Tag Archives: Christmas

Advent fills hearts with hope; Open your heart to be filled

Today the window above my desk is filled with beautiful snowflakes drifting down with a cedar tree in the background.  The visuals match the traditional images on so many Christmas cards.  

Yes, Advent is here and Christians begin the journey to the manger—all sounds familiar to those who have been raised in the church and celebrate the holiday focusing on the story shared in the gospels and prophesied for thousands of years.  

But what about Advent season for those who are unfamiliar with the Christian tradition of Advent and Christmas?  Are they excited about a season or just about what the secular world has decided is a holiday tradition?  Are their hearts filled with hope?

Admittedly this is a simple line of thought from one who has lived a lifetime wrapped in the Christian tradition; yet, I am wondering why I have discovered how much more exciting Christmas is for me this year versus all the other years.  I think it may be from discovering the true secret to Christmas: hope, love, joy, and peace.

This is the first Advent in over a decade that I have not focused on creating a series of worship services that lead a congregation to Christmas day.  I thought I would really miss the process and the excitement that the work has entailed over the past 10 years.

But as I sit here watching the snowflakes swirling ever so gently around the house, I must admit that I am not missing the work that Advent has meant for these past years. Instead, I am experiencing Advent a bit differently.  I am sensing hope.  

Let’s consider what hope really is:

NOUN mass noun

A feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.

  • 1.1count noun A person or thing that may help or save someone.
  • 1.2 Grounds for believing that something good may happen.

2  archaic A feeling of trust.

VERB

Want something to happen or be the case.

  • 1.1with infinitive Intend if possible to do something.

This definition comes from the Oxford dictionary on-line that is my go to dictionary because it also offers the origin of the word, too:

Late Old English hopa (noun), hopian (verb), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch hoop (noun), hopen (verb), and German hoffen (verb).

Looking closely at the various entries for hope, I see the value of opening Advent with the emphasis on hope.  For four weeks, we create an atmosphere of expecting something huge to happen.  

For Christians, that big thing is the birth of Jesus Christ.  At least that is the design of the traditional Christian season.  Sadly, the secular world has invaded the spiritual world and the hope appears to be more for a day of gift giving.

If one can lessen the emphasis on gift giving as the “big thing” of Christmas, the desire or hope shifts from fancy packages under a Christmas tree to the givingof love from one person to another.

I was saddened to notice the second definition of hopeis listed as archaic:  a feeling of trust.  Advent should still focus on that definition.  

For thousands of years, the Israelites had waited, trusted, that God would provide a messiah to “fix” the mess they were in.  They had hope.  

Do we, in the 21stcentury still have hope?  

Advent is a time to re-evaluate that idea.  At times we all experience feeling lost, depressed, alone, guilty, stranded, and the list continues.  At those times, we lose hope.  Turn hope into the verb, not the noun.

The verb places each one of us in an active state:  we want something to happen or something to be.  The Israelites continued to hope.  As bad as things got, they trusted God to provide an answer to their demise. 

Do we, in the 21stcentury hope—actively hope?

Maybe I am not in a pulpit right now, but I am discovering hope again in a new light.  I am making subtle changes in how I celebrate the entire season and finding hopealive in surprising ways.

For instance, I was reading the lectionary reading for this week and discovered an emphasis on trust.  Psalms 25 opens

O Lord, I give my life to you.

     I trust in you, my God!  . . .

No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced,

     But disgrace comes to those who try to deceive              others.

Living in a society filled with all kinds of distressing concerns—personal, health, financial, governmental, global—we need to trust in God.  We need hope that God is with us, that he hears us, that he wants what is best for us.  

The traditions that have developed around our secular celebrations during Advent and on Christmas Day may be well-intentioned, but is in God?

Evaluating the secular traditions through the filter of my Christian faith forces me to redefine the traditions.  My hopeis that the “reason for the season” is more important in my life than the hope that I find packages under the tree just for me.

This Advent, I want to emphasize how trusting in God provides me a hope that extends beyond the worldly scope of my life.  

My hope is the traditions that demonstrate love for one another creates a joy that expands beyond a package wrapped under a tree.

Read the scriptures for Advent’s first week and see if your heart opens, too, finding how those who trust in God have hope that leads to joy:

Lectionary readings for the week of December 2:

  • Jeremiah 33:14-16
  • Psalm 25:1-10
  • I Thessalonians 3:9-13
  • Luke 21:25-36

Dear God,

Give me the strength

     to trust in the ancient words of scripture.

Give me the determination 

     to keep Advent a time of expectation.

