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And They Were Amazed – Luke 2:8-18

December 29, 2015 Leave a comment

Do you realize that most of our mental images about Christmas come from medieval art and Christmas cards? Often showing three wise men coming to the Christ child just minutes after His birth. If you read the biblical account carefully, it could have been up to two years after Jesus was born before the Magi showed up. We don’t know how many wise men actually came. The biblical account does not give a number. We know it was more than one because the Bible talks about men – plural. The story in Matthew doesn’t tell us and the number three is not even mentioned in the text.

If we’re confused about the magi, then we may misinterpret the shepherds as well. The picture of shepherds in the field evokes a positive, pastoral image for us. It reminds us of Jesus’ association with the line of David. We have sentimentalized them so on our Christmas cards and art that they look like gentle folk waiting to go to a homecoming celebration. Why the shepherds? I want the angels to go to the Temple to tell the religious leaders what God was doing! They should have gone to the governor and let him know that something awesome was happening in Bethlehem! They should have gone to Herod and told him that God was doing a great thing in Bethlehem, and that the King of kings had been born! Instead of telling somebody important, the angles told a rag-tag bunch of shepherds. That’s not what we would have done. But, that is the way God wanted it. Perhaps there are three reasons;

I. He came because of them

Here we discover the heart of God and the meaning of the birth of this child. In this picture, we are reminded that Jesus came for people like the shepherds, not the religious elite, the politically savvy, or the rulers of the people. They are a metaphor for the kind of people Jesus came to save. People who were doing what they did every day and every night. People going through the routines of life. Isn’t that what the birth of Jesus is all about? It’s about God meeting us, not on high holy days, but on ordinary days, in ordinary places, in an extraordinary way. The birth of this child is about God coming to us in our everyday lives and saying to us, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news.” I think that’s why God sent the angels to the shepherds – to let us know that this child was for all people, even the most ordinary.

II. The shepherds in shock

Imagine the first reaction of the shepherds; they were scared to death! They understood the appearance of angels as an omen, as though God were bringing His wrath upon them. Yet the angels said, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy. Today a Savior is born!” With that, the heavens opened with glorious music. The heavenly chorus praised God and said, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!”. In the midst of an ordinary night, ordinary shepherds encountered an extraordinary God who met them when and where they least expected to be met.

III. Sometimes seeing is believing

After heavenly chorus offers praise, the shepherds had to see for themselves, so they ran off to Bethlehem to experience what the angels had told them. After seeing them, they reported the message about this child, and “all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (Luke 2:16-18). When God offers grace, the appropriate response is exuberant joy. Eventually, the whole world would celebrate the coming of this child, but for now, only the shepherds knew what had happened in Bethlehem. The result was the response that should arise from all God’s people: The shepherds returned to their flocks “glorifying and praising God” (v. 20).

Reading Luke’s account, are we filled with wonder? Are we expecting something miraculous? Do we expect the amazement to continue? We want the mystery of the moment to continue because we long for something amazing in our lives. Our routines are so predictable and harried, our schedules so frantic and programmed. Our days are so packed with stuff, I wonder if we allow ourselves time to live. Yet, as we hear angels singing and shepherds hurrying and Mary pondering, we feel we may just find a little time for wonder.

Pastor Rich

 

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Five Blessings That Flow From Thanksgiving

December 29, 2015 Leave a comment

No U.S. holiday is as distinctive as Thanksgiving. In our busy, deadline-fixated age, expressing gratitude to our heavenly Father is too easily squeezed out of our lives, but it is important. First, I think human beings are “hardwired” to do this. Even atheists seem to have unsettling moments when they feel an irresistible urge to thank someone “up there.” One of the problems with atheism occurs when pain is avoided or pleasure gained—having no one to give thanks to leaves you with an itch you cannot scratch. But there is more than a primeval urge to justify thanking God. On almost every page of the Bible, we see this as a theme. The Old Testament reverberates with the sound of people praising God; Israel’s history is full of thanksgiving to God for showing them mercy and delivering them from disaster.

In the New Testament, Jesus offers up thanks to God the Father, most importantly at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26-27), where the word used for thanksgiving is eucharist, still used in many churches for communion. Paul not only regularly gives thanks; he actually commands it of others. Thanksgiving is giving thanks and that alone. Of all the different types of prayer, this is least likely to be contaminated by our own conscious or subconscious desire to manipulate God.

Today, Thanksgiving is neglected in part because Western culture is so obsessed with the future. But to give thanks to God is to look backward, not forward, and to express gratitude for the good things that have come our way. It’s easy to say, “Thank’s God” for the health and wealth we have. But do we also give God thanks for friends, family, housing, or a hundred other things? Let’s give him thanks for little things in life, too. At least five blessings result from this:

First: thankfulness forces us to focus on what we have had rather than what we want. In our materialistic culture, we can succumb to a consumerism of the soul that reduces our prayers to shopping lists. Thankfulness looks outward, not inward. It realigns our lives so that they revolve around God instead of trying to make God revolve around us.

Second: thankfulness highlights grace. To give thanks is to admit that you are dependent, to say, “I couldn’t have done this on my own, but you helped me.” Thanksgiving removes the temptation to boast and strengthens the only basis on which we can relate to God: that of accepting our own unworthiness and God’s free grace in Jesus Christ.

Third: thankfulness encourages a positive attitude. It forces us to think about what is right with our lives rather than what is wrong. This is important in an age when many feel depressed. Thanking God is a proven way of piercing the gloomiest of clouds.

Fourth: thankfulness develops hope for the future. Looking backwards to the past with thanksgiving actually helps us to look toward the future with anticipation.

Fifth: practicing thankfulness regularly ensures that gratitude spills into all areas of life. We cannot thank God for difficult colleagues, relatives, or neighbors for long before finding that we express a positive attitude toward them. Those who regularly give thanks to God find they are ready to give to others. Gratitude and generosity go hand in hand.

Whether or not we celebrate Thanksgiving, we all need to be reminded to practice thanksgiving on a daily basis. That “attitude of gratitude” is not just a duty to be fulfilled but something that will bless us and others. It’s typical of God’s graciousness that the best gift we can give ourselves and others is to say thanks for what we have already received.

 

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