Sermon: It Does Not Seem Like Christmas - Luke 2:8-20
President John F. Kennedy's goal of putting a man on the moon by the end of the 60's decade launched the space program and our imaginations. Everyone seemed caught up in the hope and the reality of human beings transported through space to walk on the surface of the moon. When that day came, most every American watched in awe and fascination. But as with any feat, no matter how significant, the admiration wanes and the enthrallment leaks. Such was the case near the end of NASA's Apollo program.
Jack Needleman was one of the reporters covering the launch of Apollo 17 in 1975. It was a night launch. The reporters were making it a social occasion. They strolled the lawn of the press section, where refreshments were laid out on picnic tables. They snacked the food, drank the beer, and cracked their usual jokes drenched in sarcasm and cynicism waiting for the launch.
Finally, the countdown began for the thirty-five-story high Atlas rocket to be propelled out of Earth's atmosphere and into the heavens. As Needleman told the story in Bill Moyer's book A World of Ideas, the reporters were suddenly all but blinded by an extraordinary orange light, which was just at the limit of what one can bear to look at. The light illuminated everything. Then the rocket rose slowly against the dark canopy of night in total, deafening silence, because it took a few seconds for the sound to come across. The sound waves arrived seconds later in full force with a cataclysmic whoooooooosh and a mighty hummmmmm that rattled the reporters' bones. One could practically hear jaws dropping.
The rocket traveled higher, then higher still, as the first stage ignited in spectacular blue flame. It seemed to have become a star, bearing three men bound for glory. And then it was gone. Vanished into the periphery of the atmosphere and on into the depths of space.
Silence ensued among the press corps. The wisecracks died on the reporters' lips. Needleman saw that the men's eyes were filled with light, their mouths wide open, and their faces lit by the inner glow of sheer wonder.
The most amazing thing of all was the sight of hardened cynical newspapermen whose whole bearing seemed changed. People just got up silently, helping each other up. They were kind and reverent. They looked upon each other differently, speaking quietly and interestedly. If only for a moment in time, a sense of awe had taken possession of them. These were suddenly moral people because the sense of wonder and the experience of wonder had made them moral.
Such moments are all too few in the dark nights of the times we live in today. We have space ships, the internet, microchips, modern medicine - all wonders - that even our grandparents could not have foretold; yet we have become a generation characterized not by awe, but by cynicism and sarcasm. We live in a day of technological, medical, and military advancement yet we take it for granted. We have lost something. Something powerful. Something needed. Something to reawaken our souls. We have lost the wonder.
G. K. Chesterton wrote, "The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder." Wonders are all around us, but it is the sense of wonder that is missing and most needed in our lives.
I. Lost wonder
Even at Christmas. If we aren't careful we become too stressed, too much of a scrooge, more concerned about counting dollars and counting calories and miss the magic. If we aren't careful we will reduce Christmas to little more than an elaborate fable. And, in an effort to be politically correct we will write Jesus out of the story. We will secularize the holy day to the point that someone who has never heard of Christ or Christmas couldn't get the message even if they tried. Pretty soon all people will say what too many people are saying now, "It doesn't seem like Christmas."
Why does it not seem like Christmas? Is it because of the rat race, the obligations, and the adult responsibilities? Is it because the newness and freshness has worn off? Is it because there is no mystery, no magic? Is it because the light has dimmed and the music has faded? I would invite you to see Christmas through the eyes of a child this season. Look at Christmas again, as though you are seeing it for the first time. See the lights and the decorations anew. Hear the music, the sounds, and the carols afresh. Tell the story of Jesus' magnificent birth like it is the first time you have told it. Let this Christmas reawaken your wonder.
II. The wonder of the first Christmas
The first Christmas was filled with wonder - full of surprises and unexpected twists and turns. The unexpected and the extraordinary were the norm. Think with me about the astonishing events that unfolded. Joseph chose to stay with his fiancé, who is pregnant with a child that is not his. Who would have faulted him, if he had divorced her? Sound strange to you?
Mary, the fiancé, was pregnant; but she was a virgin. Do you understand the meaning of that statement? Mary had a child in her womb but had never had sexual relations. Do you see the fascination in that event? Mary gave birth to a child. Of all the earth events, none is more wonder-filled than birth. It's enough to make gown men weep uncontrollably, if not outright pass out.
Then there was the baby himself. The innocence and dependency of a new life strikes our emotions like nothing else. Babies make perfectly mature adults say the silliest things and perform most unusual of antics.
Then, angels visited shepherds. Heavenly beings descended on the scene of mere mortals to make a divine announcement. What's that about? Next, shepherds dropped everything to check out the news of a baby born to a virgin in a lowly manger who claimed to be God. Get real. Finally, God came to earth as a human being. Divinity among humanity. Does that not blow your mind?