Open my heart to be filled with hope.

Guide me in celebrating the birth of your son

     with traditions to reflect your love.

Guide me in sharing the story of Jesus’ birth

     with words and actions to share your love.

Open my heart to be filled with trust.

Thank you for the words of the ancient faithful

     that help us open our hearts to trust.

Thank you for the work of the faithful

     who open our hearts in hope of Jesus’ birth.

In the name of you, the Father, 

In the name of your son, Jesus Christ,

In the name of the Holy Spirit, amen.

P.S. Friends, the snow is still falling outside my window.  What a joy it is as I experience the excitement of the season!  I hope your days are full of the joy we feel as Christmas Day nears.

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Mother Nature prompts apology

The last Sunday morning of 2017 and Mother Nature is getting our attention.  The churches in our area have canceled primarily because of the risk involved in getting the parishioners out.

I have one more sermon from the Advent study, Christmas Presents That Won’t Break, by James Moore and Jacob Armstrong.  Christmas does not really conclude until Epiphany, January 6, therefore the last sermon will be on January 7.  I apology for the interruption, but Christ’s birthday is just the beginning.

My Sunday morning sometimes begins very early and I listen to Dr. Charles Stanlely, In Touch Ministries, and this morning he was speaking about Isaiah 64:4.  We are to wait on the Lord.  That is so difficult, and I needed to hear his words about waiting.

We live in such a state of immediate gratification for almost everything in our lives.  I opened up my Bible and read through the verse, and decided I needed to read the Christmas story again.  I read Luke 2, and then turned to Matthew also.  The references in my Life Application Bible kept noting how Jesus’ birth fulfilled the prophecies.

The prophets spokes at different times in different settings, but the message remained the same.  I am reminded how long the Jewish faithful waited for the Messiah and wonder why we think answers from God have to be on our terms.  We must place our faith in God and then wait for him.  The key, though, is to be open to his speaking or showing us what he wants for us–not from us.

Therefore, as 2017 ends and Mother Nature reminds us that we are just part of this world.  Maybe canceling church reminds us that we are subject to all of God’s creation.  Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  May you find peace with God.

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PEACE: Christmas Presents That Won’t Break

Sermon given on Sunday, Christmas Eve 2017, based on the Advent study by James W. Moore and Jacob Armstrong, Christmas Presents That Won’t Break.  Even though Advent comes to a conclusion with Christmas Day, the study will be followed for the next week or two.  Many thanks to Moore and Armstrong for publishing this study so others may find the gifts that won’t break:  Hope, Love, Joy and Peace.

Scripture: Luke 2:1-6 (NRSV)

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.

 

Luke 2:8-11 (NRSV)

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

 

Luke 2:8-11 (NRSV)

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

 

PEACE: The Christmas Present That Won’t Break

 

Life at this time of year sometimes feels like total chaos. There has been all the shopping, the baking, the extra events on the calendar and all this is on top of our typical daily life routines. No wonder everybody becomes exhausted. The idea of peace seems impossible.

Yet, peace is possible. And today, Christmas Eve, in the midst of all the seasonal chaos, peace is possible and it is a gift that won’t break.

Chaos is a permanent state around us and that is no different throughout human history.—even since creation, as John 1 reminds us:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5, NRSV)

 

At no time in our lives are we immune to chaos. The key to peace is knowing that God is with us, or as one of our members has said repeatedly this year, “God’s got this.” And that testimony has carried her through the chaos of a medical crisis.

God is with us. Since the beginning, God has existed and continues to be a very real presence within our lives. Have we opened this gift? Today is the perfect time to open this last gift, God’s gift of peace.

[Light the Peace candle.]

Peace is difficult to define especially when our world is in such chaos, but I always have hope that we can reach the ultimate goal of peace. The key is finding peace with God first, then finding peace with one’s self, and that makes finding peace with others possible.

This morning we awoke to find the magic of a white Christmas.   The snow really completes the mental image of Christmas for us in the Midwest. Seldom, though, does a white Christmas become real. I hope that as you stepped out into the natural world you heard the peace.

As I tried to figure out a way to explain what the gift of peace was to the kids, I could only come up with one idea—the way the world is when snow falls. There is nothing like it. When snow falls, there is a pureness that one experiences.

