Imagine for a moment a beautifully wrapped gift – pretty paper in your favorite Christmas print and colors, maybe reds, greens, golds, or crisp white with silver sparkles, or plain brown wrap with white snowflakes, plus a beautiful ribbon tied around it into a bow on the top. It’s surprisingly light weight. You hear something jiggle around in it when you lift it.
Before you open it, I tell you I spent a lot of time thinking about what ONE thing I could give you if I only had one gift to give, something special, something you need, something you’ll love. So with that thought, you begin to open it. You pull the ribbon, tear the paper, and unseal the box, so excited to see what’s inside. Here’s what you find:
· A bag of dirt
· An empty water bottle
· A piece of sandpaper
· A broken pencil
Yep, all the excitement drains from your face. You feel sad, disappointed, confused. You wonder if this is a joke, a mistake. But then I tell you this:
Take out the dirt. Take out the empty water bottle. Remove the sandpaper and the broken pencil. Set it all to the side. NOW you have the gift I wanted to give – a big empty box. Yay! Now are you excited? No, of course you’re not. But hopefully, after I share why this empty box is actually a really great gift, you might see things differently.
In the book of Luke, chapter three, we read this:
“Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. Isaiah had spoken of John when he said,
‘He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!
The valleys will be filled,
and the mountains and hills made level.
The curves will be straightened,
and the rough places made smooth.
And then all people will see
the salvation sent from God.’” Luke 5:3-6
I recently spent quite a bit of time mulling over and thinking upon this passage, and this is when I came up with the idea of the empty box, the gift I need, and I’m thinking, possibly one you need too.
The words that specifically stood out to me in this passage were the action words in the words of Isaiah:
Prepare, Clear, Be filled, Made Level, Be Straightened, Made Smooth, Will See
This time of year is always a time of preparation. Just coming off of days preparing for and enjoying Thanksgiving, we jump into this season of Advent, where we wait on the birth of Jesus, and in that waiting, we do a lot of preparing, some of which is really good, but also some of which can be stressful and pull us away from what Christmas is actually all about. We make lists of gifts to buy or receive, we plan where we’re going or who’s coming over to our homes, we plan meals and go to parties or celebrations either in-person or through Zoom. Maybe we volunteer or serve in some way, and as I mentioned, much of this is good, but in all of it there’s ONE thing that can get lost, and that is the very simple gift of love and peace that we can only receive through our faith in Jesus.
So, when I read these words in Luke and thought about what they mean to me, I realized that maybe the best way I can start to prepare for Christmas this year is by doing what John the Baptist said when he repeated Isaiah’s words (spoken in Isaiah 40). I can clear the way and make room for Jesus so that I can fully receive the gift of peace he offers, and to do this I need to start with my heart.
So I ask myself, what is cluttering up my heart and mind that takes me away from Jesus?
Worries? Fears? Losses? Dreams unfulfilled? Tasks and lists that go on for days? These are things that can pull me away from God if I don’t let him take over.
So, back to the box, initially filled with a bag of dirt, an empty water bottle, sandpaper, and a broken pencil. These items were meant to symbolize the things John the Baptist tells us will be filled, leveled, straightened, and smoothed when we prepare the way for Jesus.
· The dirt stands for the mountains in our lives – the things that are difficult or challenging that we can’t climb or conquer on our own.
· The empty water bottle stands for the dry and barren places in our lives – the places we can’t seem to satisfy or quench on our own, where we’re disappointed or unsatisfied.
· The sandpaper stands for the rough places in our lives – the places that are annoying or stressful, maybe the person or situation that is difficult, where we try to smooth things out on our own but don’t succeed.
· The broken pencil stands for the broken and hurting places in our lives – the places where we’ve made a mistake and broke something or hurt someone, or where someone or something has broken something in us, and we need healing.
If we take all these places of challenge (mountains), disappointment (valleys), stress (rough places), and brokenness (curves, crooked places), and give them to God, then we will SEE. We will see the salvation, freedom, love, security that only God can give us. We will have a heart that is cleared of the cares of the world and has plenty of room to be filled with the things of God, such as his word, his promises, his love, his peace.
John 14:27 says this:
I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot five. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”
That is the gift that the empty box gives. That is what we get when we clear our hearts and minds to make room for him in this season.
So, how do we do that? How do we clear those things away? It’s a simple answer, but not necessarily an easy one because it takes constant practice and diligence to do, and that answer is to spend time with God – in his word and in prayer. Whether that’s for a short amount of time or a longer amount of time, whatever we do will result in emptying ourselves of all the stuff that is heavy and filling ourselves with the things that actually make us lighter. When we read God's word and pray to him, we fill our hearts with thoughts of him, releasing our worries and fears to the one who can handle all the things we can’t on our own.
I recently led a Bible study to a group of teens where I gave them a gift box filled with the items I mentioned here. I knew I had an opportunity in this time with them to give them something valuable, and in thinking of what the most valuable thing was that I could give, I decided that the gift of love and peace from God would be it. That is truly what I would want them to have and keep forever. I hope they received it, and I hope you do too. Here’s how I think you can start:
· Spend some time reading the verses listed below. What stands out to you? What do you hear God telling you? Write these things down and pray about them.
· Write down what burdens you want to give to God – your mountains, valleys, rough places, broken places. Pray over them and give them to God. You can even throw them into an empty box and pray daily over them, or throw them away after you pray, knowing that God has you and will handle these burdens for you.
· Place an empty box somewhere as a reminder to pray and give things over to God. You can also fill this box with things that remind you of God – Bible verses, a rock to remember he is your rock, a special note from someone who demonstrates God’s loves and encouragement to you, something in nature that reminds you of God’s beauty.
· When you see a pencil, dirt, a water bottle, sand paper, or anything that reminds you of the broken or difficult things, say or write a prayer to God.
Have a blessed week, this second week of Advent, emptying, clearing, preparing to fill yourself with all the love God always has ready in full to give you.
Verses for the week:
Luke 3:1-6 Ephesians 3:16-19
Isaiah 40:1-11 Colossians 3:15
Luke 1:76-79 Colossians 4:2
Luke 2:8-14 Psalm 63