Unwrapping His Christmas Presence

Unwrapping His Christmas Presence

December 11, 2013

“The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).” Isaiah 7:14b (NLT)

Plans for the perfect Christmas danced in my head. Almost everyone from my side of the family and JJ’s side would be coming to our house at some point between Christmas and New Years. We’d never hosted Christmas dinner, and I was looking forward it.

But, somewhere in the midst of all the preparations, I got tangled up in Christmas lights and unrealistic expectations. By the time everyone got here I couldn’t wait for them to leave.

It all started when my husband and sons petitioned for blinking colored lights on the tree. We don’t do colored lights on the tree. I am a “white lights” kind of girl, I insisted.

But JJ decided our decorating decisions should be a “family activity” that year. Who was this man and why had he not brought this up in pre-marital counseling? I wondered.

The control freak in me started to freak out. Don’t get in the way of my perfect Christmas with white lights that make me and my home feel peaceful.

I’d dreamed of this day for years and wanted to have the perfect house, perfect menu, and perfect table settings. But hope was dashed the night before guests arrived when I couldn’t find festive cloth napkins and it dawned on me that I didn’t have a big enough pan to cook a turkey in.

When Christmas came, I had a house full of people but an oh-so-empty heart.

As I walked through my living room picking up wrapping paper, I wondered why my dreams of the “perfect Christmas” hadn’t come true. Many of the elements seemed to be in place: kids playing together, grandparents on the couch snoring to Christmas tunes, and grown men playing sidewalk hockey in the driveway. We’d lit Advent candles and set out the nativities. Still, something was missing.

Trying to escape the holiday noise, I went upstairs to my bedroom. Taking a deep breath, I opened my Bible to read the Christmas story in Luke chapter 2. Slowly, I let each word remind me of that first Christmas night and God’s promise that came true in Bethlehem. ” … And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger …” (Luke 2:7 NIV).

A cross-reference led me to Isaiah 7:14b: “The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).” (NLT)

Closing my eyes, I pictured Mary wrapping baby Jesus up. Her hands carefully folding each corner of cloth, like a precious gift. That’s when I realized what had been missing. In the hustle and bustle of creating the perfect Christmas, I’d neglected to unwrap the most important gift of all, the gift of Immanuel, God with us.

Bowing my head, I opened my hands and my heart to God’s presence. I invited Jesus to bring calm to my anxious heart. To bring His perspective to my expectations and to help me enjoy the gifts of my family waiting downstairs. Simply pausing to acknowledge and thank Jesus for being with me brought peace to my heart unlike anything white lights and perfectly cooked turkey could ever bestow.

It ended up being the perfect Christmas after all.

Dear Lord, no matter how busy life gets or how lonely I feel this Christmas, I want to unwrap the gift of Your presence. Help me see You, hear Your voice speak to my heart, and pay attention when You lead me with Your peace and perspective. I seek Your purpose in all of my plans. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Do You Know Immanuel, God with us?

Visit Renee Swope’s blog to download a free Christmas prayer to help prepare your heart and home for the holidays! And enter to win her Christ-Centered Christmas give-away worth over $35!

Visit Renee’s Facebook Page where she will be sharing ideas to keep Christ in Christmas every day in December!

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Reflect and Respond:
What days might be most challenging this month?

How can you plan time on those days to soak in Jesus’ perspective and peace?

Power Verses:
Isaiah 26:12, “Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us.” (NIV)

John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (NIV)

© 2013 by Renee Swope. All rights reserved.

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Comments

  1. Tina Simons says:

    I always enjoy Renee’s insights. Thank you for being open enough to share! God bless and Merry Christmas!

  2. I, too, was a control freak. I say “was” because I want to believe I’m making progress on that issue in my life, lol. No offense to Martha Stewart, but I tried to do Christmas her way & got very frustrated & ruined many Christmases for myself. I’m not her. I need to be me. Now, on holidays, I try to let things just happen the way they are & realize everything is not gonna perfect & then I think of Mary & how her expectations might have been for the birth of her firstborn & how she probably didn’t anticipate given birth in a stable & placing her son in a manger. Maybe I’m wrong on that, but I do really think that once He was born nothing else mattered. Not her surroundings, or anything, but that precious baby. The gift to mankind. So, I appreciate your devotional today. I totally understand where you are coming from. But nothing else matters but that precious gift that was given to us so long ago.

