“He will be our sanctuary; let our hearts not be afraid.” This phrase reached out to me like a lifeline this season when I heard it in this song by Aaron Shust:
If life is full to the brim of the world, of stuff, busyness, and self, then there’s no room for sanctuary. And how can we be sanctified without sanctuary? Without intentionally surrendering to Christ, we can’t be transformed. If there’s no room to listen, all we hear is noise. When we stop reaching for Him- highest and holiest- we settle for lesser loves, for faulty idols. Instead of being disciples who trust in the One with power over the storm, we act like superstitious sailors, grasping for any port in the storm. If it isn’t the harbor of His Presence, it is sinking sand.
Sanctuary is really about peace. And not just pretty ideas of peace like armchairs by fireplaces, or beaches with soothing waves on sunny days. Those could just as easily be advertisements for bed & breakfast places. Those pictures are faulty, paltry impostors of the real thing. For he himself is our peace. If you were wondering what the Christmas story is about, that’s it.
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
In him, we too are being made walking sanctuaries. Let every heart prepare him room. Instead of being an empty cavern inside me, the heart becomes a dwelling full of life- “in which God lives by his Spirit.”
This is not a traditional passage people think of when Christmas comes around. Especially since it talks about circumcision. (How festive… Kids, gather ’round the Christmas tree with some cookies and let’s talk about circumcision!!) However, circumcision was never just an odd and painful ritual that the Israelites did just to be in the God’s Chosen People Club. It was to be a physical reminder and symbol that not only were they set apart as children of God, but that even the most intimate, vulnerable parts of them belong to Him. It’s so much easier to gloss over something sinful, or even something that’s not sinful that becomes an idol, like food or money, when I’m so full of stuff, commitments, to-do lists, ego- distractions. How much easier to rationalize or downplay the most destructive tendencies we have?
What God desires (that He’s been pointing out to me lately) is not a 99% heart given to Him. He wants a 100% heart. As many people have said before, “If you’re 99% in, you’re 100% out.” Someone recently explained that in circumcision, the extra layer is also like a layer of sin that surrounds our hearts that prevents us from experiencing growth in our relationship with God. When we cut off that layer like a shackle, what unimaginable freedom is waiting for us!
But the mistake I often make is to think I’ve gotten rid of that shackle and then I forget that I’ll have to guard my heart against it as long as I’m here on earth. And what guards the heart? The peace of Christ.
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Peace that transcends all understanding. Peace that cuts away the layers, the walls that hold us back from the greatest good, the greatest love, the greatest God. It’s hard to let go of the lesser gods. Even though I know they steadfastly fail me, I still fight the lie of Satan which says that God is holding out on me. And I don’t think Satan is derailed from his quest for our self-destruction when we get excited about an aspect of God (i.e. my epiphany about the peace of God, or a really great sermon series about living radically, or joy, or salvation, etc). Do you know what I mean? It’s like when a theme or small group study or sermon series helps us understand a characteristic of God more intimately, and it sort of becomes our main thought for awhile. And we grow closer to God, knowing Him just a little better. But I don’t think Satan gets worried about that. Because he STILL finds a way to turn that into an idol. I don’t remember who, but recently someone mentioned loving not the idea of something- like joy for example- but loving God, who is the Giver of joy. And that stuck with me. Sometimes the concept of something can be so powerful and appealing that I’m infatuated with the feeling I had, instead of really experiencing the real thing.
And- at least for me- it usually doesn’t take long before warm fuzzies are just lukewarm fuzzies… But isn’t that what we do, especially at times like Christmas?
We set out decor full of sentiment, bright shining baubles and strings of hopeful twinkle lights. And some of us may enjoy a day with our families, full of food, presents, and armchairs by fireplaces. Maybe one that’s miraculously void of drama. We may even slow down enough to enjoy a modicum of sanctuary in the fast paced, breakneck scramble of the season. None of those things are bad- in fact, they are really wonderful! And I look forward to them just as much as anyone else! Here is the proof:
(The exorbitant amount of pinecones just kind of happened. I know it looks like I went out into the imaginary woods behind my imaginary cabin and gathered them, but for real my mom just brought me like, 2 bags of them… Hi, Mom! *waves frantically* You might also have noticed the handful of little Christmas Legos? Those weren’t originally there. But my husband added them in, because they’re kind of his thing. Hi, Husband! *waves frantically*)
But, I wonder if- in our quest for Christmas- we are left wanting and a little depressed when it’s over, because we got just enough off track in loving the idea of Christmas, instead of the Christ of Christmas. The created instead of the Creator. And all the striving for nostalgia just leaves us stale. We clean up the lights and streamers, which can seem more like unnecessary clutter, and we blame them for not being more than we thought they should be. But if we could just see the glory streaming from heaven above instead, maybe we could reclaim the abundance of Christmas. Reclaim the abundance of Christ.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let earth receive her king
Let every heart prepare him room
And heaven and nature sing.
Maybe this year, we’ll sing with 100% hearts. We’ll be all in, like Mark Batterson wrote about. Deuteronomy 30:6 says,
“The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. “
So many around me echo this desperate desire to let God more fully reign over their lives, to be their sanctuary so they can live. For he himself is our peace. I’ve heard it from friends, from other blogs I’ve been reading, from the amazing message delivered by our minister this past Sunday– and from excellent, beautiful, heart-overflowingly-good music like Aaron Shust’s new Christmas album, going to Andrew Peterson and friends’ Behold the Lamb of God concert (post to come about that!!!), and the gift Justin Mosteller gave me of Jason Gray’s Christmas album– especially this song.
I’ve been convicted to find the shackles; what are those things holding me back from living more abundantly? What physical, tangible stuff is cluttering our life? How can we be more all in together as a couple, as a family? How can we risk and dare and dream God-sized dreams, and then actually take action in pursuit of them?
I don’t know yet how to do all that, exactly. But this need for sacred space, for sanctuary so consumed me this week, that I did something as a way of staking my claim in what I have a feeling is the next chapter for our family. Are you ready? It’s a pretty big deal:
I made a mess! No, just kidding. I added to our pile of goodwill clothes. So, not that big a deal. But even physically clearing something away felt like I was preparing a little more room for Him, emptying a little more of myself. My prayer is that we’ll start to clear enough room in our life for movement. For His movement. So we can be, “…built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” more and more.
He will be our sanctuary; let our hearts not be afraid.
Let’s tell each other that story- the Christmas story- this year. And we’ll still put up all the decor and the bright shining baubles, and the nostalgia, etcetera… but we’ll let them be what they are- adornments to the celebration of Christ. And then we’ll be a little more who we are- saved sanctuaries in which God lives by his Spirit. There’s room for Jesus here.