IMG_1092 IMG_1094 as i turn to a new month in my calendar, i am struck by a particular sense of anticipation for yuletide. i must confess that in spite of my often no-nonsense demeanor, at my core, i am profoundly nostalgic. especially during this season.

advent is such a marvelous and remarkable time to make merry as a family and prepare our hearts for the celebration of Christ’s birth. but while this season often brings more to do and extra activities - even, stress - advent is not merely another "to do". and advent is not designed to be a burden to us. it does not exist so that we might be forced to brave the mall, to roast the goose, to bake, decorate and host parties. rather advent is when we remember, and rejoice that the burden has been lifted, that all that we need has been provided for us by our Lord. it is out of that joy, not out of obligation, that we rejoice.

don’t get me wrong, i love the glitz and spritz of the season. i love shopping and sipping eggnog lattes. i love the cheer and warmth that family traditions bring. the music. the movies. the food. the gatherings. the decorations. the presents.

but there is always something deep down that longs for simplicity. letting my gaze be fixed on the humble manger. softly and sweetly singing seasonal songs of the faith. reveling in the meaning of it all.  the best present. His presence. our Emmanuel. the Lamb of God. thinking through the complexities of His incarnation is a helpful exercise. contemplating His humiliation is a good thing. remembering our need for a savior is laudable. to some, it might seem rather gloomy or bah humbug to think of such things during such a joyous season - to be drawn to the somber hymns of Christmas. but my spirit longs for the quiet, the reverence, the awe. echoing the groaning of creation and impressing upon us our need for a Savior.

o come, o come, emmanuel and ransom captive israel. that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. o come, thou dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here. disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death's dark shadows put to flight. rejoice! rejoice! emmanuel shall come to thee, o israel.

this flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air, dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere; true man, yet very God, from sin and death he saves us, and lightens every load.

i find myself especially mindful. i want these precious moments to matter. i want to focus on heavenly things. for our home to be filled with love and warmth and glow. i want our little ones to grow up with a proper wonder. for them to deeply comprehend what a tremendous thing it is to celebrate the epiphany of our Savior.

and yes, the martha stewart in me wants everything to be sufficiently tinseled…and that's okay too. bright things and light and evergreen and family treasures serve as reminders of the radiant and wondrous gift from above that came down to earth. to live for us. to die for us. to ransom us. to give us abundant life. this is Christmas.

in the depths of winter we remember the heights from which the Word came. we marvel at his journey from the heavenly throne room to the bethlehem manger. we wonder at the truth that the fingers that molded the planets curled round a mother’s finger. and as we share time, food and gifts with loved ones, we appreciate all that we have been given in this life by the One who pitched his tent among us all those centuries ago.

i don't want to turn the page to january and think: but i never really focused on christ this christmas. i don't want to let the noise of the holiday season drown out the message of the angels. i want to be intentional. to fix my gaze on the holy infant so tender and mild. that baby in the manger.

one way that we are doing that is by a new tradition of the giving manger. this beautifully crafted set helps to focus attention on the true star of the season. and it helps families foster a spirit of service and giving. don't get me wrong - we love some santa around here. but even the tradition of that generous saint has been twisted into something selfish. making lists of wants. being good so kids can get things. that's hardly the spirit of St. Nick. what i want is for our family to be so overwhelmed by the gift of the Christ-child that our hearts of gratitude bubble over. that we want to give to others. act generously. help those in need. doing these things from an outpouring of humble and grateful hearts. TRULY acting as Saint Nicholas did. not focusing on getting things for ourselves. but on giving back to others. giving our Savior his due laud, as the angels. and laying our sweet and precious gifts at the manger of our Savior, as the magi did.

coram Deo.

and ho! ho! ho!