I can remember the thrill of receiving the big shopping bag full of wrapped gifts from my great aunt every year just before Christmas, and the utter delight my sister and I had unwrapping them one by one. Each gift, thoughtfully selected and wrapped, represented a surprise. Our childhood hearts stirred with the anticipation of the unknown. Jesus said that to come to know the Father, we must come as little children. I think Jesus well understood the purity of a childhood heart. Children long for something good. We were born knowing that something good exists. We all have some happy childhood memory, that may fade over time, but that once brought us great joy. Much of the joy is in the anticipation, the longing.
While Christmas can be overwhelming with the lists, events, and rushing about, it's so important that we prepare our hearts for the anticipated joy of celebrating our Savior’s birth. When the virgin received the annunciation, and the angel told her that she would bear the Christ child, she said, "let it be unto me.“ And then she pondered these things in her heart. (Luke 2:19 ) I love the concept of pondering things in my heart. When something exciting happens, particularly when I am able to anticipate it, I try to hit the pause button. One of my favorite prayers during Christmas season is, "bestill my heart, Father." I don't want to miss the joy in my hurry. It’s important to cultivate the longing, anticipation, and joy.
The Lord will help us prepare our hearts for Christmas if we seek Him. One thing I’ve learned to intentionally plan is time set aside each day to read the narratives about the birth of Jesus in the gospels. I often read through them all in one sitting. It simply feels different when I read it that way. New aspects make the story real to me each time. There's nothing like the written word of God to thrill our hearts, especially when we ask the Lord to use it for His good purposes. If I just pray, "please Lord, help me to focus on your story of the birth of Jesus. Please nourish my heart and mind, so that I may receive the knowledge and understanding that you have for me," I often recapture that childhood thrill. I love the message translation of the Bible that says, “thrill to God's word. Chew on scripture day and night." (Psalm 1:2) That’s why I am intentional in reading the bible at Christmas time. It’s a wonderful practice to read each day of the advent season. That special time with God, as I read His gospels in anticipation of the celebration, makes me feel like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, with “my heart burning within me.” (Luke 24:32) Each day I look forward to those moments in His word, like a child unwrapping a gift. I simply hit the pause button. The list will still be there, the tasks can wait. I ask the Lord to multiply my time so that I can ponder His word in my heart. Every year it seems new, with new insights I’ve never noticed before. And every year I am filled with gratitude and joy.