    • I love what you shared about Mary. It’s all about expectations isn’t it? And in the end it’s our relationship with Jesus and time He gives us with the ones we love that REALLY matters. Oh if I can just get my type A brain to remember that every day in December. 🙂

  3. Every time I open the new devotion for the day, I am amazed at how the writings are so perfect for what I need to hear! This one is no different! I love that the women who write these devotionals are able to write exactly how I feel. Thanks for the reminder to stop and open the gift of Jesus presence. Its all that really matters!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this. I have been having anxiety attacks about Christmas…will everything be done, will I get enough food, will everyone enjoy themselves, will I have enough time…did I forget anyone? Yes, I did forget someone, Him. Your devotion caught my attention and, I hope, will help me focus on the one true gift of the season. God be with you.

    • Oh Kristine, Im so glad God spoke to your heart in such a clear way today. Here’s my Christmas prayer that was birthday from my melt-down Christmas years ago:

      The Manger of My Heart
      This Christmas, Lord, come to the manger of my heart.
      Fill me with your presence from the very start.
      As I prepare for the holidays and gifts to be given,
      Remind me of the gift You gave when you sent Your Son from Heaven.
      The first Christmas gift -the greatest gift ever,
      You came as a baby born in a manger.
      Wrapped like the gifts I find under my tree,
      Waiting to be opened, to reveal Your love to me.
      Restore to me the wonder that came with Jesus’ birth,
      when He left the riches of Heaven and wrapped Himself in rags of earth.
      Immanuel, God with us, Your presence came that night.
      And angels announced, “Into your darkness, God brings His Light.”
      “Do not be afraid,” they said, to shepherds in the field.
      Speak to my heart today, Lord, and help me to yield.
      Make me like those shepherd boys, obedient to your call.
      Setting distractions and worries aside, to You I surrender them all.
      Surround me with Your presence, Lord, I long to hear your voice.
      Clear my mind of concerns and all the holiday noise.
      Slow me down this Christmas, let me not be in a rush.
      In the midst of parties and planning, I want to feel Your hush.
      This Christmas, Jesus, come to the manger of my heart.
      Invade my soul like Bethlehem, bringing peace to every part.
      Dwell within and around me, as I unwrap Your presence each day.
      Keep me close to You, Lord. It’s in your wonderful Name I pray.
      © 2012, Renee Swope
      http://www.ReneeSwope.com

  5. I am too reminded of the song: “Peace on Earth and Let it be! Peace on Earth, begin with me!” It is such a busy time. This writing hits home – my home. I am a white lights girl and my husband loves the colored twinkling lights. We have the perfect blend now. I place all white lights on the tree first and top it off with thousands of twinkling colored ones. I let go of my “Martha Stewart Christmas theme” and as we sit in the living room beside the fire place – we always say: This was the best Christmas!
    What a wonderful gift that Mary would give her son for us! THE MARVELOUS GIFT TOTHE WORLD!
    MAY ALL HAVE THE MOST MERRIEST OF CHRISTMAS’S EVER . . . PEACE ON EARTH!

  6. This year my family and I are having very it very difficult financially. At first I was very concerned that I wouldn’t be able to have buy gifts for my family. Especially since during the year I can’t afford to buy too many things for them. This year I was barely able to buy a few pieces of clothes when school started. One thing I’ve learned while going through the tough times is that my family and I can make it if we seek His face. I’ve learned to run to Him and bury my face in His chest and unload all my cares. So in spite of the hardships, I’m learning that even though I have needs, I need Him more than anything. I’ve been sharing Him with my family and I know He is the best gift I can give them.

    • Here’s a little something I shared on my FB page this week and it made me think of you when I read your story. The most amazing and lasting gift you can give doesn’t cost a thing 🙂

      I was cleaning our house recently and discovered several hand-written notes while I was dusting. There was a stack of birthday cards on my husband bedside table. Each one had words written by my sons and me, describing what we loved most about him. In my oldest son’s room I noticed a folded up piece of paper on his dresser. One of his teachers had written a note to encourage him. My youngest son had a letter on his desk that his dad gave him months ago.

      WORDs are a rare and treasured gift.

      So, I’ve decided I want to give my family the rare and treasure gift of WORDs this Christmas. Is there someone in your life who needs them too?