  • The visual shows a world with no flaws as the snow covers the dulled yards, turns leafless trees and bushes into white, sparkling gardens if even for a few moments.
  • Snow even has a unique smell, almost absent of odors but also refreshing. We notice that when we go into the stores and see candles and scents with snow as the descriptors. One might think that snow should smell like rain, but it has its own unique scent.
  • And who admits that snow does have a taste. As kids, I am sure we have all ran out into the snow, stuck out our tongue and tasted it. Why snow even serves as the base ingredient for an old fashioned treat—snow ice cream (even though we always add extra taste elements to it).
  • Touching snow may begin with the taste on the tongue, but snow brings out the kids in all of us as we run and play, scoop it up to make snowmen, or fall into it to make snow angels. Even the gentle feel of the snow on our face seems to calm our very anxious souls.
  • Finally, the sound of snow is the key to knowing what peace is. Step into a world where snow has coated the ground, especially as the day begins. The sound of snow is peace. It quiets us, it soothes us, it wraps us up like a warm blanket on the coldest of days.

This mornings gentle snow fall can serve as a real example of what peace with God is like.   (I know, the cynics might try to twist the magic of the white Christmas into the negatives, but I choose to focus on the snow as an example of God’s gift of peace.)

James Moore uses the story of the angels being taught to sing the one hymn to announce Jesus’ birth to the shepherds as a one-time public event. The angels were told that this was the only time that they would sing this one song as a performance. That may seem like a silly story, but thing about how the Christmas carols delight us as we look forward to Christmas.

The story concludes with God explaining to the angels that once they perform this majestic hymn, their job was done. Moore writes God’s response: “Because,” God said, “my son has been born, and now earth must do the singing!”

The Christmas story is told and retold every year in hope that all people can find peace with God. Moore adds:

The Good news of Christmas is so awesome, so full of wonder, that it’s not enough just to talk about it. We have to burst forth in song, we have to sing it. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 85)

The gift of peace begins with knowing God and accepting the gift of his son Jesus Christ as our savior. With that we can also find peace within ourselves even if chaos swirls around us like the tornadoes we know so well.

Accepting God’s gift of Jesus in our life makes it possible for us to find a sense of calm in our lives. Consider all those around you and that you have heard throughout history who demonstrate calm despite the chaos that surrounds them. I can list a few of the most historical examples : Mother Teresa, now Saint Teresa, Martin Luther King, and Gandhi.

Placing God first and then turning one’s life over to him creates peace within one’s own life. Moore states, “The only way we can be right with ourselves is to be made right by him [God].” (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 89)

Finally, the gift of peace expands into peace with others. By accepting God’s gift of Christ, we turn over the chaos to him. Remember our own example this year as we heard the personal testimony in the battle with cancer, “God’s got this.”

Because God has accepted our chaos, we can find peace with ourselves, and that makes it possible for us to find peace with others. Moore explains the tradition of the mistletoe to demonstrate how important it is that we find peace with others, too.

The ancient tradition of northern European Druids is far different than what we may expect. Moore explains:

They believed mistletoe had curative powers and could heal lots of things including separation between people. So when two enemies happened to meet under an oak tree with mistletoe hanging above them, they took it as a sign from God that they should drop their weapons and be reconciled. They would set aside their animosities and embrace one another under the mistletoe.

When Christian missionaries moved into northern Europe, they saw this mistletoe custom as a perfect symbol for what happened at Christmas—that Jesus Christ came into the world to save us, to redeem us, and to bring us peace, healing, forgiveness, love, and reconciliation. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 90)

Today we can just imagine what it was like to live in the cold, frigid regions of northern Europe. The environment might be comparable to our lives without God, without peace. The mistletoe of God in our lives gives us the power to find peace with others, too.

Give the gift of peace this year. Follow Moore’s advice:

If you want to have a “peace-full” Christmas, go in the spirit of love and fix the broken relationships in your life. If you are alientated or estranged or cut off or at odds with any other person, go in the spirit of Christmas and make peace. Don’t put it off any longer. Drop your pride,your resentment, your grudges, and go set it right. With the help of God, go make peace today. Christmas offers us the gift of peace with others, but it’s up to us to accept that gift. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 90)

Christmas is the annual reminder that God loves us and gives us the greatest gift of all: Jesus Christ. Accepting that opens us to a world that is peace-filled.

Merry Christmas to each of you. I pray that you have received the gifts that won’t break: hope, love, joy and peace.

Closing prayer: (in unison)

Dear God, thank you for the gift of peace.

Help us put peace into practice

            in our lives and show others

            the path to true peace.

Remind us to serve as peacemakers

            and to share the love of God

            with those in need. Amen.

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LOVE: The Christmas Present that Won’t Break

This is the second in a series based on James Moore’s and Jacob Armstrong’s Advent study, Christmas Presents That Won’t Break.  Again, I want to thank them for their work and allowing churches to use their ideas.

