Moving towards Christmas {Book Club}

Indeed, we are. Moving towards Christmas, that is. By day on the calendar. By outward signs of decorations, cards, and presents. By recounting our history.

Today we are in the second week of our book group discussion of Ann Voskamp’s Christmas devotional, The Greatest Gift.

For those of us who read all seven readings in one sitting the first time through, did it strike you how much history was reviewed and woven into preparing for Christmas? Noah, Abram, Sarah, Abraham and Issac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. Each name, each story adding to the Christmas mosaic. We tend to cheapen this season, don’t we, by starting with Mary and Joseph. It’s a bit like assuming our own families only started to exist when we graced the scene.

I also appreciated this week the range of realities expressed. Whether in a flood of pain, a season of blessing and laughter, a subplot that makes no sense on the surface, a time of clear and obvious provision, a sense of being clearly pursued by love, or far enough along in the journey to see pieces woven together, we ARE located in this story, aren’t we? Christmas is so much more than mushy feelings. It’s the reminding of our history and locating ourselves, wherever that may be, in it.

I think I enjoyed the quotations she ended each day with more than Ann’s thoughts. In particular, I been thinking about these two:

You have as much laughter as you have faith. Martin Luther

and

It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when it’s mighty Founder was a child himself. Charles Dickens.

I hadn’t thought about the relationship between faith and laughter. We’re familiar with the scripture linking a joyful heart being good medicine, but somehow I’ve more frequently gotten the message that laughter and faith aren’t linked. Certainly not in opposition to one another. More like guests at a party that don’t know each other. Both are welcome and belong at the party, but they don’t interact much. Did anyone else notice that Ann’s title for that day was Laugh! and it’s the only one with any punctuation? Almost like a command.

On day seven Ann wrote, “You don’t need to climb mountains named I Will Perform. You don’t need to climb mountains named I Will Produce.” Freedom sisters! What other mountains do we not need to climb? (I know some we can’t avoid, like climbing laundry mountain, wink.)

Here are a few of the reflection questions from this week:

  • In what ways has God been an ark in the midst of your own floods?
  • What are some ways you can be a blessing to others?
  • When was the last time you laughed … really laughed?
  • Like the angels, what ca you take more lightly this Christmas?
  • When do you feel the pressure to perform, to produce?

And I’ll add one more for the comment section, who do you identify most with this Christmas season? Noah, Abram, Sarah, Abraham and Issac, Jacob, Joseph, or Moses? Are you in a flood of pain, a season of blessing and laughter, a subplot that makes no sense on the surface, a time of clear and obvious provision, a sense of being clearly pursued by love, or far enough along in the journey to see pieces woven together,

How are you doing … moving towards Christmas? Get a cup of something warm or cool to drink and let’s talk. What stood out to you as you read?

Amy

photo credit: Ben K Adams via Flickr

 

34 Comments

  1. emily thomas December 9, 2013

    That Martin Luther quote about laughter and faith was a very sweet punch in the gut. Thank you, Martin.
    I love the idea of stepping onto the ark. Kinda like a grown-up “home base.” I forget there is one when the day gets rolling. In the middle of melt-downs (the kid’s and my own) I have actually stopped to remember and mentally climb aboard the ark. Very helpful for re-focusing.
    When do I feel pressure to perform? I wrote “always and in all ways.” I need to check myself into an institution. 🙂
    I really am so thankful for this book and that depth it’s bringing to this (otherwise harried) season.

  2. Amy Young December 9, 2013

    Emily! You are helping build/strengthen my faith with a belly laugh 🙂

    This afternoon I volunteered at Samaritan’s Purse and helped package and box about fifty seven thousand five hundred and 14 boxes (slight exaggeration. I’m clearly not made to be a “factory girl”) — but there was a RUSH in performing, in doing good to children in the name of the Reason for the Season, in thinking that the MORE I DID RIGHT NOW, the better it would be for some child somewhere (side note to a church in Kansas — your boxes were pathetic. Your hundreds of boxes. And it made me sad. Represent your state better!). My point is, I can see why so many of us can’t resist the sirens calls to perform, perform, perform. I didn’t take a break because I felt guilty about all the kids … and I knew if I gave up the position as the one scanner, I’d never, ever get it back. Pride + performance = ?

    1. emily thomas December 10, 2013

      So funny that the scanner was a prized position. It sure is interesting that we can turn every opportunity into a performance. What was so pathetic about Kansas’ boxes? Did they just have socks and underwear or something?

      1. Amy Young December 10, 2013

        They were only about half full — and when you see all of the boxes that have been shoved full of stuff. And you think of the kids who will get … a bunch of air. It just made me sad. Go to the dollar store and get some stuff. I’m going to be on the look out for sales throughout the year. Oh and girls ages 2-4 were the rage. As were 5-9. Older girls not so much. And boys … :(. I know I can’t solve every problem and I don’t know boys all that well. But next year my family may get presents that are “your present is the smile on a boy ages 10-14 somewhere on this big amazing world.”

