O Little Town of Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth

Bethlehem wasn’t where Mary and Joseph though they would give birth when they first got married.  Most of us don’t travel 30 days or so to go sign in live as proof we exist. Nowadays most of us have access to a hospital or midwife in our immediate area.

But God knew.

God wanted there to be no question that Jesus came from David’s line, just as He has promised, so led Caesar to request a census of His people so history would record Joseph as one of David’s descendants.

So Bethlehem entered the stage as the setting for the miracle, get also not quite as one would expect.

We are used to online or phone reservations when we travel from home, so we know where we will end up to rest our heads at night.

Not so in biblical times.

Unless you had direct family in those days, it was first come, first serve.

Traveling with a very pregnant Mary would likely have slowed Joseph down, and resulted in no room anywhere in town.

Except a stable.

Not even a stable/barn by today’s standards, but likely a hole in the side of a hill, or a low built clay enclosure to keep a roof over the owner’s animals.

Not an ideal birthing setting.  Hygiene alone, it must have been very off putting to think of delivering the Messiah into the world as its King in a stable.

There is also no record of a midwife, so both Mary and Joseph might likely have been very panicked, nervous and crying out to God as she began to give birth.

I can relate.  And so could God.

Which is why Christ’s entry was designed so that the every day person would know God had been hearing each and every cry for help.

The Presence came as the very present we needed at Christmas:

Perfectly wrapped for the average Joe.

Perfectly planned as the Promise to come heralded through the Word and by the angels.

The Perfection of God now present in the work of His hands.


God with us.

Born in Bethlehem, announced by angels, snug in his earthly parents arms in a stable.

The Hope for all arrived with less fanfare than we would expect, yet surpassin every expectation we could have for this fulfillment of prophecy and promise.

While Bethlehem slumbered, its Messiah slipped into a stable and began to transform the world!

What a reason to offer Him fresh praise again this season.


Historical Background:

In 1868, Pastor Phillips Brooks wrote the words to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” after seeing Israel first hand.  His church organist Lewis Redner put the words to music.

Silent Night

Silent night, Holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child
Holy infant, tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Since becoming a mother, I realized that probably one of the most peaceful moments I ever had with each of my children was the moment I first held them, as i gazed upon them with awestruck wonder at the precious gifts God had given to my husband and I.

Mary must have had a moment like that too…but not quite.

There would have been quite a bunch of noise going on, what with the angelic chorus singing over the flocks, a jam packed town with no space left in the inn, and likely Joseph’s concern mixed with Mary’s cries for deliverance.

Then Jesus was born.

Silent Night brilliantly captures the wonder of a virgin giving birth, and the Son of God coming down to earth as a baby.

Peace entered the world as the Prince of Peace.

And for one moment in history, all was calm, and all was bright.

Then the shepherds arrived to gaze at their new King, Mary and Joseph still had to head to take part in the census, and the angel would shortly arrive to yell them to flee the wrath of Herod.

Jesus, the Prince of Peace,was born into the hustle and bustle of real daily life.

He had to endure long days of travel on the road, becoming a refugee, learning a craft from His earthly father, being a brother and son, and the one many muttered gossip about over the years.

Our Messiah left His peace filled place in heaven to bring us the peace our souls and spirits desperately needed.

And when each of us grasp that truth? 

We too can experience the peace of Heaven, and lift up the song of praise our Prince of Peace wells up in our hearts!



Sing a new song: Over Me

Yesterday, for the first time in quite a while, I wrote a new song.

Not a new psalm as I do each Sunday, but an actual song I believe He wants me to sing one day.

Many who know me know how much I love to sing. You only have to get into a car with me and turn the music on, glimpse me on the bus lip synching to my iPod or catch me singing along at my local Starbucks.  I dreamed of doing musical theatre professionally, did a brief stint as a rock band backup singer and have sung at weddings, coffee houses & funerals. Music is part of my DNA.

At church, I sing without abandon as I worship my God.  I used to hold back out of dear of what others thought about how I was worshipping.  Now? I really don’t care what anyone else things but my God.  Coz its for His enjoyment and glory, not anyone else’s.  He made me to use His gift of music and words to bless His heart, and point others towards Him.  He has given me the nickname, Songbird.

For someone who was scared of public opinion so much she used to quake in her boots everytime someone called or emailed, “Can we talk?” without any details being given, this has been a huge breakthrough for me.

God has brought me out of the desert I imposed upon myself into the freedom He has for me in the Promised Land of His Presence.

Where I can hear His voice more clearly, and long to spend increasingly more time with my True Love.