John 3:16

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

 

UMH 242     Love Came Down at Christmas

Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love divine;

Love was born at Christmas; star and angels gave the sign.

 

Worship we the Godhead, Love incarnate, Love divine;

Worship we our Jesus, but wherewith for sacred sign?

 

Love shall be our token; love be yours and love be mine;

Love to God and all men, love for plea and gift and sign.

 

Luke 2:8-20

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

 

LOVE: The Christmas Present That Won’t Break

 

            Love is a word that may seem almost overused or bantered about so much that the true meaning of it loses significance or importance. Consider how easy it is to say we “love” this or that. For instance, consider some of this times we use the word:

  • I love sunshine.
  • I love chocolate chip cookies.
  • I love the Royals or the Chiefs.
  • I love the color green.
  • I love summer.
  • I love snow.
  • I love. . . . and the list just grows.

 

Do we use the word love to describe so many different things in our lives that the value of love as found in John 3:16 loses value?

Hear the words of that verse again:

 

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

 

In Moore’s Advent study, Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break, he writes:

 

. . . What puts the meaning of Christmas deep into our souls? What writes the Christmas spirit indelibly on our hearts?   Well, of course, the essence of Christmas is love. God’s incredible love for us, expressed when he sent his only son into the world to save us. “Love Came Down at Christmas”—that’s how the hymn writer puts it. That’s the answer to our question. Whenever and wherever we receive God’s sacrificial love, whenever and wherever we pass it on to others, whenever and wherever God’s love is accepted and Shared, Christmas comes once again! (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 39)

 

The answer sounds familiar, especially for Methodists, as it echoes the John Wesley quote once again:

 

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. (Wesley 2017)

 

This places each one of us in a responsible position to act as the arm of God in so many ways that it might even cause us to become numb to the very way we can put love into action.

Moore provides three specific scenarios that makes it easier to identify how we can put love as the essence of Christmas, yes, but also for each day of our lives:

  1. When we love God, there is Christmas.
  2. When we love our families, there is Christmas.
  3. When we love other people, there is Christmas. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 39, 41, 42)

 

Consider Moore’s first answer to how we demonstrate love. When do we love God? This may be the toughest of the three times to show how we love God. God is an abstract idea for most, and to share that love with others so they can fully identify love as a viable factor in their own lives can be so difficult that we avoid even trying to sharing it with others.

I suggest that when we love God, we also do not feel comfortable sharing our love of God openly in our daily lives. We can easily just live quietly loving God not wanting to interfere with others and their own opinion of God. At Christmas, though, we join in the outpouring of the holiday festivities. Are we openly showing how we love God at these times or are we just trying to fit in with all the traditional practices, not making waves about what the essence of Christmas truly is—love?

            Personally, I have to admit that loving God openly has not always been easy. Just doing what everybody else does at Christmas is easy. It does not really mean investing into the story and deciding how God wants us to live. Instead, we put up the tree, decorate, bake, and shop.

On the outside, others might think that we believe because we join in the celebration of Christmas, but are we celebrating because we love God? Maybe we do, maybe we don’t. I know that life circumstances have challenged my enthusiasm for Christmas as a special holiday. I have had to go through a range of emotions from fun to hurt to loneliness to uncertainty and even to anger.

But, despite all the real-life experiences that altered the Christmas expectations I thought were so important from my childhood through to even today’s vision of Christmas, I had to discover something. Without loving God, there is no Christmas. The way we celebrate Christmas must begin with our love of God.

Reaching that understanding did not come quickly; rather it came from living life managing all the challenges without giving up on God. Despite everything, God has walked my journey with me just as he walks the journey with any one of us. Christmas begins with loving God and that makes it possible for us to love our families and to love other people, too. This is the love that is the essence of Christmas as Moore puts it:

Whenever and wherever we receive God’s sacrificial love, whenever and wherever we pass it on to others, whenever and wherever God’s love is accepted and shared, Christmas comes once again! (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 39)

 

Giving the gift of love is one that never breaks. Even when we give gifts that can break, the foundation of the giving is the love we feel for God, demonstrated in the love of our families and of all other people that come across our life’s path.

Loving God and living the lifestyle that Jesus taught, we can manage to show love to all others even when the life experiences we have cause pain and heartache. For instance, consider all the families who have been broken through death or divorce.

