The advent series this year is based on Ed Robb’s and Rob Renfroe’s publication The Wonder of Christmas available through Abingdon Press. Many thanks are owed them for making this available. The opportunity to share their work is a delight.
The Wonder of a Star given on Sunday, November 27, 2016:
Advent reflection Part A:
Wonder: a word packed with meaning. In fact, check the definition of the word as outlined on dictionary.com:
VERB (used without object)
- to think or speculate curiously:
to wonder about the origin of the solar system.
- to be filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; marvel (often followed by at): He wondered at her composure in such a crisis.
- to doubt: I wonder if she’ll really get here.
VERB (used with object)
- to speculate curiously or be curious about; be curious to know: to wonder what happened.
- to feel wonder at: I wonder that you went.
- something strange and surprising; a cause of surprise, astonishment, or admiration: That building is a wonder. It is a wonder he declined such an offer.
- the emotion excited by what is strange and surprising; a feeling of surprised or puzzled interest, sometimes tinged with admiration: He felt wonder at seeing the Grand Canyon.
- miraculous deed or event; remarkable phenomenon.
Granted looking at all eight definition entries may seem like way too much information, but the term wonder is going to be central to the Advent season and we will be experiencing almost all eight meanings.
These definitions are provided after careful review of the historical uses of the word throughout time. The linguists, those who study language, track a word through all published sources in order to identify and clarify the meaning of words published in dictionaries. Wonder, for this Advent, is awesome—meaning inspiring
Part B: The Questions
After all the Thanksgiving turkey is cleaned off our plates and we have sat around watching the football games or crashing on the couch after hitting the stores for frenzied shopping, the reality of holiday traditions sets in. And then we face the reality that Christmas is just one month away. Do we wonder why we get so wrapped up in all the busyness of holiday celebrations?
However one answers that question can also focus us on the reality of the season. Have we lost the wonder of Christmas? Do we even understand how Christmas is wonderful? During this advent, the goal is to discover the wonder of the Christmas story. Consider these questions:
- In what ways have you sensed that you were made for something more? How would you describe the yearning within your soul?
- What signs are pointing you to God this Advent?
- What excuses are keeping you from following those signs and drawing closer to Jesus? What are you afraid of?
Part C: Longing for something
For days the anticipation of Thanksgiving made it difficult to wait for the smell of the family traditional foods wafting from the kitchen. The anticipation of the break in our daily routine can make the days seem so very long. Yet, the anticipation keeps us hopeful. We seem unsettled as we wait for the holiday. We know what it is, but we also do not know exactly how it all going to turn out.
This type of longing is just a hint of the “longing for something” that causes restlessness in our lives that cannot be easily explained. There is a pull, a sense of questioning about the meaning of life or why are we even born. Sometimes it seems we can find an answer by buying something or doing something that provides us a temporary solution to the restlessness, but soon it returns.
Rob Renfroe writes:
Whether or not you realize it, your heart is not looking for a “something.” You are looking for a Someone—Someone who knows you and loves you and gives you rest. Someone who can transform you and who will never leave you. That Someone is Jesus. [p. 23]
The birth of Jesus Christ is God’s way to answer that restlessness as long as we acknowledge it. How wonderful it is when the answer is found, but all too often the answer is not identified and the seeking continues. During Advent, let’s find the wonder that is the gift that keeps on giving.
Part D: The Wonder of the Star through the Eye of Artists:
The star is one of the most recognizable symbols of Christmas. The Christmas story usually ends with the star leading the wise men to the Baby Jesus, but what if the star had not been seen?
Have you ever thought about how looking at something can be seen differently by each one of us? We look up at the fluffy clouds and see all kinds of different shapes. Ask anybody what they see, and the answers can be quite surprising.
The night sky is also filled with surprises. Many know that I love to sit out and watch for shooting stars, but each time I get to do that I find surprises. This summer it was the satellites. Now I find myself spotting the planes and wondering where they are coming from and where they are going. The satellites are fun to watch because they move so fast and sometimes they shine bright, then they fade and can even return to bright along the orbit across the sky (I think it is due to the angle of reflection and sometimes the thin clouds that scuttle past).