In a shocking turn of events for me, I received this song in its entirety in less than 5 minutes.
Lyrics, melody, bridge…and i could hear the harmony as I rushed to write it down. In those moments, He rekindled my long lost dream to write songs again.

Today, I feel led to share these words with you.

Because I sense this is your song too.

Please be aware that as a writer, offering what is most precious to outsiders is a huge risk. My heart is intertwined with this song He birthed in me last night.

Sharing it with you when it is still a newborn feels awkward to me, but I want to be obedient to follow where He leads.

May Holy Spirit whisper what He wants you to hear as you read these words from His heart through mine. 


OVER ME– by Karla Lees

You’re drawing me deeper
the more I surrender
abandon my ways for Yours

You’re holding me tighter
the closer I come
exchanging my heart for Yours

and You sing over me
You sing over me
You sing over me
how You love me
how You love me

You’re drawing me deeper
the more I surrender
abandon my ways for Yours

You’re holding me tighter
the closer I come
exchanging my heart for Yours

and You pour over me
You pour over me
You pour over me
overwhelming love
overwhelming love

as You sing over me
my spirit soars free,
my spirit soars free…
Deep cries unto deep
as You love me
as You love me

when you are asked to flee…Joseph

After the wise men were gone, God’s angel showed up again in Joseph’s dream and commanded, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Stay until further notice. Herod is on the hunt for this child, and wants to kill him.” Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness. They were out of town and well on their way by daylight. They lived in Egypt until Herod’s death. This Egyptian exile fulfilled what Hosea had preached: “I called my son out of Egypt.”

-Matthew 2:13-15

Joseph was likely thinking now that Jesus had been born, things in his family life would settle down for a while. They would have Jesus named on the way home, Mary would spend her time recovering and they would begin their new life together. It is possible Joseph may have rented a place in Jerusalem and found some work as a carpenter while Mary finished her purification period after giving birth, as traveling too far with a newborn was not the best idea for everyone’s sanity.

So we pick up the story Joseph may have believed finished and discover Joseph to be the feature again.

We know that Herod flew into a rage when he realized the wise men were not coming back to betray the new born King, but there is no sign that Joseph or Mary knew of the danger until the angel appears to Joseph again.

Humble, faithful Joseph has now seen an angel twice in his dreams.
Both times, he is informed of news no one else knew by the angel.

Interesting to note, he clearly recognized the angel in his dreams, and believed the words spoken enough to life alteringly act upon them.

The first time, Joseph was told Mary was carrying Messiah & to marry her, raising the child as his own.

This time? He is told to wake up, take Mary & the child and flee to Egypt, for Herod wants to kill Jesus.

I am guessing this was an early enough warning timing wise to get them to safety before Herod’s horrible plan began.

I know that the gifts Jesus had been given by the wise men were no accident, as all three were hot commodities to trade with, and would likely have been enough to cover all their expenses while in Egypt. Because God would certainly have provided for Jesus again. Note it mentions that this would be a fulfillment of calling His son out of Egypt in verse 15.

As Egypt was not likely on the best of terms with Israel over the whole escape from slavery issue, Joseph may not have been able to get work there as an immigrant.

God would have taken all of this into account to get the Carpenters ready for their sudden trip & extended stay in Egypt.

The other noteworthy point to observe? Joseph immediately woke up and while it was still dark, had the family well under way to Egypt by daylight.

Simply put, his obedience saved Jesus.

Not sure about you, but I would have been more than a little freaked at a second angelic visit while I was sleeping. I wonder if it took Joseph just that bit longer every night for a while to fall asleep. Tentatively wondering if an angel would speak to him yet again.

So how does this impact us, the readers of the Advent story?

I see three clear ways.

1. When God sends an angel to speak to us, we should do what it says.

2. God can speak to us while we are sleeping, not just while we are awake!

3. Some times its the right time to just pick up and go.

We leave today’s continuation of #AdventuresinAdvent with the Carpenters fleeing to Egypt, as Herod’s horror is unleashed on the families of Israel.

Image from: http://jlgragg.org/2011/01/05/beyond-the-season-celebrating-christ-after-christmas/nativity-2/

when the wait seems too long…the embrace

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee.

The people of Israel had been waiting…while in captivity in Babylon, through their rebuilding of their homeland, during the Roman occupation.

Messiah?! When are You coming to deliver us?

And they waited, and they waited; some still wait today.

God didn’t just want to deliver His people again from their physical fears and oppression.

He wanted to save them, from the inside out. To set them free within.