That experience can make one question what love is; but I believe that when one lives with God as the foundation of life, love continues. In fact, that very love of God makes it possible to continue loving one another even when heartbroken, lonely, and yes, even angry. Moore makes this statement that helps explain this:

Unfortunately, in many homes this Christmas there will be a chill in the air. You see, there is a big difference between everybody being at home. . . and being at home with everybody. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 41)

 

With God as the foundation of one’s life, it is possible to be at home with everybody—family, friend, neighbor, strangers and even enemies. I know this because I have been broken at Christmas, yet somehow God’s love still makes the Christmas story, the carols, and the decorations soak through all the pain to remind me that Christmas is about God’s love—a love so unconditional, so unbelievable, that he decided to step down on this earth as a man Jesus.

Moore puts into words what I have learned:

Whenever and wherever there is peace and harmony and tenderness and respect and thoughtfulness and caring in the family, Christmas comes once again. When we love God, and when we love our families, there is Christmas!

 

And what we learn about loving our families, expands as we step out of our homes and meet others in our daily lives. God’s love fill us up and we see all people as equals with their own stories struggling to find love in their lives. We see people who do not know how to love others with pain in their own lives.

God loved all people pain and all. He wants us to love all people too just like we know he loves us. Accepting Jesus Christ as our savior, we have a responsibility to freely give that love away. This giving does not mean that we run out to the local store to buy gifts that can break or not fit, rather we are to give the gift that won’t break, the gift of openly loving one another. Moore writes:

. . . When we see Christ in other people and love them, then at that precise moment Christmas comes once again. . . . When we love other people, there is Christmas. The Christmas gift of love is surely a Christmas gift that won’t break! (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 42, 44)

 

Just what does the Christmas gift of love look like? Jacob Armstrong wrote in the devotions that the gift of love is not an object but it can be identified by what it provides:

  1. . . . love casts out fear
  2. . . .love comes to where we are
  3. . . . love means that we aren’t alone.
  4. . . . love leads us to long for more. . .

 

What is it that we long for? When we discover God’s love, we discover that we long to share God’s love. God’s love leads us to live life with a drive to learn more of God and to find ways to love one another.

Celebrate Christmas this year knowing that God loved us so much that he sent his only son so that we might open the gift of God’s love and transform our lives. Let us be like the shepherds who left the fields and found the baby Jesus. Let us go back to our homes and give this gift through stories and actions that God’s love is a present that will not break.

Closing prayer:

 

Dear God, thank you for the gift of love.

May we share this gift with others

and learn how to love unconditionally.

Help us during this Christmas season

to practice love in action

with family, friends, and strangers. Amen.

(Moore and Armstrong 2017, 46)

 

 

Works Cited

Moore, James W., and Jacob Armstrong. Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017.

 

 

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The Wonder of a Manger (Week 3)

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 Manger given on Sunday, December 11, 2016:Week 3 of Advent series based on The Wonder of Christmas by Robb & Renfroe.

The Wonder of Christmas: Questions for week 3

  1. What does the humble birth of the Christ-child reveal about God and God’s plan?
  2. How does thinking of Christmas as a “quiet invasion’ or a ‘sneak attack’ enrich your understanding of the meaning and significance of Christmas?
  3. How would you describe what the wonder of the manger means for you personally?

 

Sharing the Christmas Story: Luke 2:1-16, NLT

 

            2 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census.       And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.

                 6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

            That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

                 13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

                 16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.

 

Reflecting on The Wonder of a Manger by Ed Robb

 

The Wonder of Christmas is filling our homes. The Advent season is half way over and my guess is that most of us still have Christmas shopping and baking to do. It is so easy to lose the wonder of the season to all the hustle and bustle. In perspective, the Christmas we have packaged in our society is far, far from the first Christmas when Jesus was born.

Christmas began in a manger under conditions that certainly were not newsworthy and certainly not with pomp and circumstances one might anticipate in light of all the hype of a new leader being born. No, Jesus was born under all the worst conditions one could imagine.

And what is amazing, the birth of this baby under such uncomfortable circumstances lead to a movement that continues today. Why would we even doubt the reason for the celebration of this baby’s birth over 2,000 years later? This baby changed the entire course of humanity and he began life lying in a manger. This is newsworthy today and the headline reads: The Wonder of a Manger.

As a trained journalist, I struggle with the twisted reporting that permeates the media now. I was trained that the story had to be substantiated three different ways and before it could be published, I had the responsibility to review the final story with the sources, and through this advent series, I can report the Wonder of Christmas.

First, we met the wise men who identified a star that they pursued in order to determine its purpose. The wonder of the star caused these wise men to travel far distances to locate the baby they believed would be a world-changer. In fact, they were so sure after seeing the baby that they refused the political leader Herod’s order to return to him. They chose to return to their own homes protecting the baby, at least for the time being.

