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The Yoke & the Mantle: The True Meaning of Christmas

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). 


I hold a warm cup of tea in my hands, sipping slowly as a look around my living room this night.  The twinkling of Christmas lights glows brightly in the silent darkness from a lush tree loaded down with ornaments carefully collected over years. The fireplace mantle is covered in fresh greenery, gleaming with candles that highlight colorful stockings dangling off its heights.  My eye wanders over to the manger scene of Mary, Joseph and the ubiquitous baby Jesus surrounded by three Wise Men, an angel, a Shepherd and various ceramic farm animals. 

 

What does it all mean?


Christmas tree at night

For me, it’s about knowing that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is ultimately my touchstone in this world. My true Christmas star to guide me to a place so transformational and full of love, I don’t think the word we use to describe it does it justice: heaven.


I think Christmas is ultimately about a yoke, and a mantle quite different from the pine-covered one over my fireplace.  It's more of a reflection point back to the beginning of a life journey.  A life that requires both the yoke and the mantle for guidance and comfort to reach that heavenly realm, both on Earth and beyond.


As I ponder Jesus’ beginning, I can’t help but think on words he would share toward the end. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). 


My eyes dart quickly to the tawny colored ceramic ox holding its visage in my manger scene.  In reality an ox would have been guided by a yoke, a sort of harness to help it stay on course and navigate the field or the road ahead successfully.  The yoke gives purpose and direction to an oxen’s course, ultimately producing a rich harvest from the labor it provides.


In my life, I have been guided by many yokes: ambition, self-will, hurt, deep-seeded fears and insecurities, the need to prove myself, laziness and self-loathing, fear.  Yet no outcome, no accomplishment or failure, can stand before the gentle yoke Jesus has placed on my shoulders.  


With faithful guidance, Jesus has led me to experience rich blessings and profound joy, oftentimes despite myself.  My eyes well with tears thinking upon his goodness in my life.  Of the fruitful character changes wrought within that have brought such rich benefit to me and those around me.  Of personal everyday miracles, transformational stories and come-from-behind victories in my life and in others that take my breath away.


It seems to me we all wear a yoke of one kind or another.  We all are led by something.  Part of my Christian journey has been the thoughtful reflection on which yoke I am choosing to wear in any given day.  Jesus came with a kindness; a gentle, easy leadership that gives me direction no matter how hard the road ahead.  Amidst the twinkling Christmas lights, I can’t help but feel overwhelming gratitude for the gift of his arrival to lead me through the intricacies of this world.  His unwavering care is a comforting beacon, guiding me through the tapestry of this life and ultimately weaving me into the next.


Solomon simply says, “His banner over me is love” (Song of Songs 2:4 CJB).  Jesus came to cover over my sins: every mistake, misstep, misdirection, missed opportunity, and moral failure.   He lays his mantle of love over each and every one.  Sins that have been, that are, and sins that have yet to be.  As Paul jubilantly declares in Romans 4:7, “Blessed are those whose wrongs have been forgiven, whose sins are covered” (VOICE). 


That’s because Jesus came to this world to not just give me a better yoke, but also a better mantle.  In the world of Jesus’ birth, a mantle served as both a blanket and a coat.  It was and is symbolic of covering over something or covering someone in something.  These are the mantles the crowds lay at his feet as he rides through the streets of Jerusalem on a donkey’s back years later.  Crowds who currently adore him, but in a few short days will betray him with loud shouts declaring, “Crucify!  Crucify!”  


Yet in that moment, they let go of their mantles and their illusions of self-leadership, carefully laying them in Jesus’ path.  They symbolically chose to give over all they had and all they would ever need to Jesus, the Lord and Savior of the world. 


How many times have I laid down my own mantle before the Lord only to pick it back up again?  Times too numerous to count if I’m honest.  His warmth, his mercy and his grace are meant to set me free, to shatter into oblivion any hurt, any heartache, any fear.  To wrap me up securely in his divine protection, mercy and love.  Jesus does so even while fully knowing that in my humanness and brokenness, I will fling off that warmth at times for the illusion of something I perceive as “better.”  Or quicker and easier.  Or because I’ve become so accustomed to the holes and the feel of my own mantle, it can hold an artificial sense of comfort, so I put it back on.


For all these reasons my Jesus came into this world.  For freedom.  For hope.  For guidance and leadership.  And for mercy.  Especially for mercy.  For me.  For you.  For us all.    


Joy to the world, for the Lord IS come. May my heart continue to receive its King.  To make room for the wonders of his love in my day-to-day life.  To repeat to others the sounding joy that only his yoke and his mantle bring.


“For God so loved the world that he gave us his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  For me, that is the true meaning of this and every Christmas morning.    


Christmas Cross

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT: As you reflect on Jesus' arrival to Earth, consider these words from the Christmas classic “Joy to the World”: 

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!  Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare Him room…

 

Amidst the hustle and bustle of Christmas, I find it helpful to prepare room for a time of deeper reflection for the advent season.  A time to think back on the many blessings Jesus has sent my way.  Not only in this current year, but in all the years prior.  To remember how humbly he entered this world, so gentle is his love, in order to set me free.  

 

I invite you to consider setting aside a more special, focused time to intentionally count your blessings.  To offer up gratitude to the one from whom all blessings flow.  To make time to remember that no matter what your current circumstances, there are always blessings to be found because the Lord is that good.  

 

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow.

 

Then, reflect on how Jesus’ blessings have flowed throughout your life, and on how he has used you for good in the lives of others.  Reflect also on the thorns in your life he has removed, and perhaps the ones he is currently working to remove and heal. To thoughtfully remember his heart is to cover you with love and to heal your wounds. Both now and forever more. 

 

…the glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love.  

 

Truly, walking with Jesus hand-in-hand is a glorious, wondrous adventure!  This Christmas, don’t let the busyness keep you from fully taking in the wonders of his love in your life!


PRAYER: Father, thank you for sending your son for my redemption and freedom. You are such a wise, loving and caring Lord. I am humbled by how humbly you chose to enter this world, and by how humble you remain. This Christmas, I ask for a humble and grateful heart, too. A heart that chooses to reflect upon all that you have done, all that you are, and all that you have yet to do with gratitude and trust. May I be a reflection of your love to those around me. And may I continue to trust in the yoke and mantle you lay upon me. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.


To learn more about author & motivational speaker Barb Lownsbury or to invite her to speak at your next event, CLICK HERE.

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