|Vintage Christmas | Wonder|
|December 13, 2008|
Part 3 of 5 | December 14, 2008
Watch the original ACC video below that ties into the message
Welcome to the third week of our Vintage Christmas series. In each week of this series, we’re visiting with a different member of the family featured in the story you just heard.
This week in our story, we met the son in the family named Robby. Robby was contemplating his family’s situation since his dad, Gary, had lost his job. It didn’t look like a very Merry Christmas was headed his way this year. He was angry at his father, embarrassed in front of his friends, and pretty cynical about almost everything.
Some of us fit that mold pretty well. Anger and frustration about our life’s situation has caused us to become jaded and cynical. Cynicism can be an incredibly destructive force in our lives for one very specific reason…because it is not God’s will for our lives.
As we go Vintage in this series and turn back the clock to the very first Christmas, we are not going to find jaded cynicism. Just the opposite. Instead of cynicism, we’re going to see that the first Christmas was all about wonder. Wonder is central to Christmas and it is central to following Christ.
Isn’t it interesting how two people can look at the very same thing and see it completely differently?
My father is an expert woodworker. His specialties are scroll sawing and wood burning. Some of his creations really are incredible. I especially like this piece. It’s a very intricate covered bridge scene. And the wood is from an actual covered bridge that was destroyed near my childhood home in Brown County.
If you would have shown me this piece of wood from that old bridge, I would have said, “That’s pretty much worthless. Scrap it.” I would have seen no value in this piece of wood.
But dad looked at this wood and he saw something different. He saw the potential within this wood…the potential to be beautiful. The wood submitted to his hand, and its beauty was unleashed.
Two people looking at the very same thing, but seeing something totally different. The reason is that we looked at it through two different lenses. Dad looked at it through the lens of a master woodworker. I did not.
In our story, Robby and his friend, Ricky, both caught snowflakes in their hands. But they looked at the flakes very differently.
Robby saw the snowflake in his hand. Even considered it’s complexity for a split second. But then blew it off. Just a dumb snowflake. It couldn’t have been more irrelevant considering everything that was happening in his life.
But Ricky recognized the design of God in that snowflake. The intricacy of a single snowflake caused him to wonder.
These two boys were looking at the snowflakes through two completely different lenses. Robby saw it through the lens of discouragement and anger and cynicism. Ricky saw it through the lens of wonder and awe.
It is amazing how people can look at the same thing and see it so differently. Think about how different people view Christmas. People can look at the same holiday but come away with vastly different feelings about it. People can examine the meaning behind the holiday, but they can come away with different thoughts, emotions, and beliefs about it.
I’m not just talking about how a believer versus how a non-believer views Christmas. You would expect a different take between those of us who follow Jesus and those of us who don’t. But the really intriguing thing for me is that among those of us who are Christians, the views of Christmas are still extremely varied and diverse.
For some of us, Christmas just lights our fire. For others of us, it leaves us cold. Like snowflakes in the glove-covered hands of two young boys, we’re looking at the same thing…but seeing it very differently.
For the committed Christ-follower, Christmas should stir an emotion in us that we don’t talk about a whole lot…wonder. But this is something that the church should talk about, because it’s something that the Bible talks about. It is a central theme of our Vintage Christmas. In fact, wonder is central to being a Christ-follower any day of the year.
In our series, we’re going back and hanging out with the shepherds who were invited to see the newborn Christ on that first Christmas night.
The Lord sent some of his angels to announce Jesus’ birth to the shepherds who were out in the field tending their flocks that night.
The Bible says, “When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, "Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us."
So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. (Luke 2:15-17, NASB)
As soon as the angels left, the shepherds hot-footed it to Bethlehem. When they arrived, the Bible says that Mary, Joseph, and the baby were all there. The context seems to suggest that there were actually more people than that present at the manger. I’m from a small town. Anytime somebody has a baby in my hometown, the news spreads like wildfire. But a newborn baby lying in an animal’s feeding trough…that would probably cause a big stir in a small town like Bethlehem.
But even though there could have been a crowd of people there, Mal Couch notes that the crowd probably didn’t grasp the significance of Jesus’ birth until the shepherds appeared. The shepherds arrived and told everyone at the manger scene about the appearance of the angels. They relayed everything that the angels had said about this baby.
And in verse 18, the Bible says, “And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2:18, NASB)
When the people at the manger heard the shepherd’s story, it caused them to wonder. Wonder is at the heart of what Christmas is all about. Or at least it used to be. In 2008 American culture, we have become so jaded and cynical that it seems that we have lost the ability to wonder. But if you want a Vintage Christmas this year, wonder will be at the core of your celebration.
The problem is that a lot of us know the story too well. We hear the story of Jesus’ birth every December, like clockwork. And over the years, we come to know the story very well. Maybe too well. For a lot of us, it seems like our education has undermined our wonder.
