I’m sitting on the deck in shorts and a sleeveless blouse on an uncharacteristically warm late- autumn day, while Chevy, poodle-king of the mountain, surveys our three sloping terraces, content to sit quietly until a squirrel skitters by, tempting him to follow. He can’t resist.
A gust of wind tempts the ash tree to shed her leaves. She can’t resist, and a cascade of sun-shot gold showers around her, a pooling lamé peignoir, a sudden denuding, a complete surrender.
This tree, unlike our umbrageous oaks, whose leaves cling tenaciously, sometimes even after crisping, shriveled on branches, frees her foliage brazenly, willing her leaves to take simultaneous flight. One day, lush leafage shapes her sumptuous silhouette; the next, her bare, angular bones protrude in starkness. She stands unabashedly disrobed. It happens that quickly.
There is so much I need to shed, so much I long to let go, quickly, without thought, without hesitation, without looking back. And yet, year after year, I struggle to shed my leaves. The longer I think about it, the longer I postpone, the more I cling, the more I’m immobilized, the more I’m overwhelmed. I have too many books, CDs, files, photos, unused make-up, outdated clothes—worse yet, too much fear and frenzy, worry and weariness, doubt and discontent, distraction and disorganization—too much left undone like letters to write, calls to place, visits to make, fences to mend. I make half-hearted attempts, or more promisingly, occasional pulled- up-by-my-bootstraps, full-throttled ones, but somehow, somewhere I ease up, disengage, switch gears, and my cumbersome accoutrements and careworn attitudes proliferate again. I’m back to square one.
Baring and paring down . . . would that this could be my modus operandi like the autumn ash tree’s. Would that I would allow the fresh wind of God’s Spirit to blow through my life, rattle my bones, release my leaves, and relieve my excess—empty all that is decorative, superfluous, trivial, banal, burdensome, sinful. Would that He would strip my soul starkly bare—purged and purified.
It’s nearly Christmas, and isn’t it about emptying? We mistakenly think it’s about filling—filling stockings, filling gift orders, filling schedules, filling stomachs. But what about being filled with the Spirit? All that holiday hubbub doesn’t leave much room for Him. We must not quench His Spirit, but strip our soul starkly bare before He can fill it.
When angel Gabriel visited Mary to announce that God had chosen her among women to bear His Son, Mary emptied herself. She emptied herself of her fear, her will, her reputation. She was then filled with trust. She was filled “with child,” and she would give birth to God’s own Son. And, in her fullness, her joy overflowed in song in what some have called the Magnificat: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me . . . (Luke 1:46b-49).” Mary’s emptying ultimately resulted in rejoicing, blessedness, and great things: Christmas came. The Son of God was born. He would save people from their sins.
And how did He come? Humbly. “Although [Jesus] existed in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond- servant, and being made in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:6-7).” And, astonishingly, Jesus’ emptying was so complete that it ultimately resulted in His death: ” . . . He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8).”
As we fill our lives this season with the sights and sounds of Christmas, the gaiety and fanfare, the greetings and feasts, the gifts and festivities, may we never lost sight of its significance. Christmas is the prelude to Calvary. Jesus was born to die. Jesus, who is God, existed with God before the foundations of the world which He created. Yet our Lord emptied Himself, relinquishing all His divine prerogatives and surrendered to God’s overshadowing will. He came to earth in the humblest of forms, a baby, and one day humbled Himself in the most humiliating of deaths, crucifixion, stripped bare, nailed to that bare tree. He emptied Himself of His very life, to atone for our sins, so that we might live. God, fully satisfied with Jesus’ sacrifice, did a great thing and raised Christ on the third day to make possible for us sinners the gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and abundant, eternal life.
Will you strip your soul starkly bare? Will you let go quickly, without thought or reservation, without looking back? Will you ask Him to fill you with His Spirit so that your heart overflows with His great things—His gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? This Christmas, may you be blessed, overflowing with joy, rejoicing in God your Savior.
Lynn D. Morrissey possesses the rare ability to probe beneath the surface, striking the heart of a subject, while sharing transparently from her own heart. She is passionate about journaling, through which God healed her of suicidal depression, alcoholism, and guilt from an abortion. She empathizes greatly with those who endure pain. A poetic word stylist, Lynn sculpts beautiful language with her pen, and is the author of Love Letters to God: Deeper Intimacy through Written Prayer and other books, contributor to numerous bestsellers, a Certified Journal Facilitator (CJF) for Heartsight Journaling, AWSA speaker, and professional soloist. She lives with her husband Michael and college-age daughter Sheridan in St. Louis,Missouri. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org