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the lowly Shepherds Marvel

Luke's Christmas  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  29:26
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In a world with the scientific method and a worldwide, searchable knowledge base we rarely stop to wonder at God and his creation. Even Christ's birth is an intellectually, theologically significant story that we don't often wonder at. Let's take some time to wonder at Christ's birth again.

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 the lowly Shepherds Marvel Good morning and happy Sabbath! I’m glad to share God’s word with you today, and I’m especially excited about what we’re going to be learning today. [next slide] Adelyn often brings me pictures that she's colored or drawn. I really enjoy her artwork. I often tell her things like "that's amazing" or "that's wonderful" or "that's beautiful." I just want to be clear, I do like her art, but I’m not really marveling at the art—I’m excited to see her growing up and learning new skills. The art by itself is nice, but not amazing or wonderful. Which makes me think about the kinds of words I use. What does Amazing mean?   I often use the word “amazing” without really considering it’s true meaning. The word amazing has a unique purpose. It’s purpose is to be an over-the-top-superlative—a word that is beyond comparison. Let's say we were comparing artwork; we might say that [next slide] one piece is good, [next slide] another is better, and [next slide] another piece is the best of the bunch. But then someone brings in a fourth piece [next slide] and nothing else we've seen can compare—that's when we say "that's amazing."   What does "amazing" mean? [next slide] To cause great surprise or wonder; astonishing.   [blank slide] There are few words that share this category with amazing. A few examples are words like "awe" and "marvel" and "wonder." Let’s look at the definitions of each of these words so that we can all be on the same page when you hear me use one of them today. [next slide] Awe: a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder   [next slide] Marvel: be filled with wonder or astonishment Notice how amazing and awe and marvel all have the word "wonder" somewhere in their definition. What is wonder? [next slide] Wonder: a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or unexplainable. [blank slide] In their pure form these words are reserved for the most exclusive experiences. • We create a small list of man-made creations and call them the "Seven Wonders of the World."  • Photojournalists travel to remote parts of the world and show us their pictures of natural wonders.   And yet, our world has very little that we truly wonder at any more. Science has removed the mystery from so much of nature, and google has put the answers to our remaining questions at our fingertips. We rarely stop to examine something with wonder and awe at it's mysteries. Instead of letting our minds be absorbed in the magnitude and significance of something, we search for an explanation; one that necessarily brings the experience down to the realm of words and logic. When we are curious about something, we google the answer. Then, having the answer, we move on to something else. We don't stop and wonder any more. There is very little that is unexpected, unfamiliar or unexplainable, and very few opportunities for us to be filled with surprise and admiration.   I’m sure it's a good thing that we look at the world through the lens logic and the scientific method. We need to be able to put things into words and explain how things work. Back in the day when the scientists didn’t have the tools to research and find out how things really work people used to have some really crazy ideas. I’m glad we know that smoking causes disease, and that letting our blood run out isn’t a method of healing. I’m glad to know that my personality isn’t determine by how much yellow bile I have in my body. The tools of science have brought us a lot of good things. Yet I can't help wondering if our hearts have been hardened just a little bit by all our knowledge. Maybe our organ that responds with amazement and wonder has been robbed of it's power because of our quantifying, qualifying and comparing.   For many of us the story of Jesus' birth is one of these deflated experiences that has lost it's wonder. We've heard it over and over again and to some of us it's just a story. Sure, there is theological significance — God coming to earth, the incarnation, the messiah—but we don't pause in awe at these events.   This year let's look at this story with an attempt to peel away the logic and the science and the coldness of our hearts to experience the story of Jesus with wonder again.   --   [next slide] - Mary and Joseph It was a time when God hadn't talked to His people for hundreds of years. Miracles didn't seem to happen any more. In that way the time was a lot like ours today. The place wasn't their choice, they had to go because the government required them to be registered to pay taxes. That too was ordinary. Secular. Uninteresting. What was interesting is that Joseph brought his pregnant, betrothed wife with him.   