Wonder and familiarity are opposing forces in our lives. The more familiar we are with something, the less likely we will look at it with wonder.
There’s an old axiom that says, “familiarity breeds contempt.” Actually, I think there’s a more accurate way to phrase it.
Familiarity breeds complacency.
I talked about this story on my blog last week. Greg Schwarber is the police chief in Middletown. A couple of weeks ago, Chief Schwarber shot himself in the leg while cleaning his gun. Ironically, he had taken his daughter to the shooting range that morning for a lesson on gun safety. A few hours later, he accidentally shot himself in the leg with his Glock 45.
Chief Schwarber is definitely a stand-up guy, because instead of isolating himself, he is openly talking with the media about the rather embarrassing accident. He said, “I was a firearms instructor, SWAT team…it was that familiarity that got me in trouble…Familiarity breeds complacency.”
This man was an expert with his weapon. In fact, he taught others how to treat the weapon properly. But he became so familiar with it that he lost his respect for it. He grew complacent in handling his gun and he was wounded as a result.
The more familiar you are with something, the more likely you are to take it for granted. To lose a sense of wonder in favor of an attitude of complacency. That’s a dangerous thing to do with a gun. It’s infinitely more dangerous to do that with our God.
But this is the exact problem so many of us have with Christmas. It’s so familiar to us that we begin to take it for granted. Instead of viewing it with wonder and awe, Christmas has become as comfortably familiar to us as an old pair of sweatpants. And the Christmas story has become just that…a story.
Christmas is not a story. It is a profound, unprecedented move of God to save a world that was hell bound and picking up speed. For the people of God, Christmas can never become familiar. And our relationship with the one born in Bethlehem that night can never become complacent.
Here’s the deal with this…it is possible to know about God without knowing God. Knowing God stirs passion and wonder in us. If you’re a Christian who is living a life completely lacking of passion and wonder, you may know a lot about God…but you don’t know God.
There is probably no better Biblical example of this than the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the religious elite in Jesus’ day. These were the men that everyone looked up to and wanted to emulate. And yet these are the very people who received the harshest criticism that Jesus ever offered.
In Matthew 23, Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23, NIV)
The Pharisees knew the law of God to the letter. They legalistically followed it. In fact, in many cases they lived by an even stricter code of conduct than was required by God’s law.
But in their knowledge of God’s law, they completely missed the meaning behind God’s law. They were educated beyond their level of obedience. That’s why Jesus hammered on them. Their practice of tithing their spices was fine, but they were so focused on this minutiae that they wound up missing the point altogether. In their pursuit of meticulously following God’s law, they missed the heart of God’s law. The Pharisees majored in the minors. Minor issues, like tithing their spices, paled in comparison to issues of character and the treatment of others.
The Pharisees were experts in the Old Testament Scripture. They knew it, down to the finest detail. But in Jesus’ stinging indictment, he said, “You know all about God. But you don’t know God at all.”
This has incredible contemporary significance. The last thing some Christians need is another Bible study. They’re spending a lot of time learning the words of Scripture, but all the while they are completely missing the heart of Scripture. They’re not obeying what they’re learning. They’re not allowing the truth to change them from the inside out. Instead, they become educated beyond their level of obedience.
Familiarity breeds complacency. There is a real danger to learn all about God while never knowing God. You can learn the Bible without obeying the Bible. You can know all kinds of facts about Jesus without ever being transformed by Jesus. You can reduce the Almighty God of heaven and earth to a nice, neat systematic theology that you can write in one paragraph.
And when that happens, you will find yourself living with a complete absence of wonder. In your effort to become familiar with God and his truth, you have lost the wonder of God and the wonder of his truth.
Does this mean that we shouldn’t learn the Bible? Does it mean that we shouldn’t want to know God more? Absolutely not. What it means is that, the longer you’re a Christian, the more you do learn, the more you will have to guard against taking it all for granted. You will have to be on your guard against the sin of complacency creeping into your life.
And make no doubt about it…it is a sin. In the Old Testament book of Zephaniah, God said, “At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent…who think, ‘The LORD will do nothing, either good or bad.’” (Zephaniah 1:12, NIV)
Growing comfortable and complacent in our walk with God is a sin. And it is a sin that God promised to punish. The longer you walk with the Lord, the more you will have to be on guard for this in your life. Familiarity breeds complacency. And complacency will bring about the anger and judgment of God.
But there is a flip-side to this coin. Instead of complacency, God’s desire is for his people to live with a sense of wonder.
Familiarity breeds complacency. But wonder breeds passion.
This is so clear when you look at the transformation that happened in the lives of the shepherds in Luke 2. They arrived at the manger and told everyone what had happened to them with the angels out in the field.
