day 8 of 12//Blair//CNU

My dear sister,
Slow down for a minute. Breathe deeply. Direct your thoughts for a moment to Jesus, the Beautiful, Magnificent King of Glory. You sit before Him, gazing into His eyes with eager expectation. He gets down on His knee before you because that’s Who He is, a humble Lover Who meets us where we are. He cups your face in His strong yet tender hands and says,
“Do you enjoy Me, sweet daughter of Mine? Do you understand how much I enjoy you, and how I long for you to enjoy Me too? For I offer the most Delightful Enjoyment in My Love. So come to Me, my dear, come.”
Jesus invites you to enjoy Himself this Christmas season. To enjoy Him in the quiet and stillness, on your journal page, and in His Word. In the Christmas cookie making, present wrapping, friends and family visiting, and meal sharing with those you love. And in the difficult conversations, tears shed, and heartache and disappointment felt. His presence remains through it all, and we are invited to know Him and enjoy Who He is with every circumstance and in every moment. For He never changes.
True enjoyment of Our Jesus runs deep within, beyond emotional expressions and external circumstances. Enjoying God is a sweet breath over our spirits, a resting in peace and Truth, a seeing through the lens of eternity, and knowing the Perfect Love that invites us to pure freedom and holy closeness.
We are offered an overwhelmingly enjoyable relationship with the One Who creates us,  saves us, holds us, knows us. Our Papa reveals Himself to us that we would experience deep intimacy and joy abounding in the sweetest, most unfathomable Love.
This offer is one of beauty and grace and is in no way dependent upon who we are or where we are or what we’re experiencing in our lives. So let’s accept this invitation to enjoy and enter in. Let’s invite Jesus into every heart circumstance and holiday festivity, believing that He is present and He WANTS to be with us ALL the time. Reflect on His character, imagine His beauty and majesty, sing to Him, smile at Him, cry with Him, talk to Him. He is always eager to listen, to engage, to smile back.
Let’s celebrate the best news of all, Emmanuel–God With Us!
::Hi there, sweet friends. My name is Blair Bean, and I’m a senior at Christopher Newport University studying Sociology. One of the most delightful enjoyments of this season is all of the wonderful Christmas music! Some favorites: Amy Grant, Phil Wickham, Michael Bublé, and The Brilliance…Merry Christmas to each of you! Hallelujah, we’ve been found in Jesus!::

Day 6 of 12//Sarah//VCU

   “Can you imagine being Mary?” I asked my roommate that question this morning.
   “Merry? Like happy?”
   “No, no…Mary. Like Jesus’s Mary. Mary and Joseph, Mary.”
   This conversation lasted many more minutes as we thought through the question. The reason why I asked was because of a song I heard on the radio on my way to church last Sunday morning. The words of the song broke through my still very tired and worn-out-post-finals state.
“You’re here, I’m holding you so near
I’m staring into the face of my Savior
King and Creator
You could have left us on our own
But you’re here”

   “My gracious.” I thought as I kept driving. Like I shared in my first blog, I have heard the story of Jesus’s birth and I knew about Mary—duh, but I never really took the chance to get to know her or even think about her for more than a few seconds every Christmas. So, this morning I took the chance and now I am extending the invitation to you. Care to join me? Empathy is key here when exploring this and so is our imagination. Try it with me. Also, grab your Bible if you can.
   Let’s take a few steps back and look at some history on Mary. Isaiah 7:14 prophesied the birth of Jesus from a virgin (“…The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son…”). We don’t officially meet Mary until Luke 1:27. In that section of scripture, we get a little bit of background info on her:
o      She lives in Nazareth, a town that was in Galilee.
o      She is “pledged to be married” to a man named Joseph, who came from the lineage of King David.
o      Though it is never exactly stated how old she is, according to the culture Mary was a part of, girls were “betrothed” as early as 12. We can infer that Mary was around the age of 14-16 when Jesus was born. (When I think of myself at age 14 or 16…..yeah, let’s not dwell on that…)
   I encourage you to look through Luke chapters 1 and 2, to get a complete sense of the context. You see in Luke 1:26 an angel, Gabriel, appears to Mary. He tells her not to fear, that she is favored by the Lord and that He is with her. (Sidenote: check out ‘The Message’ version of this passage; it paraphrases this as “Good morning! You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, Beautiful inside and out! God be with you!”—talk about a greeting!) Gabriel shares God’s plan for Mary and the role she has been chosen for. Her only question was “how?”…she never asked “if” or “why”. Her obedience was immediate. She says, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). The angel finishes explaining God’s plan and Mary packs up and heads to her relative Elizabeth’s house, who was carrying a baby of her own, John the Baptist. (Her and Zachariah’s story is incredible. I encourage you to read that one as well.)
   When I read Luke 1: 46-55, I want to stand up and spin around and rejoice with Mary. “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” She goes on and on, praising the Lord. Read it. Are you standing up and spinning around yet? She spends a portion of her pregnancy with her cousin, Elizabeth, preparing and rejoicing in God and His plan. Luke describes Jesus’s birth in chapter 2:1-7. Up to this point, it seems like Mary’s faithfulness and her obedience is unwavering. She gives birth to this precious baby Jesus in a barn that is meant for livestock. I can’t help but wonder what that must have been and felt like, to look down and hold the long awaited King.
   The song captures what my imagination comes up with. “You’re here, I’m holding you so near. I’m staring into the face of my Savior, King and Creator. You could have left us on our own….But you’re here.”
   Through this exploration of who Mary was, I wasn’t just captured by her obedience, her faith, or

