident that He can USE every bit of our story for His purposes as well.

Have you ever used fertilizer or compost in your yard, garden, or flower beds? There are many store brand fertilizers full of chemicals but when we get back to basics we find that it is usually made of manure. The actual definition of manure is “excrement, especially of animals, or other refuse used as fertilizer.” Similarly, compost is “a mixture of various decaying organic substances used for fertilizing soil.” It’s the watermelon rinds, the old newspapers, the grass clippings, the used coffee grinds and the egg shells. It’s the unused, inedible, and rotting. Both fertilizer and compost are smelly, dirty, and gross. But every good gardener, farmer, or green thumb knows it is golden. It adds life and nutrients to the soil and to the plants that will eventually grow in it. Something rotten becomes something beautiful. Something dead bring life.

God can redeem all things. With Him, nothing is wasted. He can use our hurts, our shame, the things that were done to us and even our own mistakes. On their own, these things can stink up a life and rot out a soul. But when we remain faithful and bring them to God we can say like Joseph, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” He can use the parts of our story, our past, the detours on our journey for our good and His glory.

Today’s Big Questions: When you look at your own journey towards God’s purposes and dreams for your life, can you identify places where someone meant to harm you, but God used it for good? Have you turned over the rotten parts of your story to Him for Him to redeem?

Prayer Response: Today ask the Holy Spirit to reveal those detours He has used or desires to use you in your life. Sit still in His presence long enough to be encouraged that “no weapon formed against you shall prevail (Isaiah 54:17)” and His sovereignty means that nothing is wasted or unredeemable.

Optional Action Step: Tell someone about the ways you have seen God use what was meant for evil and death in your story for good and life. Encourage them to share their own “fertilizer to fruitfulness” story. Maybe even start collecting kitchen scraps in an old coffee can to use in your flower beds as a reminder that nothing is wasted with God.

Closing Prayer: “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”