Expectancy

Expectancy changes everything. One’s perspective, planning, and worldview are all shaped and often altered by the expectation of something or someone’s coming.  I’ve thought much about expectancy recently as we are anticipating the arrival of our third son around Christmas Day. Our expectation of his arrival has altered our Christmas travel plans, affected the arrangement of our house, and even changed the way we think about the future of our family. While Christmas Eve isn’t necessarily considered an ideal due date, it will be special to count down the days until our son’s birth as we simultaneously count down the days until Christmas. As we await the birth of our little boy, we will joyfully celebrate the first coming of our Savior King with hopeful expectancy for His future return.

I’ve been imagining how Mary must have felt as she carried Jesus in her womb and anticipated the day of His birth. She, along with all the people of Israel, had for many years been waiting expectantly for the coming of the Messiah–the Rescuer–the one who would bring salvation and free the Israelites from oppression. Their expectation gave them hope to press on in faithfulness to God, despite hardship and uncertainty. Their expectation enabled them to have joy in the midst of pain and sorrow.

Christmas is the season full of joyful expectancy and anticipation. Everything–from the decorating and shopping to the parties, performances, and baking–is leading up December 25, the big day when we celebrate the season in full with friends and family. The excitement of the holiday season  builds through the month of December and is made complete on Christmas Day. But for believers, the significance of this expectation and anticipation is so much richer than just the gifts, traditions, and even the family. Our expectation and joy in these things is just a pointer to a deeper joy and greater expectation in our hearts. The big day is greatly anticipated and greatly celebrated because it was on this day that God took on human flesh and came to live among us (John 1:14). It was on this day that a light dawned on a people living in a land of darkness (Isaiah 9:2). It was on this day that the many promises of God to His people began to receive fulfillment: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2 Cor 1:20). Through Adam’s original sin, brokenness and death reigned among humanity. But through the birth of Christ and one day through His death on the cross and resurrection, grace would reign among humanity (Romans 5). Jesus came into the world on that first Christmas Day to conquer more than the oppressive Roman Empire. He came into the world to conquer sin and death–much greater oppressors of humanity.

For believers in Jesus, Christmas is both a season of joyful celebration for what He has already done and a season of joyful expectation for what He will accomplish still. In a world still plagued by terror, violence, sorrow, injustice, and oppression, we celebrate Christmas with joyful expectancy. We rest in the truth that we serve a God who has always shown Himself faithful to keep His promises, and we hold on to the hope that Jesus will return again. This time, He’s coming to judge the world, make all things new and right, and reign forever. And our expectancy for this great return changes everything about the way we live today. 

“Come, thou long expected Jesus, 

born to set thy people free;

from our fears and sins release us,

let us find our rest in thee. 

Israel’s strength and consolation, 

hope of all the earth thou art; 

dear desire of every nation,

joy of every longing heart.”

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The light of the Gospel shines brightest at Christmas

If I had to choose one word for our 2014 year, it would be gospel. For us, this year has been about learning to live in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ—learning that no part of our lives is untouched by this good news. It is the gospel that must shape our marriage, our work, our parenting, our play, our time management, and our very identity. The gospel must be our ultimate hope and satisfaction. It is the gospel–not our work, our achievements, our income, our children—that defines us. The gospel is not just the spring board that launches us into salvation. It is the pool into which we dive and remain.

So what exactly is this gospel? Whether you’ve heard it many times or never before, understanding and dwelling on the gospel of Jesus is a daily necessity for each of us— often a greater necessity than we realize. In the Bible, the Greek word for gospel (translated euangelion) literally means good news. The gospel proclaimed throughout the Scriptures is simply the good news of what God has done through His Son Jesus Christ to reconcile humanity back to Himself. This good news is the whole reason we started celebrating Christmas in the first place. But the reality is, we cannot fully grasp and appreciate good news until we have a proper understanding of the bad news regarding our helplessly hopeless situation. The good news of the gospel is only necessary and gloriously good when shining brightly against the dark and dirty backdrop of our ultimate human problem: Sin.

