"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him." John 3:17 (NIV)

Twinkling lights bob in the evergreens at an intersection near my home. When a gentle breeze stirs the branches, they seem to dance in the rhythm of my heartbeat, singing that my Light has come. Joy to the world! No more let sin and sorrow grow! He came to make His blessings flow!*

My heart hasn't always sung at the thought of Jesus' birth. Though I accepted Christ at a young age, my understanding of the magnitude of this event was severely limited.

I knew Jesus, God's son, came to earth to save me from my sins and make sure that I could spend eternity with the Father. But until more recent years I didn't grasp His transforming grace.

Christianity meant a ticket to heaven and a long, hard struggle to walk the straight and narrow until I got there. It meant trying very hard and failing often. I lived under the bondage of failure.

I felt I couldn't live up to what I thought were God's expectations of me. I didn't pray enough, read my Bible enough, or witness enough. Motherhood was especially debilitating. I KNEW I failed there.

I should discipline better, be more patient, play with them more, spend more time on their academics, pray for them, teach them, be a more organized housekeeper... the list was never ending. Often I approached God with my head hung in shame, condemnation rolling over me.

Somewhere I missed the verse that told me that God didn't send Jesus to the world to condemn it, but to save it (John 3:17). Furthermore, the next verse, John 3:18 begins by saying that whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned!

I used to think these scriptures simply meant I wouldn't go to hell. While that is a very good thing, it is a limited understanding of why Christ came. It's not just the condemnation of the final judgment that Christ did away with, but also the condemnation in my daily life.

Everything I've done in the past, am doing now, or will do in the future is cleansed by Jesus' blood. When God looks at me, He sees Jesus. And Jesus is perfect.

I'm learning to trust Jesus' transforming grace to make me what God wants me to be. I still mess up, and it hurts. It is especially painful when my failings hurt someone else. But I've discovered that God doesn't want me to dwell in the condemnation. He forgives me and wants me to forgive myself.

When I confess my sins He is faithful to forgive them and cleanse me from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). Then I have to let it go. Even if my heart condemns me, God is greater than my heart (I John 3:20).

Today, for the first time, I noticed verse three of the beautiful hymn, O Holy Night. The phrase that struck me said this: "Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease" (Text by John S. Dwight). My Spirit rose in adoration of the One who broke the bondage of my soul.

Jesus came to cancel the curse of condemnation and sin and to free us to live in relationship with Him and His Father. When I focus on my failures I return to the old way of living in darkness, where despair, sin, and sorrow grow. When I look to Jesus' forgiveness, I walk in the way of Light--where He spreads His blessings as far as the curse was found. And when I keep my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of my faith, I am empowered to serve Him.

When you see the twinkling lights of this season, won't you join with me in praising the Light of the world? Let's stop beating ourselves up for all of those "not good enoughs" in our lives and simply rest in the deep, penetrating grace of Jesus. We can trust our God to bring our hearts into His spiritual rhythm and to make us into the mother he wants us to be.

Joy to the world! Our Lord is come!

"Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold, Threaten the soul with infinite loss; Grace that is greater--yes, grace untold--points to the refuge the mighty cross. Grace, grace, God's grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within, Grace, grace, God's grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin!" (Grace Greater Than Our Sin, text by Julia H. Johnston)

*(Excepts from Joy to the World, words by Isaac Watts)

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A home schooling mother of four, Paula Moldenhauer is passionate about God's grace and intimacy with Jesus. Her website offers home schooling hints, book reviews, and a free weekly devotional, Soul Scents. Subscribe to Soul Scents at www.soulscents.us. You can contact Paula at Paula@soulscents.us.