  7. It’s easy to picture the perfect Christmas–I get so caught up in it that I often forget the true meaning behind why we celebrate! Thanks for this perfect reminder 😉

  8. I really needed this today. I’ve not heard from my daughter since September….she is homeless, and we told her our home is open to her, but we had specific expectations…she turned her back on them. We’ve had a terrible winter storm here in TX, and my heart is seized with anxiety for her. My son is in the grips of his father’s (my ex) control, and is treating me terribly, so I had to set some boundaries…so he is distancing himself from me right now…I know he’ll come back to me, but when? My heart is not in this Christmas season. My wonderful husband is with me, and his family. I’ve put out some decorations, but not even the Christmas tree. Thank you for reminding me of the humble beginnings of Christmas, and that I must remember them and open my heart to them.

    • I am praying for you. A mothers heart can ache. May God the Father hold your heart tenderly in His care.

    • Im praying for you Wendy. My heart breaks with you for your children and for your heart as a mom. I am asking Jesus – our Shepherd – to guide both of them closer to His heart.To wrap His arms around them and show them the depth of His love – and yours.

      A simple Christmas might be just what you need. He’s there, He’s the gift. Im praying this for you:

      The Manger of My Heart
      This Christmas, Lord, come to the manger of my heart.
      Fill me with your presence from the very start.
      As I prepare for the holidays and gifts to be given,
      Remind me of the gift You gave when you sent Your Son from Heaven.
      The first Christmas gift -the greatest gift ever,
      You came as a baby born in a manger.
      Wrapped like the gifts I find under my tree,
      Waiting to be opened, to reveal Your love to me.
      Restore to me the wonder that came with Jesus’ birth,
      when He left the riches of Heaven and wrapped Himself in rags of earth.
      Immanuel, God with us, Your presence came that night.
      And angels announced, “Into your darkness, God brings His Light.”
      “Do not be afraid,” they said, to shepherds in the field.
      Speak to my heart today, Lord, and help me to yield.
      Make me like those shepherd boys, obedient to your call.
      Setting distractions and worries aside, to You I surrender them all.
      Surround me with Your presence, Lord, I long to hear your voice.
      Clear my mind of concerns and all the holiday noise.
      Slow me down this Christmas, let me not be in a rush.
      In the midst of parties and planning, I want to feel Your hush.
      This Christmas, Jesus, come to the manger of my heart.
      Invade my soul like Bethlehem, bringing peace to every part.
      Dwell within and around me, as I unwrap Your presence each day.
      Keep me close to You, Lord. It’s in your wonderful Name I pray.
      © 2012, Renee Swope
      http://www.ReneeSwope.com

  9. And even beyond Christmas, it’s important to remember that that ‘God is with us’ every day. Even with the struggles of my preteen kids, I sometimes forget, ‘God is with us,’ and that I am not alone, and that he hears and see my struggles. I have to remember that I can and should call out to him with my worries.

  10. I am so thankful for this devotion today. This is the way that I am trying to make Christmas at my home. So many times we get caught in the hustle and bustle of the commercialization of Christmas that we forget who and why this season is possible. We lose the true significance of this very special day.

    • Here is a Christmas prayer I wrote that I put in a frame and keep out all of December. And it helps our family to remember that Christmas starts with Christ.

      The Manger of My Heart
      This Christmas, Lord, come to the manger of my heart.
      Fill me with your presence from the very start.
      As I prepare for the holidays and gifts to be given,
      Remind me of the gift You gave when you sent Your Son from Heaven.
      The first Christmas gift -the greatest gift ever,
      You came as a baby born in a manger.
      Wrapped like the gifts I find under my tree,
      Waiting to be opened, to reveal Your love to me.
      Restore to me the wonder that came with Jesus’ birth,
      when He left the riches of Heaven and wrapped Himself in rags of earth.
      Immanuel, God with us, Your presence came that night.
      And angels announced, “Into your darkness, God brings His Light.”
      “Do not be afraid,” they said, to shepherds in the field.
      Speak to my heart today, Lord, and help me to yield.
      Make me like those shepherd boys, obedient to your call.
      Setting distractions and worries aside, to You I surrender them all.
      Surround me with Your presence, Lord, I long to hear your voice.
      Clear my mind of concerns and all the holiday noise.
      Slow me down this Christmas, let me not be in a rush.
      In the midst of parties and planning, I want to feel Your hush.
      This Christmas, Jesus, come to the manger of my heart.
      Invade my soul like Bethlehem, bringing peace to every part.
      Dwell within and around me, as I unwrap Your presence each day.
      Keep me close to You, Lord. It’s in your wonderful Name I pray.
      © 2012, Renee Swope
      http://www.ReneeSwope.com

      You can find and download a printable of it in different sizes here.
      http://reneeswope.com/2012/12/unwrapping-his-presence-christmas-give-2/

  11. Hallie Stacey says:

    Thank you! Thank you! This was exactly what I needed this morning. I am that “control freak” that thinks we need the perfect Christmas. Thank you for reminding me of what really matters.

