In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”
Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
She became a space.
Mary—she opens her hands and she nods.
And the promises come true in the space of her surrender—the pod of the Most High God lodging within her willing yes.
Beneath her heart—in one yielded space—beats the thrumming love of God.
There is no need to produce or perform or perfect—simply become a place for God. That is all.
Now, here, in this juncture of time and space, God chooses the inconceivable—grace.
And conceives Himself to deliver grace into the world.
Conceive: it’s not passive, but an active verb. Its root in Latin means nothing less than “to seize, to take hold of.” When grace conceives in you, you take hold of God.
When you are a space to receive whatever the will of God is in this moment as grace, you take hold of God. You most take hold of God when you simply receive Him in this moment taking hold of you.
Taking hold of your unsure hand.
Taking hold of your unseen needs.
Taking hold of your unknown stress.
He wants to take hold of you, to be with you. He wants to carry you, to be carried by you, to have relationship with you.
The being with is always the gift, not merely the doing for. Because God knows: relationship is the only reality; there is nothing else. The way He lives in Trinity, the way we are tethered to Him, to His Body. The way He is with us and in us; the way we make space for Christ to grow us, unfold Love in us; the way the life of Christ stirs amazing grace within.
The way anywhere you make space for someone, you become a womb for God.
He comes to you as the exhausted man over a plate of cold food, the brushed-off kid in the hall, the loud woman peppering your patience with a thousand questions. When you slow and let your eyes fully receive theirs or your words nourish small things—anytime you’re a safe place for another soul or you open and conceive grace—you become a womb for God. Nothing is impossible with Him.
Christmas is conceived in your world when you simply receive it—however Christ and His will comes to you. When we think we’re the ones who will have to produce Christmas, we only half-wrap the notion that we think the saving of the world begins with us. There is a name for this, and it is called idolatry.
“No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven,” says the one who is preparing the way (John 3:27, emphasis added).
Hear it like an echo of the heavenlies: Christmas can’t be made, like people can’t be self-made, like dreams can’t be force-made. Everything is given from heaven. Everything is gift. Your life becomes a masterpiece the moment you see it as a gift of grace to willingly receive.
It is more blessed to give than to receive—and it may be more of a struggle to receive than to give. Christmas humbles: we are not the givers we long to be. Nor are we the receivers God woos us to be.
Mary kneels before us this first Christmas not as a woman producing, performing, or perfecting but simply bending before a God who has all the power to dispatch angels, enfold Himself in embryonic cells, choreograph the paths of stars—a God who quietly beckons every man, every woman to simply come, bend, make a space, receive.
This is the chronology of grace, the chronology of Christmas: before we’re called to give, we’re called to receive.
This can be the hardest. We struggle to receive. Sometimes we are better givers than getters. Grace? For me?
I don’t have to bring anything? I don’t have make anything, produce anything, perform anything? What if someone sees . . . how empty I am? How I am not enough, how my gifts are not enough, how giving all I’ve got is never enough? How there are empty places in me, gaping places in me—all these hollow, starving places?
And Mary nods to you in the last days of Advent. Only one thing is necessary—be a space for Love to come. You simply have to receive Love. Let yourself be loved.
Will you let Me fill all your emptiness with Love? Receive my Love? Conceive My grace?
It’s for you.
“Nothing is more repugnant to capable, reasonable people than grace,” writes John Wesley.[i] And nothing is harder for capable people at Christmas to simply come and receive.
Don’t let this be the gift you refuse. The grace is for you.
Your greatest gift is not your gifts, but your surrendered yes to be a space for God.
The miscarriage of Christmas begins when anxieties crowd out space within simply to carry Christ. Make room; be a womb. Be a womb to receive Christ everywhere, and it is He who delivers everyone.
So you let the last of the trimmings go.
Cease the pace to do, buy, produce more.
Find the calendar and erase.
Somewhere make space.
And you can feel the space become a sanctuary. Sanctity stilling the crush. Glory overshadowing everything else.
And time holds its breath, and the whirl of this old whirligig world holds for half a blink . . . and God comes in the fullness of His love into the willing space.
And time exhales relief, and the angels dance joy, and the velvet hush of grace received falls over this place like a coverlet over a waiting child.
Take ten today. Ten minutes. Make five minutes of space and stillness and silence just with God. Then make five minutes of space in your day for someone else, and let that person fill all your attention. Invite God and His love to indwell you today.
[i] David L. Larsen, The Evangelism Mandate: Recovering the Centrality of Gospel Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1992), 155.
from The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp.
2014 “Christian Retailing’s Best” award winner!
In what is sure to become an instant holiday classic, Voskamp reaches back into the pages of the Old Testament to explore the lineage of Jesus via the advent tradition of “The Jesse Tree.”
Beginning with Jesse, the father of David, The Greatest Gift retraces the epic pageantry of mankind, from Adam to the Messiah, with each day’s reading pointing to the coming promise of Christ.
Sure to become a holiday staple in every Christian home, The Greatest Gift is the perfect gift for the holidays and a timeless reminder of the true meaning of Christmas.
Learn more about exciting new ways to celebrate this Advent season with your family! >>