Is there any wonder that upon witnessing these unusual events that the shepherds can't stop talking about it? Notice what Luke penned: "After seeing them, they reported the message they were told them about this child" (Luke 2:17 HCSB). They picked up where the angels had left off. Wouldn't you have done the same thing? Don't we talk about pregnancies out of wedlock? Babies being born? Encounters with heavenly beings? They spoke to every one of the events they had just witnessed. It was too fascinating to keep to themselves.
And how did the recipients respond? It's found in Luke 2:18. Let's see how the Bible translations of that verse recorded their reactions:
- "And all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them" (Luke 2:18 HCSB).
- "All who heard the sheepherders were impressed" (Luke 2:18 The Message).
- "And all who heard were astonished at what the shepherds said" (Luke 2:18 NEB).
- "And all who heard it were astounded at what was told them by the shepherds" (Luke 2:18 Williams).
- "And everybody was surprised to hear the story the shepherds told us" (Luke 2:18 Beck).
- "And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds" (Luke 2:18 NASB).
- And my favorite, "All who heard it were filled with wonder at what the shepherds told them" (Luke 2:18 TEV).
For all who witnessed it, their eyes were filled with light, their mouths wide open, and their faces lit by the inner glow of sheer wonder. Their wonder should be no surprise to us, just like the witnesses of the piercing light from the night launches of rockets, because their dark world had been transcended with the brilliance of eternal light. Their silent night had been split with the glorious presence of God. The world of man had been invaded by the Word of God. All the hopes of all the ages had been fulfilled in this one spectacular night, yet it happened so differently from what man had expected. It was the surprise of all surprises. It was wonderful and wonder-filled.
III. Reawaken your wonder
Would you like to experience the wonder? Would you like for your wonder to be reawakened? What happened to the first witnesses of Christ's birth can happen to you.
A. Wonder begins in the presence of God
The shepherds had seen God. They had been in the very presence of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Yes, he was a helpless and dependent infant, but he was the incarnation of God. They had seen the light, felt the glow, heard the sounds. The cataclysmic whoooooooosh and the mighty hummmmmm had rattled their bones. The wonder of God had penetrated to the core of their being.
We need to see what they saw. We need to feel what they felt. We need to hear what they heard. The light, the vibrations, the sounds need to penetrate us.
How do we revive this sense of wonder? Wonder begins in the presence of God. Regardless of our geography or status or age, when the Lord is present, that place is alive with wonder.
B. Wonder leads to the worship of God
The shepherds saw, heard, and felt God. They were in his very presence. And what did they do? "The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard, just as they had been told" (Luke 2:20 HCSB). Seeing the wonder of God led to their worship of God. They discovered God then delighted in God.
"Wonder is the basis of worship," wrote Thomas Carlyle. One can't come face to face with the wonder of God and not worship him. Not only is it an absurdity; it's an impossibility.
Just ask Moses after encountering God on Mount Sinai, or Elijah after witnessing the presence of God on Mount Carmel, or Isaiah after his vision of God in the temple, or the shepherds after seeing Jesus in the manger.
At Christmas we meet the wonder of God. But we can't stay there. Christmas is a good beginning. But at some point we have to get Jesus out of the cradle and into our hearts. We have to go from thinking about a baby and understand that he is God who came wrapped in human flesh. We have to move from wonder to worship. We have to move beyond cynicism and skepticism to celebration and salvation. The story about a child being born is true and it is wonderful, but we have to go beyond being charmed by it and be changed by it. We have to see beyond the tradition of men and be transformed by the might of God. We have to go beyond the admiration of a child to the adoration of a Savior. We do not truly understand Christmas until we find ourselves on our knees in worship.
IV. Where do we go from here?
I want you to take a deep breath and remember what it was like to be a child with eyes wide open, taking in something greater and more wonderful than any sight you had seen before. What was it for you? Christmas morning at age five? An electric train that filled the room? Seeing the ocean or the Grand Canyon for the first time? Realizing that Jesus paid for all your sins and offers forgiveness free of charge?
In Chicken Soup for the Soul Dan Millman tells the story of Sachi. When she was four years old her baby brother was born. Little Sachi began to ask her parents to leave her alone with the new baby. They worried that, like most four-year-olds, she might feel jealous and want to hit or shake him, so they said no.
Over time, though, since Sachi wasn't showing signs of jealousy, they changed their minds and decided to let Sachi have her private conference with the baby. Elated, Sachi went into the baby's room and shut the door, but it opened a crack - enough for her curious parents to peek in and listen. They saw little Sachi walk quietly up to her baby brother, put her face close to his, and say, "Baby, tell me what God feels like. I'm starting to forget."
Christmas should be the time we snuggle up close to God to see, to feel, and to hear God once again. It is the time to be reminded of God's presence among us. We celebrate Christmas so we won't forget the wonder of God.
Does your wonder need reawakened? Do you need to see Christmas again for the first time through the eyes of a child? Open your eyes - see the light. Open your heart - feel the emotions. Open your mind - understand the meaning. Open your ears - hear the cataclysmic whoooooooosh and the mighty hummmmmm of God piercing the darkness of your life to give new life to your soul. See the wonder of it all.