Mary Poppins’ Bag

Do you remember the wonderful scene from the original Mary Poppins movie where she plops her large carpet bag on the table and begins to pull out things like a hat stand, a large wall mirror, a potted plant, shoes, clothing, and a very special measuring tape? I remember as a child being fascinated by her bag. Can you imagine being able to reach in to your carpet bag and get whatever you needed?

Many decades later, Hermione Granger one-upped Mary with a small and elegant beaded bag that had a lot of useful things, including a large multi-level tent and an invisibility cloak. And her bag was small enough that she could hide it in her sock.

This notion of magical bags is something that children innately understand. Think about it; how many times does your child expect you to instantly produce what they want, often making unreasonable and unrealistic requests? And when it’s possible, don’t you make every effort to respond?

In the same way, we can treat God as though he has a magical bag. We operate under an assumption that we can make requests and God will supply them. All of us are guilty of treating God like a big ATM machine in the sky at one time or another. We use him when we need something, but when our pockets are full, we pass on by. Is this a good practice? Do you ever feel guilty about asking God for things beyond your ability to provide for yourself? Check this out:

Luke 11 (NRSV)

5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Good gifts. We know how to give good gifts to those whom we love. In most people’s minds, this season is all about getting and receiving good gifts. Look at the advertising all around you. Lexuses wrapped in big red bows, overly expensive and lush outfits that dance across your screen, flashing diamond jewelry featured in commercials where the husband/boyfriend gets a big reward of love for choosing the right piece…and in each case, the bigger, the better.

But the question remains, should we/may we/might we treat God like a department store Santa, and go sit on his lap with a big list of “gimmes?”

The answer is yes. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus-like aspect of God. And that’s all right.

You see, God longs to hear the desires of our hearts. God wants the intimacy of a trusting child who goes to a parent in the hope and anticipation of getting a Red Ryder BB Gun. Will he give you things that might harm you? Nope. Will he give you what you need instead? Yup. It is the relationship of love, trust, and honesty that blesses the Lord. When we ask, seek, and knock, we are demonstrating our belief that God is able to respond. That demonstration of faith is vital to us, and to God.

So in this season of preparation, while we anticipate the greatest gift to humankind that the world has ever known, go to God in prayer. Ask away. Watch him reach into his carpet bag and pull out the very thing that you need, even if you didn’t ask for it. God invites us to ask, seek, and knock. It’s pretty much in the bag.

Well, Hello There by Mary Anne Mong Cramer

The Great ADVENTure

Come along with me on a great adventure. One that doesn’t require time in the malls or searching Amazon, but one that ushers in the ADVENT of the Kingdom of God on earth. This breaking-through of the holy presence did not get cleaned up by hospital nurses and handed to his momma wrapped in a hospital print blanket and matching hat. This presence did not receive a baby shower with brightly wrapped presents from his adoring family. This presence didn’t even have a gender reveal party…can you imagine?

No, this presence was birthed in dirt and spent his first night on earth sleeping to the sounds of a mooing cow and a snoring donkey. The stink must have been noticeable, but he was too little and much too polite to mention it.

This miraculous presence came straight from heaven above, intended to take root in the hearts and souls of humanity. God sent his only son to walk among us, to experience temptation, to feel hunger, pain, disappointment (lots and lots of disappointment), anger, and friendship. When God deigned to be one among us, he went whole-hog. He didn’t just tickle his toes in humanity-water, he went for the deep dive and didn’t come up for air for 33 years. God with us, Emmanuel.

The great ADVENTure we will embark on will lead us straight to that manger scene, where we will find ourselves standing among dirty shepherds, regal wisemen, a couple of sheep, vibrant angels, and his parents. Like a piece in a nativity set, we will freeze there in worship and adoration.

But not just yet.

In the meantime, we must prepare. Advent is a season of preparation. Not with decorating, buying, baking, and decking all our halls, but by making our spiritual heart-homes ready to receive the awe that is coming.

In Matthew, we are reminded that we didn’t know the hour of Christ’s first coming on earth, nor will we anticipate the timing of his second coming. So we have one job: to be ready.

Matthew 24:36 (NRSV)

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.

42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

KEEP AWAKE. You don’t know. You must be ready. The hour will be unexpected. You don’t want to be caught unaware.

How can you get ready for the greatest breaking-in of heaven upon the earth? How can you prepare to receive this incredible gift of the infant God, who came to save, heal, forgive, teach, help, rebuke, serve, and love?

Maybe it’s time to clean out the musty attic of your heart and create a space for the manger child to have a room there. Do you carry any unconfessed sin? Repent. Do you harbor a grudge with someone? Forgive. Are you estranged from a family member? Reconcile. Are you lazy in your discipleship? Begin a new discipline, like reading this Advent devotional without fail every morning.

Advent kind of sounds like Lent, doesn’t it?

This season heralds the greatest adventure humankind has ever known. If you keep stressing about gifts, cookie baking, parties, cleaning, and entertaining, you are sure to miss it.

Don’t do that again this year. Be still. Listen. Breathe deeply of the fragrance of the Evergreen that brings both life and eternal life into your nostrils. Settle yourself down so that you can be open to receive him.

See you at the manger.

Pennsylvania Snow by Becca Ziegler.