We like to believe that human beings are born basically good and are later corrupted by the evil that already exists in our world, but the Bible tells a different story. The Bible tells us that, at the core, all human hearts are deceitful and sick with a wickedness that can’t be shaken in our own power (Jeremiah 17:9). When Adam and Eve, our first parents, failed to trust God and instead rebelled against His good rule in disobedience, sin and death entered the world: Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all had sinned” (Romans 5:12). From that point on in human history, all men and women have been born with a sinful nature that leads us to break God’s law and defame His glory by committing sinful deeds (Romans 3:23). We are born into this world physically alive but spiritually dead—separated from God and controlled by our sin nature (Ephesians 2:1). Although our Creator God is a perfect, beautiful, loving, gracious, sovereign King; in our sinful state,we want nothing to do with him (Romans 3:10-12). We utterly reject His good rule in our lives in order to govern ourselves according to the corrupted desires of our own hearts (Ephesians 2:3). The result is a broken world filled with evil, sickness, sorrow, tragedy, pain, and, eventually, physical death for all (Romans 6:23). And the worst part is that we are powerless to fix our sin problem. No amount of good deeds can change the deep-rooted condition of our hearts or keep us from committing more sin. Our attempted righteousness is still filthy when held up to God’s perfect righteousness (Isaiah 64:6). Even our greatest virtue is faintly tainted by selfish ambition and pride—tainted by hearts that love self more than God.  Because our God is holy, pure and perfectly good, He cannot tolerate evil. It is in conflict with the very essence of His being. Left to ourselves, we are destined for God’s just wrath against sin and bound for an eternity separated from Him in Hell.

The picture is grim and seemingly hopeless, but it is against this dark backdrop that the good news of the gospel breaks in as a bright light of shining hope. The Light was foretold many years before He appeared on the scene to shine fully into a dark world. The prophets proclaimed that God would send a Rescuer who would illuminate and overcome darkness, bringing hope to a sin-oppressed people: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. . . For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given. . .(Isa 9:2,6). The promise of this Light-to-come flickered in the hearts of God’s people, igniting a tiny flame of hope. And many years later, that promised Light entered the world fully. On the first Christmas, The Word {Jesus Christ} became flesh and dwelt among us. . . In him was life, and the life was the light of men. . . The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:14, 4, 9). God sent His own Son from Heaven to Earth to shine light into a dark world and also to shine light into our darkened hearts: For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). Jesus came to earth to shine His light on our ultimate problem: sin-darkened hearts. And He came to illuminate the truth that He alone is the solution to our problem. Only Jesus can transform sinful hearts and make them clean and right before God. Only Jesus can bridge the separation between God and man.

Jesus lived the life we couldn’t live–a perfect sinless life. He met all of God’s requirements perfectly. Despite His perfection, He died a death that we deserved to die when he served as our substitute and bore God’s wrath against sin in His own body on the cross. He didn’t stay dead, however, but rose from the grave to overcome sin, darkness, and death once and for all. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5). One day, Jesus is coming back to judge evil once and for all and to make all things new and right in our world.

During this season when I enjoy the beauty of tiny white lights illuminating the dark boughs of our Christmas tree, I am reminded of the true Light that shone into a dark world on that first Christmas night. As I watch lights twinkling from bushes, trees, and porches against the blackness of a night sky, I am so thankful for Jesus who shone His light into my own darkened, powerless heart—forgiving and transforming me. Christmas intensifies my longing for those blinded by the darkness of sin to have the eyes of their hearts illuminated by the light of Christ. God’s Word promises that when we repent or turn away from sin and the desire to rule our own lives and trust only in the good news of what Jesus has done to give us clean hearts, we will be saved and made right before God (Mark 1:15). It is the gospel that is that is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16), and it is the gospel that is the power of God for daily living. God, through Jesus, has provided the remedy for my ultimate problem and made me His child, bound for eternity with Him. That changes everything in my life. Jesus, the true Light of the World, offers hope for today and for eternity if we will only trust in Him. May the light of the gospel shine brightly in your hearts and from your homes this Christmas. 

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Tidings of Comfort and Joy!

The 2013 Stevens-family-Christmas-card-photo-shoot needed to be recorded in the archives for posterity’s sake. Because future generations need to understand that they come from a bunch of crazies! And fun crazies to boot!

{Disclaimer: some of these photos have dark shadows and heads cut out. We used the self timer for this shoot because who do you ask to come over and take photos of your entire family in footie pajamas? At least we got a few good ones.}

So, Merry Christmas and tidings of great comfort and joy from our family to yours!

2013 Stevens family Christmas card

2013 Stevens family Christmas card

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Luke tells the Christmas Story

This post should actually be titled Luke tells the Christmas Story to Doc and J-J.

I loved my parents’ response to this video. They both loved it and commented to me separately . . .

Mom: Doc was a little jealous that J-J got so much attention in this video! 

Dad: J-J’s head was a little bit puffed up about all that attention!

Each vying to be the #1 grandparent! They crack me up.

So thankful Luke is learning the story of Christ’s coming. Praying it will one day mean the world to him.

Christmas in Pictures

We made a very quick trip to Alabama for Christmas this year, but I wanted to document with just a few pictures.

Santa loot…

SONY DSC Coming in to check out the loot. SONY DSCReady to cruise.
SONY DSCChuck the truck.