        1. Kimberly Todd December 11, 2013

          This deeply touches my heart. I will remember these numbers the next time I participate in OCC.

  3. Kimberly Todd December 10, 2013

    The Dickens quote was particularly meaningful to me, too. Our family has been keeping advent together in the mornings around this book. When art time comes, Basil (2) magically cuts his paper into shreds so tiny we will never see them again. Depending on variables undecipherable to an adult mind, Shepherd (5) will either intricately decorate his in ornate colors or scribble on it in neutrals and run. We adults get lost in it until the snack siren sounds. From the adult wall:

    1. Amanda December 10, 2013

      I love the colorful pictures. What a great visual reminder of these wonderful Stories!

    2. Amy Young December 10, 2013

      As I read this and then looked at your art work … I was thinking of Jesus as a two year old boy. With the “scissors” of his day. Or the five year old coloring away to his own sense of beauty. Each step Jesus took, just as your boys, as he participated in The Story. And then I look at your ram/lamb from the Abraham day and think, that’s one of the many ways Jesus joined the story. Thanks for your art. Can we see again next week?!!

    3. Shelly Page December 11, 2013

      I love the wall! I have been too busy to get to the website for the ornaments. I am inspired–even though we are well into the book.

      1. Carolyn December 14, 2013

        Me too! Just catching up on all the comments now… I love the wall too, Kimberley! Great idea 🙂

  4. Amanda December 10, 2013

    I was most impacted, I think, by Day 7’s devotional. After talking about mountains we don’t have to climb, she says, “Worry is belief gone wrong. Because you don’t believe that God will get it right.”
    Too often I climb the mountain of worry. I worry that I’ll make poor team leading decisions. I worry that my words won’t come across in the way I want them to. I worry that my future won’t look like the way I want it to. I worry that I’ll miss opportunities, I’ll regret not doing something, or I’ll say “no” or “yes” when I should have said the other.
    What is the focus of all those worries? “I.” If my belief is in myself, then it really has gone wrong. However, I can completely trust God to provide grace in the moment and grace and forgiveness for when I do mess up. He has already provided the ultimate Grace in His Son Jesus. He got it perfectly right when He sent the perfect Gift. The perfect provision.
    I think the point is not that He will provide all that I want Him to give me, but that He already has provided His Son, and that is the most important.
    It’s harder to live it than to say it though.

    1. Amy Young December 10, 2013

      It is hard! What I”m going to ask for you, Amanda, is that now that you see the “Worry Mountain” you climb, that calls to you, when you start to head towards it, the HS will gently say, “Child, You don’t have to climb that mountain if you don’t want to.” Some mountains are so familiar we don’t even notice them, eh? I’m glad you see one of yours because there is power in awareness. Thanks for your thoughtful insight!

      1. Amanda December 10, 2013

        “Some mountains are so familiar we don’t even notice them” – that’s so so true. Habitual ways of thinking are hard to break. Thanks for the encouragement Amy!

    2. emily thomas December 10, 2013

      Hi did get it perfectly right when He sent the perfect gift. GREAT reminder for when we are sure He’s going to miss something important in our story.

    3. Jenny December 10, 2013

      Thanks for your reminder of God’s provision of grace through Jesus… Those are my continual worries as well and in the midst I lose sight of who He is. The quote from DL Moody about faith and Ann’s thoughts after “leave the blur of Ur and slow to taste and see the promised land of Advent” stood out to me. My prayer is that in the midst of all those worries, I would slow to taste and see and receive the gift of Christ!

      1. Amy Young December 10, 2013

        I agree Jenny, that we can see and taste, that small mercies are extended FAR more often than I realize!! But as you reminded, we blaze past them. 🙂

  5. Jessica Hoover December 10, 2013

    I only have a moment to comment, but story of Abraham and Isaac is always one that gets me right in the gut and the way Ann talked about the Mt. of Provision, that Abraham named that place provision just spoke deeply to my heart and my husband’s. I don’t have the book with me right now, but the line where she says “Worry is belief gone wrong. It is believing that God won’t come through.” (or something to that effect) That is where we are at right now as a family. We are having to believe that what He has asked of us and called us to is a place of provision, His provision.

    1. emily thomas December 10, 2013

      Praying for you and your family now, Jessica as you trust in His perfect provision.

    2. Danielle Wheeler December 10, 2013

      We had a season (or two) that sounds very much like what you describe. It was so, so hard! That place of falling, where you’ve made the leap, you’re free-falling, waiting for the arms of provision to catch you up. Believing with you, sister!

