Tag Archives: Rob Renfroe

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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