In that time the parents of the bride and groom would arrange the marriage and pay the bride price and from the time of that contract the marriage was binding even though the bride and groom wouldn't live together until after the marriage ceremony which might be many more months away. This was called a betrothal period. During their time of betrothal an angel told Joseph that Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and that he should proceed with the wedding since Mary had not been unfaithful to him.   This first piece of the story is AMAZING. We won't spend any time on the particulars, but let's just say that this had never happened before. Mary was pregnant and had never been with a man. Not only that, but a supernatural being of light and glory had visited both Mary and then later Joseph to tell them this wasn't an ordinary pregnancy but it was literally God—the Messiah, the Christ—in the form of a baby inside Mary.   Pause.   Take a moment to be filled with wonder.   This is an awe inspiring thought.  God became a baby. A zygote, an embryo. If this isn't beyond science and logic, I don't know what is. There is no way to quantify or qualify or compare this to anything that has even happened on earth.   --   As miraculous and amazing as this story begins, it is a real story of real people and real challenges. Joseph brought Mary to Bethlehem and Luke records that Mary gave birth to Jesus, wrapped him in strips of cloth and used an animal feeder with straw in it as a crib. That was all she had because they were staying in a stable since there was no rooms available anywhere in Bethlehem and RV's hadn't been invented yet.   Don't give in to your temptation to gloss over these details and idealize them with songs. There's no way any of you would consider having a baby in a barn. Maybe  your bedroom with candles and soft music and a midwife with all her medical equipment nearby. Maybe the back seat of a car as you race to the hospital. But never a barn.   Mary didn't have a choice. The time had come, and her baby was going to be born one way or another so she did the best she could with what she had. I'm sure Joseph gathered as much clean straw as he could find and laid out all the blankets they brought with them and a few more from the kind people living nearby. I imagine there was water drawn from the town well.   Mary might have been giving birth to the Son of God, but to her it was still the painful and beautiful event of childbirth. [next slide] - baby in womb  Even though we know the stages of development and have images of babies at every stage of growth inside the womb, birth is still something to marvel at, even if it's not always the son of God.   Pause. Take a moment to be filled with wonder.   -- That night, just after Jesus was born, the angels who had been hovering around Mary and Joseph had to express their joy—they needed people to share in the glory and wonder of the event. God had come to earth! [next slide] Shepherds were watching their sheep in a field near Bethlehem. Without warning the night was filled with the light of an angel who was covered in the glory of God.   Let’s pause the story for moment and roll back to earlier that day.   Imagine that you were in that group of shepherds. As you tended your sheep you were talking about how God promised a messiah. You had prayed in your evening prayers that God would send the Christ to deliver you. As you sat around the campfire you had wondered together what kind of things the Messiah would do. Maybe someone brought up the prophecies of Daniel and wondered at the timing since you were now living near the end of that prophecy. Suddenly, your sheep were illuminated by a light so bright that even the sun was no comparison and yet you could see a figure in the light. It was a light so pure that you wondered if you should even look at it. You were startled and filled with fear and excitement.   Then you heard the voice of the figure in the light. It was so warm and full as he said, [next slide] "Don’t be afraid! I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. [next slide] 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! [next slide] 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”  [blank slide]  The blazing figure was then joined by more angels, a large number that Luke refers to as a "host" of angels, and they all sang an anthem of rejoicing with such harmony and beauty and volume! The whole hillside echoed and reechoed the song long after they had ascended to heaven and disappeared from view.   Pause.   Be filled with wonder.   That the angels came. That they sang.   Oh! What a song that must have been.   I love the music that our choir sings, sometimes it even seems like angels must be singing with them. But to hear a choir of actual angels?! Their vocal chords untainted by the degeneration of sin. Their memory for music, perfect. Their skill in harmony and melody unmatched by any talent on earth. A millennia to practice the song. Oh, what would that have been like?! I’ve been trying to think of how to put us into that experience. How can we imagine the awe of the shepherds at the angel’s song? Maybe this will help… [next slide] - Angelica Hale Have you ever watched America's Got Talent on TV or YouTube? Earlier this year I was watching a youtube video of a girl named Angelica Hale. She's this little 9 year old girl with a typical 9-year-old, high-pitched, talking voice, [next slide] but as soon as she opens her mouth to sing it's almost like she's lip syncing to Whitney Huston. I was amazed as I listened because she's such a small little girl with such a powerful, mature voice. It was totally unexpected. Now, take that amazement and multiply it a few times and you might approach the wonder the shepherds experienced. While we can’t duplicate the shepherds’ experience we can listen to a version of the angel's song. If you need to, close your eyes and let your heart be filled with wonder.   ** [next slide] - video — angels from the realms of glory** Audio required   -- [blank slide] After the angels disappeared the shepherds excitedly agreed to go find the baby the angels told them about. As quickly as they could they left their sheep and raced down the hills to Bethlehem. Had the people in town seen the light and heard the angels? Maybe it had woken the whole town. We don't know, but as soon as the shepherds had seen the baby in the manger they couldn't keep their excitement inside. Luke says they [next slide] “told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. [next slide] All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, [next slide] but Mary [treasured] all these things in her heart and thought about them often. (Luke 2:17-19)   This seems to be a trend with wonder and amazement—we like to share it. [next slide] - snow through a window Yesterday I was at the office, with no windows nearby when I got a call from my wife. “The kids are outside playing in the first snow of the season, and they’re loving it!” Joelle exclaimed. We love to share things when we’re full of joy and amazement. Maybe snow isn't your thing, but you get what I'm talking about—we've all had that feeling at one time or another. [blank slide] Kids do this all the time. They want to share their latest art piece or their finished lego project or how they mastered some skill on their musical instrument. Especially when it's the first time you've accomplished something or experienced something, the desire to share seems to overwhelm you.   I think that's one of the reasons our hearts grow apathetic. The older we get and the more times we experience something the less wonder and amazement we have.   You and I don’t cultivate the sense of wonder the shepherd’s had, and we tend not to treasure things in our hearts like Mary did. Maybe that's one reason why it's not always bubbling out of us to share with others—we haven't recently been filled with wonder.   Last Sabbath I was walking down the road with Adelyn and she kept stopping to pick up rocks. She showed me every new discovery—the tiny rock, the white rock, the shiny rock—everything was amazing to her. To me those rocks are like hundreds of other rocks that I've seen. I know they came from a quarry and went through a crushing machine. I know they have no real value other than for paving the road. I know they get smashed together by cars and pulverized into smaller pieces as time goes on. I know the really smooth rocks have been in river beds and smoothed out by water tumbling over them. Somehow knowing shuts off the wonder. So when Adelyn hands me a cute little white rock my temptation is say "thanks" and then toss it behind me. But turn the tables and the story is very different. Let's say I were to bend over and pick up an interesting looking rock, and then show it to Adelyn. She'd grab the rock from me, press it to her heart with joy at finding something so new and interesting, and then put it in her pocket to keep forever. That's what wonder does to us. It overwhelms us so that we want to share it with others and keep it forever.   What miracles in your life have you stopped being amazed by?   Are you amazed by falling snow?   Do you marvel at the miracle of friendship and human love?   Are you filled with awe at the thought of a God who loves you?   Have you wept recently as you were overcome by the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross?   Have you pondered the great mystery of Christianity, Christ in you, the hope of glory?   Do you treasure the thought that the Holy Spirit has made you His home?   Have you stopped to look at your life? Really paused to wonder at how God has already been changing you into His image?   There is so much about God, His creation and His salvation that we should marvel about.   The shepherds marveled at the angels song and told everyone about the baby Messiah. The townspeople wondered at the news that God was again talking to his people and that their savior had come. Mary pondered it all and kept it close to her heart.   This Christmas, spend some time pondering. Don't let your life get overwhelmed with holiday business or social engagements. Don't allow your mind to explain away the miracle or your long years with God to tarnish the awe.   Be filled with wonder at His amazing gift in coming to earth.   Be overcome by awe, and then with your heart overflowing, share the amazing story with someone who doesn't know it or hasn't yet realized how awesome it is.   [next slide] Merry Christmas.   May you be filled with wonder. 10 of 10
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