  12. Thank you for this message, I lol’d because I have certainly been there – white lights kinda girl, picturing the perfect holiday and oops I don’t have a turkey roaster. This busy time of year, I will stop to remember Immanuel – God is with us. Thank you for the reminder.

  13. Thank you Renee. Your words spoke loudly and clearly to my heart, giving me the message that Jesus has been trying to get thru to me! I have had a sad, grieving heart this year…second year we’ve been missing my dad who died in April 2012. I was not feeling the “spirit” of Christmas but your blog, your message reminded me that the true meaning of this holiday IS that God came to be with us. He sent his son to live among us and to be our Savior and Brother at once.

    Thank you again for the reminder.

    • Precious sweet Mary, Im praying for you. So thankful Jesus timed today’s devotion to speak to your heart, your hurts, your sadness. Im praying He’ll remind you today that HE came to You – so you could come to HIM – again and again!! Immanuel – your God is with you!!

  14. Teresa Davidson says:

    Thankyou so much for this message! For many years we have been going to Bruce’s families home. And yet they are not his blood. You see Bruce my husband was adopted and his adopted parents are dead now. So, Bruce’s cousins family stepped up and took us in. I had a very hard time with this, I have been praying all wrong. In my selfish heart, I was cruel, self centered, one sided,. I still loved the Lord, prayed daily, but I was missing something, still am. The Lord works every way. In you, around, building, disciplining, loving, caring, holding, there are so many ways. In fact, there are so many, everyday He shows me a different lesson. But to get back to my point. I hadn’t accepted Bruce’s families love! Why? So, this is a new lesson for the Lord for me! I have accepted Christ, why can’t I accept Bruce’s adopted family? May the Lord bless you all!

    • Praying for you Teresa – to accept them and remember that we are all adopted into God’s family. Adoption doesn’t make it any less family. It’s just a very special way God births families – in hearts instead of wombs. We have an adopted little girl and I can tell you I love her just as much as my biological children. And I bet Bruce’s family feels the same about Bruce – and you. Praying You’ll let Jesus love you more so that you can also let them love you!

  15. Gay Thurman says:

    I almost swept past this today. There are so many emails and soooo many things to do. I’ve admitted that I’m dreading this season. With a precious – but large – blended family there are 30 persons to buy for and so little time. This reminder touches my heart to focus on what’s this season is really about.

  16. I caught myself in a similar brief moment just last night! We had some new friends coming over to watch Christmas movies and eat cookies, and my sweet husband had spent all day cleaning the house. Instead of seeing that, though, my (mostly buried but sometimes sneaky) OCD tendencies came roaring out to criticize. “Why are these things still on the table? Why haven’t these towels been put away? Why isn’t the hot chocolate out?” It was a moment of which I am ashamed. And a moment of learning. Thanks for sharing your experience. It is so helpful to know we’re all in this together!

  17. Oh Jesus, bless the hearts of our oh-so-sweet helpful husbands who can’t keep up with our attention to detail brains that want everything to be perfect. Help us see what You have done, what others have done, what we have actually done and stop focusing on all that still needs to be one. Help us relax and enjoy the blessings you have given us already!

  18. i wanted to have only white lights on the tree this year….but i read this first. thank you for reminding me of the precious gift…the most important one that matters

  19. merry christmas!

  20. Inviting Him in to calm my anxious heart, too, Renee. I so love reading your devotions to our God. And seeing how He works in you – and will work in us when we call Him too. I’m praying for Him to remind me that what I’m not isn’t what matters this Christmas. He already Is. Loved this so much.

  21. Renee – thanks so much for responding to each person. I feel you lift all our names up in prayer! THANK YOU FOR YOUR SPECIAL ANOINTING! Proverbs 31.org is such an awesome inspiration! My days are not complete without it.

  22. Thank you so much for this post! Just two nights ago I was sitting on my couch crying because I had given in to my husband’s years of begging for colored lights on our tree and I hated it! I had always loved and cherished white lights on a “real” tree, and now I have colored lights on a “fake” tree. I felt like I was losing a part of myself. I prayed for God to give me perspective and I realized that my husband might have felt the same way when I always got my way. I have peace about it now, but I was surprised at how emotional it made me! Thank you for reminding me that I’m not alone.

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