We were high school seniors, sitting in senior project class, and somehow we got onto the topic of Christmas traditions. One of the guys said his parents set out a trail of clementines starting from his bedroom door and ending in front of his gifts beside the tree. I tucked that little idea away, saving it for a future day when I had kids of my own.
I love citrus everything, but I especially love citrus at Christmas. The first Christmas we were married, my handsome sous chef and I baked up dozens and dozens of Paula Deen’s orange blossoms and gave them to friends, family and total strangers, anyone who would take them so we wouldn’t be tempted to eat them all ourselves. A few years later, my friend Heather started bringing us back a huge paper sack of fresh citrus every year when she and Paul returned to Memphis from visiting her family in Florida for Christmas. I found a recipe in my Coastal Living magazine for citrus bars, and I juiced grapefruits, oranges and lemons until my fingertips were raw. There is something refreshing about the zing of fresh citrus in the dead of winter, some hint of life to come, a bright whisper of hope in the midst of gray.
I usually focus on the early chapters of Luke during December, but this year I have found myself drawn to Matthew’s account of that holy night. Keenly aware of my own wait, my empathy this Advent has left me wondering what it was like to wait 400 years in silence after the Old Testament. How thin was their hope, how desperate their prayers? After those 400 years, God broke the silence and pierced the night with a baby’s cry, the long, long, long-awaited Messiah.
But before Matthew tells us how the birth of Jesus came about, he walks us through a family tree. Often I gloss over when I see all those names, but as we’ve walked through Advent with The Greatest Gift, I feel like I’ve gotten to know these people. They aren’t just names anymore. My eyes linger on the small handful of ladies mentioned… Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary. So often I strive to be the perfect mom and feel hopeless when I inevitably fall short, but look at who God chose to be the female lineage of His one and only Son… Tamar, a woman forgotten who, being desperate, manipulated her father-in-law to sleep with her and give her a son. Rahab, a prostitute brave enough to hang a scarlet cord and trust strangers to save her life. Ruth, a widow in a foreign land with people not her own. Bathsheba, famous for her adultery with King David. And Mary, a seemingly insignificant teenager who willingly risked her reputation and life to carry in her womb the Son of God. After 400 years of silence, God uses the first chapter of Matthew to remind us that hope is never far. Hope is found in every story of redemption, every act of grace, every remembrance of His faithfulness.
This past Sunday I heard another story, this one not in the pages of my Bible but on a screen with a brave woman kneeling in a tank below waiting to be baptized. As I listened to her words and watched her chin quiver as she tried not to cry, I saw Hope in all its glorious splendor. Like biting into a juicy clementine on a bitterly cold winter day, her story was a vivid reminder that God brings life from death, light from darkness, hope from despair.
Ashley’s story will encourage you… watch it here.