The Bible tells us, “And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen…” (Luke 2:18, 20, NASB)
The shepherds experienced the wonder of Christ. And look at what that caused them to do. They told everyone their story. They returned to their flocks, glorifying and praising God. They went through the streets of Bethlehem making a lot of noise…especially considering that it was the middle of the night. They probably got a lot of strange looks. Maybe even some angry shouts from people who were woke up by the shepherds’ celebration. But none of that mattered. It didn’t matter what people said. It didn’t matter what people thought, because the wonder of Christ had infused their lives with a passion that couldn’t stay quiet.
When you live in wonder of God, passion will be the result. I love this verse from Psalm 119.
The psalmist said, ““My zeal wears me out…” (Psalm 119:139a, NIV)
Isn’t that a great verse? My zeal, my excitement, my passion for the ways of God just wears me out.
Or as another translation says, “My passion has overcome me…” (Psalm 119:139a, BBE)
It is God’s dream that every one of his children would live with this kind of passion for him, his ways, his truth, and his Son. His dream is that every night, we would crash into bed, utterly exhausted because our passion for him in our lives just wears us out.
And it all starts with wonder. If your God is small enough that you can totally figure him out, you will live with complacency and boredom. But if your God is beyond comprehension, if you live with fear and awe and wonder of the Lord, you will live with an irrepressible passion.
Did you ever stop to think why Jesus told us to have the faith of a child? In Mark 10, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15, NIV)
Did you ever think that maybe one of the reasons Jesus said this is because children live in constant wonder?
When we were on vacation in Tennessee this summer, we took Ryan to the Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge. If you’ve ever been there, you know it’s one of these live-shows-with-your-dinner kind of places.
I knew Ryan would enjoy it, but I didn’t realize that he would be in awe of it. From the minute the show started, his eyes almost bugged out of his head. His first word was, “Wow!” He was completely enthralled by the entire production. Nicki and I enjoyed the show. But Ryan viewed it with wonder.
You want to know how God wants his people to see him? You want to know how the Lord wants to impact your life every single day? Look into the eyes of a child. See their passion. Look at the wonder. A child seems to realize how much they don’t know. It seems like they can sense just how much they don’t have figured out…so they experience awe and wonder all the time.
The Bible says in Hebrews 12, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29, NIV)
Did you notice that the Bible says that, to worship God acceptably, we have to approach him with wonder. God doesn’t accept worship that isn’t filled with reverence and awe. If you approach God with complacent familiarity instead of passionate wonder, the Bible says that he will not accept your worship, and by extension, he will not accept you.
Think about what this means on a practical level in our lives. Approaching God with wonder, with reverence and awe, I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean coming to church and just mindlessly mouthing the words of the songs.
That doesn’t mean leafing through the bulletin while the Word of God is being preached.
That doesn’t mean taking communion out of habit instead of out of love and devotion to Jesus.
To be brutally honest, if you don’t have a “wow” moment in this building every single week, something is really wrong. The gospel is powerful. And if you’re not moved to a “wow” moment every single week, something is definitely not right. We are here to encounter Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of our lives. And if that doesn’t make you say “wow,” there’s a problem.
In Jeremiah 2, God said, “Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me,” declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty. (Jeremiah 2:19, NIV)
When we live with no awe of God, no wonder of his love and his presence and his power, God sees it as bitter and evil. It is a sin for God’s people to live without wonder and awe of the Lord.
Instead, the Lord’s will for us is to live with wonder and passion. Paul wrote in Romans 12, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:11, NIV)
This is the picture of a passionate disciple of Jesus who lives with a constant awe and wonder of the Lord. If things have gone stale in your spiritual walk, if you’ve lost the fire that you once had, it doesn’t have to be gone forever. Some of us need to pray for God to rebreak our hearts. Pray for God to restore the wonder and passion in your life. Approach the gospel like it’s the first time you’ve ever heard it. And this Christmas, listen to the story like it’s not a story at all. Instead, view it as a celebration of an unthinkable move of God. Leaving the perfection of heaven to be born into our broken and sinful world. All for the purpose of giving his life in exchange for ours. Wow!
I told you earlier about this wood burning piece that my dad made. This started out as a useless piece of scrap wood. But through my dad’s giftedness, it became something beautiful.
Similarly, our lives once resembled a scrap piece of wood. Sin’s power had destroyed our lives, rendering us worthless. And yet, God saw something worth saving. That’s why there was a Christmas. And that’s why there was a cross.
And once we submit our lives to Him, His hand begins to burn away, to chip away, to cut away at our character. This process can be painful at times, but we need to remember that God is turning our lives into a work of art.
You are the reason there was a Christmas. You are the reason there was a cross. God saw something worth saving in you. And he won’t quit until he has turned your life into a stunning work of art. How can you approach him with anything less than passionate wonder and awe?
In his book called No Wonder They Call Him Savior, Max Lucado wrote this prayer.
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