Un-Prepared: Embrace Wonder
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
December 18, 2016
Luke 2:1-20 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Folks who know the full schedule we have around Christ Church around the Advent and Christmas season–four services each Sunday, five services around Christmas Eve, two on Christmas Day, myriad season missions, numerous Christmas gatherings, concerts, lessons and carols–frequently ask me, and I’m sure other staff members, “Are you ready for Christmas?” And it’s hard to answer that! Is every sermon totally finished, every lesson perfectly prepared, every grieving person totally comforted? Well, no, not yet.
And consider that in the midst of the preparations for our church life together, the staff has their own family readiness for Christmas.
For example, my home shops, decorates, plans meals and visits. And now, with the children married, engages in negotiations (massive negotiations) about who visits whom and when! It’s so complicated that I’m often tempted to call in the Secretary of State to begin “talks.”
I suspect the Bailey household is not alone in a hectic push to prepare for Christmas. And all of this hectic personal push can be “notched up” by so many other factors, worries and pressures. I mean, don’t we all feel the after-taste of a toxic political season; aren’t our hearts broken seeing the children of Allepo? So many of us enter Christmas with fears about our future. We’re pressured by a 24-hour news cycle and 24 -our connectivity keeps us “on call” and working all the time. And personally, many come to Christmas with grief over the loss of a loved one, financial problems and fears, personal or family health crises (like my father just being released from the hospital to rehab). And before we know it, we’re hearing the Christmas story again but are no longer filled with wonder and amazement. We just hear the words but in the clutter of life, fail in our understanding.
Yet, our understanding and resulting wonder is so important in our faith walk. To hear and understand what Christmas is all about is a deal-changer for everything: those pressures we feel, the disappointments we bear, the fears we have.
Let’s think together about why the people who heard the shepherds telling the Christmas story were amazed and filled with wonder.
For one thing, they were amazed at the circumstances the Messiah was born into. Israel has long expected the Messiah, the savior of the world to come, but they almost without exception thought in terms of a mighty, powerful, warrior King. They thought the Messiah would do battle with the enemies of Israel and set them free with military might.
And yet, here are shepherds telling them of the angels chorus and announcement; their going to Bethlehem to “see this thing the Lord had made known to them,” arriving at a manger (maybe just a cave or a cattle feeding trough carved in stone), meeting there an unwed mother and Joseph, her betrothed, who were displaced by a tyrannical government and very pregnant; basically homeless at the time – holding the son of God in a muck filled space!
God Incarnate, Immanuel, God with us, Jesus, came to humanity in the lowest, most humble way possible. God Incarnate, Immanuel, God with us, Jesus entered human life at it toughest from the very beginning until death on the cross. Because of this, we are amazed and filled with wonder knowing without a doubt, Jesus understands us, all of us, through and through. No matter what we’re experiencing in life, no matter how hard life becomes, he understands. There is no place we can be in life that is outside of his love and grace and that is amazing.
Also, folks who heard the shepherds were also amazed that the first folks to get the birth announcement were the shepherds. Shepherds at one time in Israel’s history has been admired and honored, but by the time Jesus was born, they were highly looked down upon. They were considered dishonest outsiders in so many ways. The religious folks rejected them, because they probably broke the Sabbath, couldn’t keep the rites and rituals of cleanliness, and ignored Temple rules and obligations. Shepherds broke civil law so often, especially trespassing on other’s land, that they couldn’t give testimony in court cases. Shepherds were thought to be those who neglected their families. It was dishonorable to not be with your family at night. And yet, shepherds, some of the ultimate outsiders in society, were the first to hear the angels chorus, meet Jesus and go forth sharing the news. Could it be that God’s telling us something that’s amazing? Could it be that God’s telling us that no one is beyond the grace and love of Jesus, and maybe God is messaging that Jesus came especially for outsiders, the shepherd like people?
Until recently, some in our family have laughed at us a bit because we keep and drive used cars forever! One Michael Jr. talked about a flight that was costing 3000 dollars and Lauralee said, “Why, you could get two good cars for that!” My everyday driver is a 96 Jeep Cherokee to this day. With that comes repairs. On one of them we had to get some transmission work done. We lived in north Mecklenburg County and went to a repair shop in Mooresville, where Jan serves now. The proprietor was kind of scary. Roger was huge, had a massive beard, long hair and was covered with tattoos. His past matched his appearance. He was a member of a notorious motorcycle gang in his past. He showed me some articles he had mounted after a huge crack down on their violence led to his, and many of his companions, arrest and imprisonment. And there, in prison, Roger met Christ. He knew his scripture; he lived as best he could following Jesus and sharing his love in word and deed. Jesus came, right from the beginning until today for “shepherd like” people; his grace and love extends to the Rogers of this world. That is amazing.
Finally, we too can join in wonder and amazement because the message of the shepherds is for us! Jesus came for our redemption, our salvation, our eternal life. The savior of the world love us! He loves us warts and all: with our in-adequate preparations, our hectic over-scheduled lives; our less-than-perfect family dynamics; our fears, our hurts and pains. Jesus’ love and grace comes to us where and how we are – but loves us too much to leave us there.
And if we’re honest with and about ourselves, our true selves, our inner selves, with attitudes that would displease God, inclinations that are contrary to how He wants us to live and actions and inactions that are sinful; if we’re honest about these things and more – and know, accept and receive the love he brings to us – we too, will stand amazed.
Discussion Questions for December 18: Embrace Wonder
Share with your group times you experienced wonder and being amazed.
Share with your group why people were amazed when they heard the message of the shepherds.
Share with your group some of the reasons people today have lost a sense of wonder.
Share with your group the role wonder can play in our faith journeys.