Next, an analysis of the pre-birth literature and reports about the coming of Immanuel, meaning God saves, was reported under the headline The Wonder of a Name. The twists and turns of this research kept pointing to an amazing conclusion: Jesus Christ, the apparent human baby of a Jewish couple Joseph and Mary did meet all the predictions filling the Old Testament literature and the Jewish tradition.

Yet, before publishing all this information, a third piece really needs to be added to confirm the possibility that this baby really is the long awaited Messiah of the Jewish people. How can a baby born in a manger possibly fulfill the Jewish prophecies?

Well, let’s take a side step and put this ancient story into a more contemporary setting. No, I am not saying that we are going to report a new messiah has been born and we should all take note. Rather, let’s put a contemporary perspective into the picture that makes sense to us, right here in 2016.

Consider the birth, life and death of John Glenn. At no point in planning the Advent series did I know that one of America’s heroes would conclude his life journey. Yet the biographical stories being shared help put a perspective on the significance of someone’s birth and the difference it can make in the annuls of history.

When Glenn was born, the path of his life was not defined, but the trajectory of his life began in an insignificant manner, in a quiet community. The world did not know that this tiny baby who would orbit the earth, serve his country as a Senator, and even return to space at the age of 75. John Glenn quietly began life just like every single person does.

Jesus was born under circumstances that certainly did not announce the significance of his birth. The family had an idea of its significance especially in talking about the angel telling them to name the baby Immanuel meaning God Saves, and scholars were alerted to the possibility by the sighting of a new star. But most of the Jewish people did not know; and certainly the other world cultures did not know.

Then in the midst of the months of anticipation, the proclamation that a census was being done suddenly meant traveling to the community of one’s heritage. Now Joseph was head of the household so he had to go to Bethlehem. Mary was a Levite but as Joseph’s wife, she now is counted as part of Joseph’s family of the Davidic tribe.

Just imagine how miserable she was. At least eight or nine months pregnant and having to travel the miles by foot or on the back of the donkey, she made the journey to Bethlehem because the civil government said it had to be done. Today’s society cannot really relate to such a difficult journey; but Mary and Joseph were compliant and managed the journey giving us insight into the personality of these two Jewish faithful living in a Roman culture.

One thing we do understand is that finding a hotel room in the middle of a major travel event is tough. Isn’t it a wonder that under these circumstances that Mary and Joseph were able to even find a space! There was no way to plan ahead and reserve a room, they simply had to travel to Bethlehem, be counted, and then they could home.

Unfortunately, their trip ended with the birth of a baby and the only place they could find shelter had a manger that could serve as a bassinet: a manger, not a hospital room with a bassinet; a manger not their own home where they were prepared for the baby’s birth. Instead, a manager served as a temporary crib for a newborn baby.

God had to be in control because how else could the circumstances of this birth end in such a world-changing movement. God did not follow the expected pattern of sending a military leader, or a monarchy’s heir to change the world. God joined humanity through the birth of a baby in a simple manger under complicated circumstances.

The wonder of a manger is that God arrived in a completely unexpected way to save us. God used the most unconventional method to make the most amazing difference in our world. What a wonder that we can celebrate Christmas knowing that anybody who accepts Jesus as savior is saved. Jesus Christ, Immanuel, saves us and grants us life eternal.

The reporter may not believe the news of Jesus’ birth, but the Wonder of Christmas keeps providing more and more confirmation of the news. The wonder of a star, a name, and now a manger continues to be newsworthy even 2,000 plus years later.

What is even more newsworthy is that over and over again, the birth of a child is so important that the news is shared by word of mouth, by one good deed offered to another, by one kindness given to another, by giving a drink to the thirsty, by preparing a meal for the hungry, by sharing clothes with those who need them, by being the shoulder for someone in tears, by doing a chore for someone who can’t.

When baby John Glenn was born, no one announced that he would be an astronaut and one of America’s heroes.   No on announced the important of others who changed our world like Martin Luther King or Sister Mother Teresa or even John Wesley. God chose to arrive as a baby Jesus who was first laid down to rest in a manger.

The wonder of Christmas is that each one of us is saved by our belief in the birth of the baby Jesus in a manger. We have seen the star, we have read the reports, and we understand the message of a name. God was born Immanuel and gave us the gift of salvation and life eternal. We see the light of God’s star, we chose to accept the name Christian, and we share the story of a baby born in a manger. Is it any wonder that we get so wrapped up in Christmas because we want to share the wonder of a promise?