    3. Amy Young December 10, 2013

      Years ago I read that when people say they don’t know how to pray or pray often, you could ask them if they know how to worry. And to begin to use their “worry” muscles as baby prayer muscles (now I have a feeling that your prayers muscles are strong, so I’m not saying they aren’t!). But what I am very poorly saying, is that I liked the idea of taking someone where they are and instead of shaming them into doing more or better. To say, “hey you’ve already got some skills, let’s just direct them in another way.”

  6. Kristi December 10, 2013

    Conviction and encouragement. That’s what I’ve found while reading The Greatest Gift.
    “What was intended to tear you apart, God has intended to set you apart. What has torn you, God makes a thin place to see glory.”
    I’ve been weary lately. As I read this I was made aware of one of the reasons why. I have been spending time and energy on trying to cover up and repair my “thin places.” I don’t want people to see my weaknesses. As a result I have been robbing God of His glory, robbing others of seeing how He can take the weak and show Himself strong, and robbing myself of His presence and powerful love. Despite all of this He shows up anyway. He shows Himself to be Emmanuel – God with me!
    “But the weight of everything melts like thinning snow in the heat of His words: ‘I will bless you.’ He will not burden you. He will not break you. He will bless you – the God of invincible reliability, the God who has infinite resources, the God who is instant love. You can always go ahead and breathe – He will bless. You can always breathe when you know all is grace.”
    That is the order of grace…
    The personal blessings envelop first. Then you are the blessing sent to the world.
    You will be experienced as a blessing – to the extent you first experienced yourself as blessed. You must feel the fullness of your own pitcher before you trust the pouring out of yourself.”
    I often work so very hard at trying to be a blessing to others. Looking for ways to matter and make a difference and not to focus on myself. It was a great encouragement to read that I should let “the personal blessing envelop first.” I need to take more time and reflect on how tremendously blessed I am. The Father delights to give good gifts. He has given me Himself and also created me in a unique way so that He may use me to give good gifts to others. I don’t have to work so hard. I can just “breathe” and let Him bless others through me.
    Still weary but being refreshed.

  7. Amy Young December 10, 2013

    “Still weary but being refreshed.” 🙂

    Those thin places we work to hide can take so much effort, can’t they? I do realize that we don’t have to let everything hang out all the time, but think of how much effort we invest in the thin places that could be spent with people or other things that matter, really matter.

    Trusting for more refreshment for you!

  8. Amy Young December 10, 2013

    P.S. Book Groupies … there is a link in Thursday’s post to a video that goes AMAZINGLY well with this book! I can’t wait for you to see :). I can’t wait to see it again, myself.

    1. Shelly Page December 11, 2013

      Have watched it–yes, AMAZING. And just for little Nathan, it shows God as AWESOME. 🙂

      1. Amy Young December 12, 2013

        🙂 … out of the mouth of babes, eh?!

  9. Andrea December 11, 2013

    We are also doing the Jesse Tree with the Jesse Storybook Bible, So I get to read the stories twice! I find the stories themselves so encouraging about God’s faithfulness, I also like the quote about producing!

    1. Amy Young December 12, 2013

      What a wonderful tree! Did you buy or make the ornaments? Not that it matters, I’m just curious :). Either way, it’s wonderful!

      1. Andrea December 13, 2013

        Sorry… JESUS* storybook Bible (obviously) I made them. Love to sew and creative outlets keep me sane in the winter!

    2. Carolyn December 14, 2013

      Andrea, do you have patterns for your ornaments? We have a felt Advent calendar that we’ve been using the last few years, and it’s enough for right now, but I’ve been thinking I want to get my head around preparing to do a Jesse tree next year – but I want to use indestructible ornaments with very clear meanings! Ann’s ones in the book are exquisite, but not very practical for 1, 4 & 6 year olds! 🙂

  10. Shelly Page December 11, 2013

    I just have to say–I wish we could all gather together over coffee or tea and chat about this book. I am catching up on my reading, so I read Dec 10 today. I was struck by the comparison of the Commandments to marriage vows (covenant of love). Ann encourages us to recite the commandments and dance before the Lord, and as I visualized doing that and recited them as vows of love spoken to the Lover of my soul, I couldn’t help but cry out, “I am Gomer, chasing after other lovers. I know You keep loving me, but how do You remake me?” I’m still listening to Him about that one (and see the Mountains of an earlier day to friends of, if not, these lovers of mine), but I am encouraged by the thought of reciting the commandments as a commitment to relationship with God. “You are my God, my Love…You have given me Your name…I will spend time with You (sabbath) because I love You…I will not break faith with You…”

    1. Amy Young December 12, 2013

      Shelly, I agree, sitting down in person would be more satisfying!!

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.