Tag Archives: The Wonder of Christmas

The Wonder of a Promise

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 Promise given on Sunday, December 18, 2016:  Week 4 of Advent series

Sharing the Christmas Story: Matthew 1:18-23 (NLT)

18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement[a] quietly.

20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus,[b] for he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,[c]
which means ‘God is with us.’”

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

Reflecting on The Wonder of a Promise by Rob Renfroe

The very sight of a Christmas gift all wrapped up in pretty paper and wrapped in ribbons and bows triggers our curiosity. What is hidden in the box? The mere box suggests a promise of something very special just for you.

Wrapped gifts surround us in the stores, on the cards in the mail, and under the Christmas trees, and all suggest a promise. They also represents a relationship from one person to another, one family to another, one friend to another friend, and even one co-worker to another. The practice of giving gifts reflects the value we place on maintaining relationships with one another.

God wanted a relationship with us so much that he decided to join us in the package of the baby Jesus, born under the light of a star, announced by the angels, and named Immanuel. But, he was not wrapped up as anything special, rather he was wrapped up in swaddling cloth and laid to rest in a manger. What a wonder that God would go to such an effort to be with us, to do all that he could to establish a relationship with us.

Our very creator desires an intimate relationship with us. For generations God worked through the faithful in an effort to deepen the relationship; but then decided to be with us. Rather than waiting any longer, God joined us as the gift of the baby Jesus to demonstrate how to be in an intimate relationship not only with God but also with each other. What a wonder that God’s gift continues to be unwrapped generation after generation, by one people after another.

Have you unwrapped God’s gift to you?

Have you shared God’s gift with others?

The wonder of Christmas is that sharing gifts with one another is one more opportunity to affirm relationships we have with one another. Yet, God asks us to live our lives in such a loving manner that our relationships with each other reflects the behaviors demonstrated by Jesus Christ.

The wonder of Christmas is that God’s love is infinite and available to all people. For those who accept God’s gift, unwrap it, and use it, the transformation is truly wonderful. The gift of a relationship with God evolves into the one true gift that keeps on giving and gives us a new name—Christian. The wonder of the name Christian transforms our lives.

God’s gift of Jesus Christ wrapped up in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger is the promise that God is always with us. It is a promise that establishes a relationship with God that we demonstrate in all the relationships we experience in our own lives. Accepting God’s gift turns us into a gift too.

Opening up God’s Christmas gift comes with instructions how to give that gift to others. We just have to follow God’s instructions on living in relationships with people rather than live as though we are against each other or above each other or simply living among others. As Christians we are to live with each other just like God did as Jesus.

Stop and consider the importance of that one small word ‘with.’ The Old Testament stories tell us how the ancient faithful understood the relationship of God to man. In the Advent study, The Wonder of Christmas, Rob Renfroe explains:

The Old Testament reveals that God’s people ‘believed in God.’ First and foremost, they believed in God above us. When they sinned, they believed in God against us. And when they thought they were doing everything right, they were able to believe in God for us. But they did not believe in God with us—at least not in the ways we need most. Not with us as a mother or father is with a child. Not with us as a person who understands what it is like to be human—a tiny being in a monstrously large universe. Not with us as one who knows what it’s like to give your best and see it do no good, to give your heart only to be rejected, or to cry at night because those you love are hurting and you can’t take their pain away.

 

Even today we can know those same perceptions. We can understand how the Israelites and even so many today still express those same beliefs that God is above us, against us, and even for us. Yet, God made a promise through the prophet Isaiah:

The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’). [NLT]

 

In that promise, there is that small word with. In the wonder of a name, God promises that in the birth of a baby, God is with us not above, not against, and not simply for us. God promises to be with us.

Unwrapping God’s gift at Christmas we must read the instructions in order to make sure that Isaiah’s prophecy is a reality. We find the instructions in the scripture, especially in the New Testament that records Jesus’ ministry, the teachings, and the modeling of God being with us. The instructions are quite simple: Love one another, as you want to be loved.

First to live in a Christian relationship with God, we must understand the people with whom we live—not only just our own families but in our community.   We cannot be in a positive relationship unless we live with others. We cannot live as though we are above, against or for others. Maybe we do not co-exist in the same circumstances, but as Christians we have the capacity to with others through empathy.

Secondly, remember that we, too, had to accept God’s gift of Jesus Christ. There are times in our lives that we allow something or someone to separate us from our intimate relationship with God. Once we are separated from God, we slip into the mindset that God is above us or against us. We might be able to say that God is for us; but at those times we are separated from God, it may be difficult to even see that. The wonder of God’s promise is God is with us at all times.

Even as Christians, there are times in our lives that we become separated from God: God does not separate from us, but we make decisions that do separate us from God. Remembering our own human stories gives us the compassion to relate to others who have not accepted God’s gift.

The third set of instructions that comes with God’s gift is that we are to care about others. God knew that living with us as Jesus Christ establishes the intimate relationship that creates a bond of trust. Renfroe states:

When we tell people that God is with them and they can trust their lives to Jesus, we are asking them to trust us. Essentially we are telling them that we can show them how to create a different ending to their story. We are saying and promising, “Trust us with your lives; trust us with your stories. We will take you to the One who loves you. Trust us; we will not disappoint you.”

You don’t earn that kind of trust by telling people how badly they have lived or by acting superior. You earn that kind of trust by caring enough about their stories that you want their hopes and dreams to be redeemed. You earn that kind of trust by demonstrating humility and compassion as Jesus did—who was willing to leave the comforts of heaven and be born in a manger, disappointed by friends, rejected by the masses, and crucified on a cross—so that you can make the lives of others better.

. . . What enables people to trust us is our genuine care for their lives and their stories. And most often, what changes people is love. Most people are not argued into the Kingdom, lectured into the Kingdom, or guilted into the Kingdom. Most people are loved into the Kingdom.

 

The wonder of Christmas is as exciting as all the pretty packages sitting under the tree promising new and wonderful things. As Advent season begins, we experience the hope of God’s promise. Then we get busy in all the preparations and we seek relief from the hustle and bustle of the holiday, and ask for peace in our hearts and in our world. In the third week of Advent, we practice love in all that we do with one another. Each week of Advent we sense the joy of the season as we wait to unwrap God’s ultimate gift—a son to show us how to be in an intimate relationship with one another and ultimately with God forever.

Closing Advent prayer:

Lord Jesus,

Today I stand in awe with a heart full of gratitude at the wonder of your promise to be Immanuel—God with us today, tomorrow, and forever.

You are a God who truly understands our struggles, because you lived in our world and experienced life in the same ways that we do. You have compassion on us, recognizing that we are sheep in need of a tender shepherd.

Help me to have that same compassion for others, reaching out to love them just as you have loved me. With your help, I will seek to “keep” the promise of Christmas—not only this season but all of my days. Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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