SONY DSC DSC05197Someone has changed a lot since last Christmas. Tears . . .
SONY DSCNew pajamas. Jenny looks like a model when she wakes up in the morning. It’s a tad sickening. 🙂

photo (2) Probably the best piece of meat I’ve had. EVER. Props to Big Norm. photo (3)

Always excited about new books. SONY DSC Sweet Christmas cousins. SONY DSCSadly, I neglected to get many pictures with family during our Christmas trip, but here’s a family Christmas card attempt taken around Thanksgiving. Oh, how I love these people!

DSC05062Hoping everyone had a happy Christmas!

December Fun

There’s this adorable little park that we drive by almost every day on our way to and from the house, and it’s lit up with all sorts of fantastic lights this time of year. Mr. Boy always notices the lights from the car and points and “talks” when we drive by. So one night, we thought we’d stop and let him see the lights up close.
IMG_3534The pictures aren’t so grand and really don’t capture the beauty {I have issues with night pictures}, but Mr. Boy wasn’t disappointed.

DSC05146He pitched a fit when he had to say goodbye to the giant Frosty and get back in the car.
DSC05153 DSC05161And since we’re just so full of Christmas cheer, we also stopped by the mall to see Santa. Mr. Boy wasn’t a fan, which makes me thankful that I made the decision to stand outside the gate and take my own pictures, rather than paying $35 for a package of “professionally made” photos of my child screaming his head off in Santa’s lap. Santa’s photographer elves just loved me.
DSC05168 The good news is, L LOVED the little cars in the middle of the mall that you can ride for a whole 75 cents. Have I mentioned that he is really into cars and trucks right now? I mean REALLY into them. The only words to describe it are unbridled OBSESSION. In the pictures below, he’s making his “truck sound” which reminds me of the drumroll that Ellen does right before Clarke lights up the house on Christmas Vacation. He can do this great tongue roll thing and draw it out forever and a day.
DSC05169 Then, after he touched the seat, floor, steering wheel, windshield and every other inch of the car, he stuck his thumb in his mouth. Great. Because I will not survive it if we all get the stomach virus again. DSC05170 See, like I said. Not a fan of Santa yet. But can you blame him? I mean, we just handed him off to this BIG, strange man in a funny outfit and a HUGE chair. Not gonna lie, if I was a year old, I might be a little freaked too. DSC05171I just wanted to take him and see his reaction. I have memories of going to see Santa every year at the mall in Mobile with my siblings. We would prepare our little lists and go sit on his lap and tell him everything we wanted. And we really believed, y’all. We loved it. Well, that is, until we got to early middle school and mom still made Jenny and me go see Santa because “Will still believes, and he should get to see Santa just as many years as you girls did.” At that point, it was more like torture…just like it was for our little guy. Bless it!
DSC05172Merry Christmas, Y’all!

The hope we sing. . .

If you’ve followed my ramblings for any length of time, you may remember that I love the Christmas season. I really do.

But let’s be real. It’s all too easy to let the season become stressful. It’s busy. It’s hectic. Parties to attend, cards to address, food to cook, traveling to see too many families in too little time, all those presents to buy and wrap, and in the end, too much money spent on all the things we feel are necessary parts of the holiday season.

I fall into it, this holiday stress. Christmas becomes overwhelming, and I find myself thinking, this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. . .this isn’t how I WANT it to be. This really should be the most wonderful time of the year.

Why? Because Christmas is Hope. Christmas is the climax of a big story—God’s big story that has become our story. Christmas is the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God—the inauguration of the total restoration of all things that will one day be our reality. Christmas brings the answer to the horrific problems of sin and suffering that permeate the earth. Christmas is an essential part of the fulfillment of a promise given in Genesis 3:15: the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent.

We don’t revel in this hope. We rarely even dwell on it in the mundane of the day-to-day. But it’s the hope we sing in our carols during the month of December. And it’s the hope we cling to, through the good and bad, in every other month of the year.

Our hearts mourn the sickness, suffering, injustice, evil, and loss of innocent life that are daily realities in our world:

And in despair I bowed my head: “There is no peace on earth,” I said, “For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”

But the bells of Christmas day ring out our message of HOPE:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “GOD IS NOT DEAD, NOR DOTH HE SLEEP; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”  

This hope of right one day prevailing began in Bethlehem and continued to the cross. . .

Son of Adam, Son of heaven, given as a ransom. Reconciling God and Man, Christ, our mighty Champion! What a Savior, what a Friend, what a glorious myst’ry! Once a babe in Bethlehem, now the Lord of hist’ry! 

And it will one day be consummated with Christ’s return! So, may we truly revel in His first coming this Christmas season. May it be our pleasure, our joy, and our hope. May it overcome the busyness and stress. May we also pray in earnest for his second coming: a time when our restoration will be complete,  our hope fulfilled, and all things made right.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel!

{Lyrics: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, Joy Has Dawned, & O Come, O Come, Emmanuel}