His plan was and is Jesus. Immanuel, God with us.

When the waiting is long, we tend to get fixed on how we think things should be when we get our answer to our prayer, don’t we? We begin to picture it in our minds, and expect it in our hearts.

But God doesn’t like being boxed in by human expectations.

For He is bigger than that, uncontainable in His Godness.

Yet, in the long awaited unfurling of His plan, He contained Himself within Mary, in a act that set off a chain reaction for the rest of time into eternity.

He demonstrated God could live within man…by the power of the Holy Spirit.

God acted so we could know God can be with us. Not just with, but within us. Always.

Apart from God Himself, i believe no one understood this miracle more than Mary.

God extended an invitation to Mary, allowing Jesus to move in.

That same invitation is available for us all.

The wait may have been long, but what a present awaits us, freshly opened Christmas eve.

God’s presence was the present the world had been waiting for.

His embrace is the grace of the gift of God with us, not the familiar of God set apart the world had become accustomed to.

Mary carried Jesus for 9 months, waiting and longing for the day she would meet her Messiah dace to face. I am sure Mary was also inwardly terrified at the wonder of it all. The God she worshipped living with her, to be born to live in the community He came to bring into His embrace.

The embrace is the point of the wait.

When we haven’t seen a loved one for a long time, there is something about that embrace we share when we are reunited.

That is the exact embrace God delivered & offered us all on Christmas Eve:

Come, I am waiting for you.
I am with you.
I love you.
Welcome Home.



when the sky fills with wonder…the angels

There was another sight to wonder at, besides the star illuminating Jesus had been born….

There were shepherds camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises: Glory to God in the heavenly heights, peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

-Luke 2:8-14

When an angel suddenly shows up in all their wondrous glory, people take notice.

This being the third angelic sighting of the Advent story, I am struck awe with wonder at how much God has already reached out to people to lay the way for His son’s arrival!

The angel captivated his audience that night with the message of Jesus’ birth, and then the full spectacular angelic event ever recorded so far filled the sky.


Seeing and hearing an angelic choir, after hearing one speak to you would be mindbogglingly wonder-full, wouldn’t it?!

Imagine being the angels. I am sure there must have been wonder at what God was doing as they praised God with their song.

But just seeing and hearing the good news isn’t where this story ends, it swiftly moves on to ewe….



when even the hostel is full

…because there was no room in the hostel.

Luke 2:7 MSG

Not only was there no room at the hotels or inns in Bethlehem, but the B&Bs & hostels were also all full.

It appears that the Carpenters (coz doesn’t that seem like a good fit for Joseph & Mary’s last name?!) arrived in town later than all the other travelers who also had to show up for the census role call.

With an about to give birth wife in tow, I am sure Joseph was inwardly wishing for swifter mail or reservation service!

How disheartening to arrive, and keep knocking on doors looking for a place to lay their heads, after several weeks of travel.

When even the hostels don’t want you, it can seem the world is hostile.

Yet God made a way.

That final knock, a likely very humbled Joseph asked again, and was informed there was room in the stable for them that night.

With an about to give birth wife in tow, those begging cannot be too choosy, especially if the night was growing cold and dark.

And the baby announced He was on His way.

I am sure the stable was the only place left to choose from, because no man in his right mind would encourage his wife to deliver in a barn.   But somehow, this too was part of God’s design.

The King of All was about to be born, and only one person made room for Him, and that was only in their stable.

How much space are you making for Him this year?

Do you only invite God into your stable, where the muck and things that need to be tamed live? Where you rule?

Or do you open wide your heart, mind, soul & spirit and say Yes, God- abide in me. Every nook & cranny, leave no dark spot unturned- so His dwelling place can become worthy of the King living there?

I believe the owner of the stable was somehow blessed through offering its use to the Carpenters.
It is very likely they would have met the baby after He was born, maybe even helped arrange for a midwife to assist Mary, as out of towners wouldn’t always know where to turn in an emergency.

I wonder what animals were in the stable that night.  I wonder if somehow they instinctively knew their King was being born, and were still out of respect.

I do know that the world still gives Jesus a hard time about His preferred living accommodations, within His children.

May He restore our wonder, that God loved us so much, His very son was born in a stable, and wrapped to lie in a manger.

The life that had come to give us new life first laid His head in the unlikeliest of beds.

May our hearts not be as hard at the wood of the manger, but instead invite Him in.

The greatest gift of all resided in heaven before being packaged in His humble beginnings here on earth.

Make room this Christmas for Jesus. 