her humility. Though I do admire her for those qualities, it made me become enthralled by Jesus. Jesus, Immanuel, my Creator, my King, the lover of my heart; came in the form of a precious baby, was swaddled and laid in a manger. He was fully human and fully God. He humbled Himself and took on flesh. Can you imagine what kind of birth He would have had if He had gotten the one He deserved? Mary trusted and praised God from the very beginning. She was given the honor of carrying and caring for Jesus. She was able to kiss the face of God…the God she loved, trusted and followed. He gave her the chance to be a main character in the story of saving the world. Her role in this makes me adore Him all the more. Her faithfulness reflected God’s faithfulness, her obedience reflects God’s sovereignty, and her love was a reflection of our Savior’s.

   I am so thankful she was able to hold him so closely and so tenderly. He was her and my King and Creator; Her and my Savior. He could have left us on our own, but Praise Him that He didn’t. Oh Immanuel… God with us.
You’re here, I’m holding you so near, oh, oh
I’m staring into the face of my Savior
King and Creator
You could have left us on our own
But you’re here, you’re here

Someday I’m going to look back on this
The night that God became a baby boy
Someday you’re going to go home again
But you’ll leave your spirit
And flood the world with joy

Noel, Noel
God with us, Emmanuel

Day 5 of 12//Rachel//ODU

In reading the blog yesterday, I was convicted about the overwhelming amount of expectation I bring upon myself and others EVERY Christmas season.  Despite unmet expectations every year, I never fail to eagerly await the perfect family get together where every family member shows up and gets along.  I create a goal for myself to top last year’s giving and come up with more creative and more personal gifts for all of my friends and family.  And on top of this unattainable list of criteria I have for the holiday season, I somehow expect my heart to be totally in tune with the message and meaning of the season all the while – deeply experiencing and understanding the implications of the birth of our Savior. 
            Yet, I am learning and realizing for the first time this Christmas that these expectations do not reflect the true meaning of Christmas no matter how I look at them.  I believe our Father’s intention behind celebrating Christmas every year was to remind us of the humble nature in which Christ entered this world.  The King of this world was born in a stable and because of their faith that He would soon be revealed as the Savior of the world, others came from afar to be present before the throne of the Lord and to worship.
            So really, our expectations and extra-long to-do lists every Christmas only distract us from the meaning and purpose of Christmas.  What a joy it should be that Christmas is a holiday that spans over the course of a month!  Unfortunately, this has the potential to bring stress in so many ways…so much to do in so little time.  The length of a month brings the idea that the time has to be filled with more buying, more baking, more celebrating, MORE, MORE, MORE!  However, the Lord simply calls us to come before Him on bended knee and worship.  This Christmas, I have felt the challenge to call upon the Lord in desiring to battle how the world defines the Christmas season and simply worship Him more whole-heartedly.  I am desiring to spend some of the time I used in the past to create such elaborate gifts as time spent before Him in prayer and worship.  I am desiring to be thankful for the grace that is poured out for me everyday and show that same grace to others that will at some point fail to meet my unrealistic expectations. 
            So I challenge you who are reading this as well to consider what it is that may be a distraction to you every Christmas season? A desire to give the perfect gifts?  Or to receive them?  Picture perfect time with family and friends?  Whatever the distraction may be, let us cling to the freedom that we do not have to earn the love of Christ or prove anything to our own loved ones.  Christmas is a time for humility and simplicity as counter-cultural as that might seem.  Let us take this time to slow down (even be still), give more intentionally of our time and resources, and focus our hearts on the reality that Christmas marks the beginning to the unveiling of a promised Savior.
            Here is a passage from Isaiah 12 titled a “Song of Praise” that reminds me of who our God is and what our response should be to the fact that He is God.
            “I will praise you, O Lord.  Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me.  Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.  With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.  In that day you will say: give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done and proclaim that his name is exalted.  Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world.  Shout along and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”

My name is Rachel and I am a nursing student at ODU.  Christmas has always been my favorite time of year because of the way it brings families together no matter how scattered they may be throughout the year.  My family’s Christmas traditions look very similar to others I’m sure as far as decorating the tree, baking cookies, and getting together with extended family.  But I just love that it is a time of year so rich in tradition yet there is a newness and freshness to the season every time it comes around!