image11 Days until Christmas! I am almost completely done Christmas shopping… yay! I baked and decorated Gingerbread cookies (the usual shapes… wreaths, Christmas trees, stockings…dinosaurs). We’ve driven around looking at Christmas lights, our tree is up and about 1/3 decorated, and I am maybe 2/3 of the way done making the crocheted Christmas stocking I started last year. It is a wonderfully imperfect December. And though there are days I wish I had a little more time for all the projects I’d love to do, I am smiling through the mess and busy-ness, and taking a moment to breath deeply and seek Jesus. After all, Jesus didn’t come because we were perfect! He came because we are imperfect, and He wanted to join us in our mess and chaos so He could be part of our lives, and we could be part of His.

I love Christmas. I have been leading the Advent portion of our church services this month. For the four Sundays leading up to Christmas we light a candle each week, and talk about how we can focus our hearts for the coming of Jesus Christ – not just the baby in the manger, but also the Savior who will one day return. On Christmas Eve we’ll light the final candle, to celebrate the light of the world. It has been a great outlet for me to keep in mind the true reasons we have to celebrate, and turn towards others to share the joy of Jesus in tangible and thoughtful ways.

I have been keeping up (more or less) with the Christmas reading plan, and though I haven’t had a lot of time to write, I wanted to at least share some thoughts from last week’s reading, on Ruth and Bathsheba, Jesus’ ancestresses from Matthew 1:4-6. Here we find women who are bound to circumstances in which they haven’t much say, and yet they come out as women of strength. Not victims, but victors.

Ruth’s story is lovely. Some think it was King David who commissioned the recording of this story of his great-grandmother, and how she triumphed over what seemed to be hopeless circumstances. Her husband died, along with all the men in her family, and there were no heirs.  She was a Moabite, not an Israelite, but when her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi, decided to go home, Ruth steadfastly clung to her, choosing Israel’s God over the gods of her own people. This is pretty remarkable when you consider that a common interpretation of circumstances at the time could say that God abandoned his people, since they died. Ruth said “No! I choose your God, and your people!” There must have been something of truth that shone through the lives of Naomi and her family. She goes to this foreign land of Israel, adopts their ways, works hard, listens to wise advice, and makes bold moves in order to secure her and Naomi’s future. All of this is rewarded by God, she marries a wealthy man, and has children, who end up becoming ancestors of kings. It’s the Bible’s Cinderella story. (Well, I guess Ruth and Esther could both go for that title.) There is so much I could say about Ruth and her courage and strength of character, but if you really want to read more, I recommend this book by Carolyn Custis James.

What I love about Ruth in connection with Christmas, is that it is a story of HOPE. When circumstances seem terrible, cling to God, and cling to Hope, and God will surely redeem you, just as Jesus came to redeem us all.

The story of Bathsheba is less lovely and much more gritty. Bathsheba’s story begins when King David should be at war, but instead he stays home, is bored, goes to the tops of his palace and looks down on the city. He sees Bathsheba bathing, and sends men to bring her to him, and he rapes her. (I don’t care how good looking David supposedly was, she had no choice in this matter!) He sends her home, and when it is discovered she is pregnant, he sends for her husband, Uriah, from the battlefield, so that it might look like the child is her husband’s. Only Uriah won’t sleep with her, because his comrades are fighting for their lives, and he feels he couldn’t dishonor his men, his country, or his conscience by enjoying himself when he rightfully should be in battle with the other men. What a contrast to David! So, since David can’t trick Uriah, he murders him, and marries Bathsheba. I think I am sick to my stomach from just writing that paragraph. Though few people may have known (or cared?) about what David did, God cared, and God was deeply angered and grieved. Though David repented and returned to God, the child died.

Bathsheba: raped, loses her husband, loses her child, and now she is strapped for life to the one responsible for it all. I just can’t even imagine the heartbreak she felt, and what she would have to go through to process all her emotions. If there is a redeeming factor to all this, what David did in that situation was not in his normal character, and it seems they came to some kind of amicable relationship, and it was her son Solomon who became king after David (though there were numerous other options from David’s other wives… yeesh).

Blech. What do we say to all this???

If Ruth’s story is one of hope, Bathsheba’s is one that tells us that God can truly redeem any situation, and any broken relationship. Did you just get married because you were pregnant? God can redeem that. He can make that beautiful. Did your spouse cheat on you? God can redeem that, and help you work through that horrid situation. Did you lose a child? Even then, God can return life and light to your heart. Did you commit adultery? Rape someone? Murder someone? David faced consequences of these personal failures, as the story in the Old Testament tells us, but those mistakes did not define him. What defined him was that he returned to God, and did what he could to make things right, and be honorable in the situations that followed.

I know I have it pretty good. I know Christmas isn’t all trees, stockings, and gingerbread cookies. For some people, there is no one to make cookies with, or no oven to bake them in. There is no money for a Christmas tree, or they couldn’t crochet if they wanted to, because of arthritis or some other physical ailment. My life is not perfect, but my life is pretty good. I am thankful for that, and mindful for those who are experiencing more suffering than celebration right now. Put in perspective, my little frustrations are pretty…. little.

Jesus, you came for us because we needed you. We still need you. We need you to bring light and love into dark and broken situations. We need you to bring us your perspective, and help us look outside of ourselves. We need you to remind us that we can go from victim to victor. We can move from sinner, to being called ones after your own heart. We need hope, we need redemption. Thank you for being all that, for doing all that, simply because he turn to you. Even though you know all our situations, and all our sin, you love us in our imperfection. Thank you. Help me thank you by loving people as you love! Amen.