#AdventuresinAdvent are drawing closer to their climax!  Immanuel is coming!


on the road to Bethlehem

We left off with Joseph & Mary on the long trek to Bethlehem.

Still on the road…

I wonder if Mary asked,  “Are we there yet?!” as her womb started sending signals it was full and had had enough.

I wonder how sick of leading the donkey and being on his feet all day Joseph was?

How the outdoors only reminded them both of how much they wanted to be back home already, resting indoors. Census over and done.

Instead, the road continued to stretch out in front of them, still needing to be traveled.

Can you relate?

I often grow tired of my daily walk.  I fail to see the purpose in endlessly folding laundry, constantly washing dishes, ceaselessly cleaning the house, just to do it all over again.
The familiar, the routine, the repetition. Dreary with doing the same jobs, traveling the same roads over and over…

Not all that different than finding ourselves on the road to Bethlehem again.

Except this year, I am determined to not take the Advent story for granted.

Having been raised with it, it can seem like a pointless journey to take again each December, save for this fact:

The arrival of Jesus changed everything.  God reached down, touched an average woman and folded Jesus into her womb, to slowly grow until He was to emerge and meet His creation face to face, God with us.

In the familiar, the routine, the repetition, we find we are no longer alone.  We have been met in our humanity, in the dreary drudgery of our daily to do list. By the God who wants us to be known, embrace us in our hurts, bind our brokenness, restore our energy, guide our steps, helping us move beyond the words and enter the story.

You see, God knew the road we were traveling was a dead end without His intervention.

The road to Bethlehem was always part of God’s plan. 

For Jesus was meant to be born in David’s city, fulfilling the promise God gave David so many generations before- the Deliverer was coming.

But first, He needs to be delivered into the world.

Picture weary Mary, struggling to get comfortable in her last weeks of her pregnancy…whether on the donkey, or lying down.

See Joseph limping from the rough terrain, shoulders sore from guiding the occasionally stubborn donkey, stomach rumbling from the excursion.

The road to Bethlehem was a labour of love. 

Not only through Joseph and Mary’s obedience, nor Jesus’ impending delivery…

God labored to bring Advent about: the dream, the decision, the preparation, the effort & the teamwork within the Trinity- all designed to collide with humanity at the end of the road to Bethlehem.

God had every right to be weary of us. Selfish sinful flesh. Wanting our own way. Discontent until we could connect with our Creator, helpless to make the changes we needed in ourselves to make it happen.

So God decided to make it happen for us. To make the way for us.

The #AdventuresinAdvent are only part of the way to the big finale. 

I can only hope that like me, God is stirring up the desire to see His story, His gift to us all, in a fresh light. To be struck with the wonder awaiting us at the end of the road ahead.

broken to blessed- Joseph

There was a heart broken in the Christmas story.

That of Joseph.

Mary’s fiancee.

It became obvious that Mary was pregnant.  I am guessing either Mary with her parents, or Mary’s father would have broken the news, and tried to explain what had happened. We don’t know exactly who told him, but I am sure all Joseph initially heard was the fact the baby wasn’t his.

How his heart must have broke and his eyes wept bitter tears for his shattered dreams, his crushed beliefs.

The woman he thought would be his, had been with someone else. The woman he believed pure and innocent, the woman he has imagined spending the rest of his life with.

Despite his wound,

Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced


Despite his broken heart, Joseph’s heart still showed his love for Mary.  He was determined to protect her, despite his devastation.

I wonder how long it was between his heart break to God’s angel visiting him in his dream.

The bible doesn’t say exactly when, but does reveal it was while he was trying to figure a way out.

Imagine Joseph’s shock & his mental dialogue when he heard these angelic words in Matthew 1:20-23:

Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married.

Umm, really God?

Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit conceived.

Stunned silence.
A sense of awe and wonder falls.

God’s spirit has made her pregnant.

You said it again, God.  I hear You, loud and clear.

She will give birth to a son…

A son!

When she does, you, Joseph, will name Him Jesus- ‘God saves’- for He will save His people from their sins. This will fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy: ‘Watch for this- a virgjn will get pregnant and bear a son; They will name him Immanuel! (Hebrew for God is with us).

Wait…if God is His father, than He will be the son of God…and I am to name Him Jesus, God saves…. pause…Mary is carrying the Messiah! God is coming down to us as a baby!?!?!!

I am going to be the Messiah’s step father?!!

Oh God, what an honor.

I am about to be blessed beyond belief.

Oh God, I need You, because I can’t raise Your son or marry Mary without Your help. 

