Noel, which is another word for Christmas, simply means birth. Approximately 2,017 noels ago, the First (and Best) Noel happened. A star blazed. A donkey snorted. A young woman moaned. Her husband paced and prayed. The baby Savior and King took his first breath of earth-air. Angels sang. Sheep bleated. Shepherds ran, skipped, and leapt all the way to town.
The next-best noel, at least for me, happened nearly 14 noels ago. In a little church in a little town probably not much bigger than Bethlehem, the Savior and King asked me a question: Will you trust Me with your life and follow Me?
Only Jesus knew just what He was asking. For decades, I’d been taught that God was, at best, never pleased with me, and most of the time was angry with me. This concept had been emphasized with condemnation, accusation, vulgarity, obscenity, threat, and abuse—every bit of which, I was told, was God’s way of disciplining me. I believed that I deserved no better.
I finally ran away from that God of fear and shame but ended up surrounded by folks who passionately and gratefully loved a God whose love and grace was transforming their hearts and lives. I’d always been told that Christians were just deceived hypocrites. I hung around them anyway because they were so full of love, joy, peace, and hope—and I had absolutely none! On their wall hung a framed scripture that quite literally gripped my heart every time I read it:
“For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” –JEREMIAH 29:11
I figured such words were for good people, not someone like me who had made such a mess of her life while searching down every road that seemed to promise hope and a future but ended in brokenness and failure. But when Jesus asked me to trust Him with my life and future, I realized that He was my only hope.
I didn’t look up, fall on my knees, sing “Just as I Am”, or recite a prayer. I just whispered, “Okay.” No one on earth heard me, but later I found out that there was a lot of whooping and hollering in heaven that night—the night of my second-best noel.