 

Closing Advent prayer from The Wonder of Christmas:

Lord Jesus,

I stand in awe that you would humble yourself and come to earth to live among us—to love us, serve us and fight on our behalf, being willing to give your very life so that we might truly live. How grateful I am for your surprising and wonderful divine plan! Open my eyes this season to the wonder of a manger—an unlikely crib that heralds your humble and eternal reign. May this beautiful picture of your love profoundly change me, and may I follow your example by humbling myself to love and serve others in your name. –Amen

 

 

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The Wonder of Christmas (Week 2)

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 Name given on Sunday, December 4, 2016:Week 2 of Advent series based on The Wonder of Christmas by Robb & Renfroe

 Scripture: Isaiah 7:14 (NLT)

14 All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin[a] will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).

Reflecting on The Wonder of a Name (part A)

Did you know that God gave Jesus his name? The Bible tells us that God sent an angel to Mary and to Joseph in two different locations and told them they were going to have a baby and to name him Immanuel meaning “God save us”.

Can you just imagine when Mary and Joseph started talking about having this baby that they were surprised that each of them had been told what name to give the baby by an angel! I bet they got a funny feeling in their tummy as they tried to sort everything out.

Well, I know that when I tried to find names for my kids, I spent a long time studying baby names and their meanings. It was no easy task and what I picked had to be agreed upon by their dad. I bet I spent weeks trying to find the right name with the right meaning.

God gave Jesus his name and the mean is “God saves us.” I wondered why he picked that name. In our advent study, The Wonder of Christmas, I learned that the Bible records only a few times that God changed a name but only once did he name a baby and that was Jesus. I also learned that it was the first time that the name Jesus was used.

Ed Robb writes:

When God gave someone a new name, it was because a divine purpose was revealed to and placed within that person. Names connote identity in the biblical context; so a name change signified that God had transformed that persons identity and rerouted the trajectory (path) of his or her life. The name became symbolic of the person’s God-ordained mission to be an ambassador, a representative, and a living vessel for his grace, goodness, love , and hope in the world.

Wow! He goes on to share a few examples of how God changed a few names, but none ever was given the name “Jesus” until he decided that he had to do something to save us.

But now we wonder why the name Jesus? Well Robb explains it:

. . . Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, and that name meant something to Joseph and Mary. In fact, it meant something to every Jew, because it was the name of Moses’ successor, Joshua.

Born into slavery in Egypt, Joshua was given the Hebrew name Hoshea, meaning salvation. Being a slave, his name conveyed a hope, not a reality. . .

Now isn’t that a wonder that God could find a special name that meant so much to the ancient people that they knew why Jesus’ name was so important!

I know that selecting my kids names was a major effort. I wanted names that really meant something special and that connected them to their heritage. God did that with Jesus’ name, too. Isn’t that wonderful!

Mary and Joseph were given the name because it was a special message to all Jewish people. It was a name that connected Jesus directly to God and to all the generations. Robb explains that the connection even goes back to a story of the Hebrew people were saved from slavery in Egypt, all through the wonder of the name.

Even though Joshua was born into slavery, he followed Moses out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, and into the wilderness for forty years. He was one of Moses men who ended up leading the people out of the wilderness—he saved them and Robb adds Joshua was really named Hoshea, but God changed it to Joshua.

We read in Numbers 13:16 that, even before sending the spies to explore the land, Moses changed Hoshea’s name. He took two words—Jehova (Yahwey), the proper name of the God of Israel, and Hoseha, meaning salvation—and wove them together to form a new name, Joshua (Yehoshua in Hebrew), meaning “the Lord is salvation,” or God saves. When Moses died, it was Joshua whom God chose as their leader. He is the one who led them out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land.

Through Joshua, God saved their people from a life of futility and death in the wilderness and brought them into the land of the living. . .

When the angel announced to Joseph, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21 NASB), he was clearly communicating the reality of One who brings salvation to God’s people once again—but in a way and manner that no ordinary human being could ever do.

The wonder of Jesus’ name is that is a clear statement to God’s faithful followers that the baby named Jesus/Immanuel is the way to salvation. Follow Jesus and you will be saved and receive life eternal as a follower of God. God gives us the name Christian as evidence that we are saved.

Christmas Story: Luke 1:26-33 (NLT)

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings,[a] favored woman! The Lord is with you![b]

29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel[c] forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Reflecting on The Wonder of a Name (part B)

            Learning about the name of Jesus leads to other questions to wonder about. For instance, look at the second question from this weeks study:

How does understanding the meaning of Jesus’ name impact your understanding or appreciation for what he came to do? In what ways has Jesus saved you?

