In week #3 of our Chocolate Soup Blog, I mentioned how early in my career, a young client asked me what love is. Honestly, her question still bothers me. To think that some children grow up not fully knowing what love is sometimes makes it hard for me to sleep at night. Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD, a leader in the field of healing trauma, suggests that it is neglect when a parent’s eyes do not light up when their child walks into the room. I agree.
I know that reading a book really is not going to erase traumatic experiences. I also understand that Christmas is often the worst time for some children as domestic violence increases and childhood wishes go ignored. Even so, having experienced moments in my lifetime where I was fully able to embrace the abundant love of God, I just cannot help but try to pass that along! One of those was the “Chocolate Soup” moment I described in Blog #2. If there is any way, my words can help others to recognize, be aware of, and experience God’s love, I am willing to give it a try.
So, join me in a journey of preparation. It may seem a bit early in the season to think of Christmas. As we go along you will see I am trying to give you plenty of time to actually do the activities described in each blog. It will be in your taking action on your own behalf that you will begin to notice changes in your own perspective. Welcome to the journey. I am praying for you to experience your own Christmas Morning “Chocolate Soup” moment!
Gift #1 — Openness
The story of the birth of Jesus begins in the first book of the New Testament in the Bible. If you skip to the 18th verse of the first chapter, it begins this way.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. — Matthew 1:18-25
Now that was quite a dream! If I woke up from a dream like that I would have looked in the mirror, assumed I was crazy, and gone on about my day as usual without ever considering telling anyone else. Angels and virgins! Oh My!
Throughout scripture Joseph appears to be a quiet man who does not like conflict. In Luke 2:41-52 it is Mary who confronts their 12-year-old son who stayed behind in Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph frantically searched for him for three days and there is no recording of what Joseph said. Only Mary’s words and Jesus’ response are written down.
It appears that maybe Joseph does not like conflict much. Maybe, as a carpenter he does not worry much about being a “manly man.” Maybe he just lets his hammer and nails speak for him.
Whatever the reason, he is prepared to dismiss his fiancé quietly until an angel appears to him in a dream. In the time of Mary and Joseph, an engagement was as formal as a marriage and could only be dismissed by getting divorced. So, to dismiss her quietly means her reputation would have been saved, as well as his own. When he wakes up however, he does just as the angel instructs him to do. Most scholars look at Joseph’s obedience in this. I do not wish to minimize his obedience. However, I want to shine a light on his openness.
Without an open heart and mind we would not be reading this scripture. Nothing would have been recorded. If Joseph had dismissed the dream as a fantasy of his own, there would have been no follow-through. Instead, Joseph has the dream and embraces everything about it.
Joseph is ready to accept the appearance of an angel. Joseph is willing to believe that what his fiancé had told him about being a pregnant virgin is indeed true. Joseph is capable of embracing the dream, the instructions and the task of raising the child of God. Joseph is ready, willing and able. For those with a human father who was either abusive or neglectful it may be difficult to imagine a man ready to sacrifice his own reputation in order to take care of a pregnant woman and her child. Joseph did just that.
Joseph did ordinary things for a child who was far from ordinary. My grandson is nine right now. When I try to think of Jesus at nine years old I imagine a child following his earthly father into the carpentry shop each day and learning how to carve and fit pieces of wood together. I imagine all the time that Jesus and Joseph must have spent in each other’s company. Ordinary days made possible by Joseph’s openness.
Readiness, willingness and ability flow from openness. When ordinary human beings are open to God’s abundant love, extraordinary possibilities flow.
Any gift we receive requires that we are open to receive it. Try something for me. Make a fist with one of your hands. Now, try to pick up your phone with that clenched fist. Kind of hard to do, right? It’s the same with your heart and your mind. When our hearts and minds are closed, the love that God would joyfully give us, bounces off and continues to flow along. It’s like rock-hard soil after a drought. When the first rain falls after a drought, the thin layer of dust on top turns to mud and slides right off, bringing no relief to plant roots buried deep beneath the layers of rock-hard soil.
If your heart is thirsting for God’s love then ask God to help you open up. Ask Him to prepare you so you are able to receive a love that knows no bounds. You are the reason God sent Jesus in the first place. God is longing to shower you with His merciful love. Right now all it requires is your openness.
I know “openness” sounds a lot like being vulnerable. That’s exactly what it is. Imagine how vulnerable Joseph was to the ridicule of his neighbors and friends for taking a bride who was pregnant, and not by him! This man who does not appear to relish conflict walks right into it for the sake of God’s son.
And this story does not end with “and they lived happily ever after … ” either. In fact, the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph again in Matthew 2:13 instructing Joseph to take his new family and flee to Egypt because King Herod is searching to kill the boy.
Becoming open to God’s love does not mean your trials and challenges will be over tomorrow. In fact, the challenges to learn self-discipline, patience and kindness will only be starting! It’s just that the benefits of embracing love, joy, and peace are so worth it. So often when I ask for a miracle, I expect the miracle to happen followed by fairy dust and easy tasks! It seldom happens that way.
Here’s what I mean. Imagine you had a dream to be a baseball player. So you try out for the team. Because the coach sees potential in you, you get a spot on the team. It’s a miracle, right? God answered your prayers. Now, the hard work starts. Since you want to pitch, you start to practice. You choose to spend hours practicing your throw. All that time spent practicing becomes worth it when your speed increases and your accuracy improves! After a while you can think “curve ball” and that’s what your arm throws!
Another personal example for me is graduate school. I spent three years learning to be a counselor. Three years is a long time when you are taking classes, raising a child, providing counseling as a student intern, and working as a teaching assistant. At times I did not think I would ever get through that period. In spite of the hard work, I was open to the call from God to be a counselor. Once I graduated and was working as a counselor, I found myself incredibly grateful for the theory and techniques I had learned as a student. It made the journey worth it for me.
Part of the stress of Christmas is the expectation that giving the perfect material gift can provide joy for an entire year or longer! Then disappointment sets in when the gift gets broken or is underappreciated! Material gifts give us pleasure for a day or two. That pleasure is an emotion that comes and goes just like every other emotion.
Joseph on the other hand gave the son of God a gift that would last for generations. His openness was observed and noted. His openness was recorded because others noticed how unique it was. Others saw the sacrifice it meant for him. Jesus grew up knowing what Joseph had done for him. Jesus grew up knowing that Joseph believed what the Angel told him not just once but twice!
We know that Joseph was ready to dismiss Mary at first. He doubted her faithfulness. It took an angel to convince him otherwise. Take a moment and list three things that get in your way of believing that God loves you today, in this moment, just the way you are right now, regardless of the circumstances you find yourself in.
Now take a moment to imagine that you happen to be reading these devotions because God has a message for you. He loves you. He wants so much for you to know His love that He went out of His way to make sure you were reading these devotions today. All you need in order to receive that love is to be open in the same way that Joseph was.
Today your gift is to seek Openness. Every time you open a door (even a car door) say, “I am open to God’s Blessings.” Or, “My heart and mind are open to the Blessings of God.” Let go of any preconceived notions of what God’s Blessings will look like. Practice being open like Joseph. Be open to a dream actually being a vision. Be open to angels speaking to you. Be open to a message that seems impossible at first. Be open so the love that God has for you can be poured into you.