Help me to protect her Lord, and keep Your son, our Messiah safe from harm.

We get a close up look at Joseph’s real character in his immediate response to the angel’s words.

The Joseph got us, and did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: he married Mary.

Joseph believed God. And chose to honor his commitment despite his broken heart.

Because knowing the whole story gave him the big picture, but I am sure it still hurt when he thought about Mary’s first horn being God’s son, and not his own flesh & blood.

Oh sure, it is an honor and pressure beyond imagining to raise God’s own son as your own.
But how many of us feel we could have done so, if we are really honest with ourselves.

Joseph must have absolutely been smitten with Mary to follow through and marry her anyway, which Joseph did.

Note it also says Joseph did not consummate the marriage until after Jesus was born.

Joseph was respectful of not only Mary, but Who she was carrying.

The heart that was broken became blessed beyond belief.

Awkward family moments continue in this past of the Advent story.  A fiancee waits until after his bride gives birth before making it official.

People would have been talking behind their backs about how quickly Mary would have begun to show, smearing both their characters.

But there is no mention of Joseph waffling, but rather accepting the assignment God has given him wholeheartedly.

Joseph was an incredible man, remembered forever for both showing honor towards his bride, and helping raise another’s son as his own.



trusting His promises

When we left off yesterday, Mary was staying with Elizabeth…for a three month stay. Since Gabriel showed up when Elizabeth was 6 month’s pregnant (Luke 1:26), I believe Mary was there when the next good news arrived in the Advent story- the birth of John.

Why do I consider this good news?

1) John was a visible reminder of the promise God birthed in Zachariah & Elizabeth- that they would have a son.

2) As herald for the Messiah, it would make sense that his arrival would strengthen Mary’s need to know God was in the business of keeping His promises.

3) A baby is always a blessing sent from God. New life is to be celebrated. A baby to a childless couple after years of waiting would be a major community event! As a cousin, it would make sense for Mary to be there for John’s birth, especially after hearing her cousin’s miraculous story, which closely lines up with her own.

In Luke 1:57, Elizabeth bore her son. Their miracle had arrived! I love how the next verse speaks of her joy, in her older years, of giving birth:

Her neighbors and relatives, seeing that God has overwhelmed (Elizabeth) with mercy, celebrated with her.

(Luke 1:58)

Overwhelmed with mercy by God.

The fulfillment of the promise God gave them. They would have a son.

But as with every part of this fascinating true story, there is yet another twist entering the action.

On the eighth day, the traditional day of circumcision & naming, the crowd began to call the baby after his father, Zachariah. A normal and honoring tradition, I am sure Zachariah, already moved by the whole scenario, loved hearing it. Any father who had waited so long to have a son would have too.

Yet Elizabeth spoke up and proclaimed, as they were told by the angel, the baby was to be named John.

The puzzled crowd wondered at that, as it was a break with tradition. Since this was anything but a traditional birth, it leaves you shaking your head at why… but then they take it one step further:

They decided to use sign language to communicate with an unable to speak Zachariah!

People, he was dumbfounded into not being able to speak, NOT DEAF. I am sure Zachariah was inwardly rolling his eyes or fuming, because I know I would be, but he determinedly grabs a tablet and writes out “His name is John” for all to see.

Still reeling from the shock of the name of choice not being the father’s name, imagine the crowd’s reaction when Zachariah suddenly regains his speech, and begins by praising God!

At that final sight of the night…

A deep, reverential fear settled over the neighborhood, and in all that Judean hill country people talked about nothing else. Everyone who heard about it took it to heart, wondering, ‘What will become of this child? Clearly, God has his hand in this.’

This promise became full blown news that night!

At some point soon after, Zachariah is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesized over John as the prophet to prepare the way for Messiah. (Luke 1:67-79)

This would have added a bit more fuel to the flames of the birth of John story

And Mary? Mary soon after returned back home. I suspect her mother or aunt was also likely at John’s birth, due to the wonder of the event. An aged couple passed their prime gives birth.

The last time that happened, it was to the forerunners of God’s people, Abraham & Sarah. And Israel came to be, born in the promise of Isaac.

This time, the miracle happened to the relatives of that family tree, Zachariah & Elizabeth. and John came to be, born to herald the promised Messiah!

I can hardly wait for the story to continue on Saturday with the final direct major player of this exciting drama.

But first, I am going to have a little fun tomorrow before we move on!

Until then, let’s keep wondering anew at the wonder contained in the #AdventuresinAdvent we have read so far!


image from: the birth of John