Knowing that God gave the infant baby the name Jesus or Immanuel, becomes a powerful lesson in understanding the significance of Christmas. In fact it really does put wonder into the season.

I can see that God’s presence on earth was instrumental in transforming the world that challenged the faithful. Something had to happen to give them hope. Something had to change if God’s world was going to be saved. So Jesus was born.

Our world challenges us in so many ways that we tire out. We have a way of losing our focus and fail to maintain a God/Christ-centered life. Is it no wonder that our problems can push God out of our lives?

Robb identifies that the problems that separate us from God include simply ignorance of God, brokenness whether physical or mental, relationship problems with others, or poverty making it difficult to meet even our basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. Whatever the problem, we lose focus on God and our relationship with him. Robb states:

. . . It is the good news that, no matter what you’ve done, God is not against you but for you. No matter how far you’ve wandered, God wants you back.

. . . Here’s the reality. We all push God out of our lives.

. . . The Bible calls our rejection of God sin, and that’s why Jesus came. God knows that all of us need a Savior.

Recently a new sense of wonder came over me in a conversation with other pastors. God’s chosen people, according to the Bible, was a band of tribes, 12 to be exact, that were slaves. They did everything they could be remain faithful, even while Egyptian slaves. They did the job so well that God lead them out of captivity, stayed with them in the dessert, and lead them forward into a new land.

The story does not end there. The story continued and still continues. When God sent Jesus to save us, he lived the human life experience and through his ministry, death, and resurrection has saved all who believe. The original 12 tribes of slaves has propelled their relationship with God to grow into a global force of Christians doing all they can to continue God’s work.

Jesus’ name is a clue to unlock the wonder of Christian faith. It is open to all who believe in Jesus as the savior. Robb states it:

. . . [God’s] people are those who believe on him and crown him Lord of Lords and Lord of their lives, as Paul so eloquently expresses in Philippians 2:9-11. “His people” is a statement that extends over the boundary line of Judaism to include the wise men who came from afar as well as the shepherds who tended sheep on Bethlehem’s plains.

It includes you as well, if you’ll let it. (emphasis added)

Closing prayer from The Wonder of Christmas:

Jesus, your name is beautiful and special. You are the Lord of salvation—our God who saves. I am so grateful that you entered this hostile world to save us—to save me. You are so much more than a teacher, a healer, a counselor, and a prophet; you are our Savior! And that is good news! May the wonder of your name fill my heart with joy this Christmas and always. In your precious name I pray. Amen.

Reflecting on The Wonder of a Name (part C—to include communion)

Consider this: When God named his son Jesus, he was telling us that those who believe in him are saved. When we accept Jesus as our personal savior we are also given a new name: Christian or Christ-follower.

Are you living up to your name?

Today we share the bread and the cup as our church’s tradition on the first Sunday of the month. The very tradition is designed to renew our relationship with Triune God. Just like we share in the Apostles’ Creed, we do believe in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

As you hear the story of Jesus’ birth again this year, discover the wonder of Christmas. Last week we found the wonder of a star that the wise men knew lead to Jesus as an infant, but more importantly they knew that Jesus was God and they left knowing the truth of God’s love. The wonder of the star lead them to the wonder of Christmas. God loved us so much that he sent his son to save us.

Join in today’s communion with all of those whose name includes Christian:

Sharing the bread and the cup                

Parting words: Blessings come when we serve God. Thank you for joining us for this special time together:

May the wonder of Jesus’ name draw you closer to God this holiday season. Remember the words from John 3:16-17:

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave[a] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

Remember your baptism as Christian and receive the wonder of Christmas and go tell it to others so they too may be renamed as Christians.

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The Wonder of Christmas Series

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)

  1. to think or speculate curiously:

to wonder about the origin of the solar system.

  1. to be filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; marvel (often followed by at): He wondered at her composure in          such a crisis.
  2. to doubt: I wonder if she’ll really get here.

VERB (used with object)

  1. to speculate curiously or be curious about; be curious to know: to wonder what happened.
  2. to feel wonder at: I wonder that you went.

NOUN

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. In what ways have you sensed that you were made for something more? How would you describe the yearning within your soul?
  2. What signs are pointing you to God this Advent?
  3. 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.
Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth,
but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.
All nations will come to your light;
mighty kings will come to see your radiance.

“Look and see, for everyone is coming home!
Your sons are coming from distant lands;
your little daughters will be carried home.
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, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose,[b] and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘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]

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 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!”

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]

 

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