But then there are the stars themselves. As much as I look up into the dark sky, I am amazed at all the stars. I see the planets, too, and I am awed by the expanse of our universe and even the universe each of those stars represent. I am filled with wonder.
In the study The Wonder of Christmas, the star is the first wonder. The wise men saw that star and wondered about it. In fact, they wondered about it so much that they knew there was something special about it. These wise men saw something in that star that others did not see. What they ‘saw’ lead them to find Jesus Christ, an infant in a manger.
Seeing something others do not see is a definition of an artist. Artists see our world with a special gift and they share that vision with us in so many different ways. The artist has a gift of wonder, as Renfroe states:
The gift of wonder is the ability to be amazed by little things—to see more when other people see less; to be surprised again by the beauty you’ve seen a hundred times, feeling about it the way you did the first time you saw it—and to wonder how life could give you such a marvelous gift. [p. 16]
Scripture: Isaiah 60:1-5
Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see.
For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you.
2 Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth,
but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.
3 All nations will come to your light;
mighty kings will come to see your radiance.
4 “Look and see, for everyone is coming home!
Your sons are coming from distant lands;
your little daughters will be carried home.
5 Your eyes will shine,
and your heart will thrill with joy,
for merchants from around the world will come to you.
They will bring you the wealth of many lands.
Christmas Story: Matthew 2:1-12
Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men[a] from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose,[b] and we have come to worship him.”
3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities[c] of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’[d]”
7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
Part E: Seeing the Star, Wise Men Knew Something
The wonder of the star we now call the Christmas Star that rose in the east led the wise men to Bethlehem. They knew something that others longed to know but failed to see. The wise men saw something different in that star and followed their wonder to see the Baby Jesus in a manger.
The artists in each of us can see wonder in this world. Do not let the busyness of our world block out the wonder you see in this world. Do not be blinded by what the culture tells you, trust your own eyes to discover the meaning of Christmas. Disregard the clamor to buy, buy, and buy even more. Be wise and follow the star.
Find the wonder of Christmas by seeing the star as the Wise Men saw it. This Christmas, see the holiday differently. Anticipate the wonder that fills our lives when we accept God’s gift of Jesus Christ so that we might be forgiven. Renfroe puts it into these words:
Christmas brings the wonder of seeing the world anew, as an artist perceiving that there is more to reality than meets the eye, more than the wings that can be seen and touched. [p. 23]
By accepting God’s gift–wrapped up with a star on top–we find the answer to what is missing in life and we will find new joy in worshiping together through the Advent season. We will worship today just as the Wise Men did. Renfro says:
. . . Each wise man would have brought his own caravan. Yet upon entering a humble house in an occupied country, these men of influence and power fell to their knees, bowed their heads, and worshiped the child of a poor Jewish family.
Why did they worship? This newborn child had done nothing yet. He had no army, no subjects, no kingdom. He had not yet performed a miracle or spoken the words of a prophet. In fact, he had done nothing other than what any other newborn child would have done. And still they worshiped him. Why? The answer is that we do not worship God primarily for what God has done, but for who God is. I imagine that as they stepped into a humble home and looked at a poor couple’s child, they recognized that Jesus was and is God and that they were God’s creations. He was and is life; they were mortal. He was and is love, righteousness, and beauty; it is because of him that we know what true love and beauty are. [p .30]
This is the wonder of Christmas all wrapped up in the story of the Wise Men who followed a star.
Closing prayer from The Wonder of Christmas:
Heavenly Father, you have put a longing within my soul for something more than this world can provide—for Someone who can meet my every need and love me completely. That Someone is you. Thank you for giving me so many signs that lead me to you. Forgive me for making excuses and allowing fear of change—of the unknown—to keep me from pursuing you with all my heart. Give me a renewed sense of wonder this Christmas so that I will have the eyes to see you and all you are doing to reveal yourself to me. Thank you for the precious gift of your Son, Jesus, who points me to you. Amen. [p. 38]
Parting words: Blessings come when we serve God. Thank you for joining us for this special time together:
I pray that, like the wise men, you will have the gift of wonder this Christmas—the eyes of an artist that see the beautiful patterns and remarkable colors God has placed in your life. And pray that you will be amazed at all God has done and is doing to reach out and reveal himself to you. [Renfroe, p. 25]