It’s the night before Christmas and at this very hour there are countless people hustling all over town. There are still gifts to be bought. Grandma and Grandpa are on their way and the house is a mess. The mail has been checked each day for the past ten in hopes that Christmas.com will deliver sometime before Santa, but the chances of that happening tonight are slim and none. What will you do?
This reminds me of a story my mom and dad have told a million times since I’ve grown up and gained a family of my own. I have two sisters, Dana and Dawn. One Christmas when we were young, we made our Christmas “wish lists.” My sister Dana wanted a little Playskool record player that had little plastic records that actually played. Well, on the night before Christmas, as Santa was eating his milk and cookies, his helpers were putting all of the toys under the tree for me and my sisters. Santa’s helpers were arranging Dana’s little record player when they discovered that the records were missing from the package. Santa’s helpers were frantic. They went ahead and arranged the rest of the gifts and then discovered that the second gift Dana was going to receive on Christmas morning was broken. What in the world would Santa do? Of the two gifts my sister would receive from Santa, one was missing valuable pieces and the other was broken. Santa was beside himself. He couldn’t go back to the North Pole and get replacements at midnight, but what would he do? He woke up my mom and dad and told them what was going on. Dad got on the phone at midnight and found out the name of the man who was the manager of the Gibson’s store in Duncan. Dad explained the problem that Santa was dealing with and asked him if he could help? The manager of Gibson’s called the Police to see if they could meet him, and my dad, at the store so they wouldn’t get arrested when they set off the alarm.
When my dad and the store manager arrived at Gibson’s they went inside, but the two toys my sister had requested from Santa were nowhere to be found. The store shelves were almost bare. Dad did the best he could, found a couple of gifts to replace the two that were broken, and headed back to the house where Santa was anxiously awaiting to make sure that Dana would get something on Christmas morning.
My mom and dad didn’t sleep all night. They were so worried about my sister being disappointed on Christmas morning. The next morning when we got up and ran into the living room we found that Santa had eaten his cookies and drank his milk. We also found that he had left us some toys. We were so excited—all three of us! Dana was thrilled at what she found under the tree, she never even mentioned the toys that weren’t there, and my mom said that she learned a valuable lesson. The lesson was this: “It didn’t really matter what was under the tree. What mattered was that Santa had come!”
It is that sense of “wonder” that children experience on Christmas morning that is so often lost on us adults. Little kids toss and turn in their beds. They are anxious. They are hoping. They are counting the hours and the minutes until the big moment arrives. I don’t know about your family, but when our kids were little Connie and I had to put up “police tape” and enforce a “curfew” on them on Christmas morning or they would have been out of bed before the sun ever came up. When kids turn the corner and see those presents under the tree their eyes bug out in amazement as they yell, “Santa came!” It’s the wonder of Christmas!
I said that the wonderment of little children on Christmas morning is lost on us adults. I think we should recapture that sense of wonder, but not by getting excited about gifts, but by rediscovering the wonder of the Gift. It happened on that first Christmas night and it can happen for you and me this very night. Let’s read our Scripture and then we will talk. Turn with me to Luke 2 and let’s read together.
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:1-18 NIV)
There was an overwhelming sense of wonder, awe, and amazement that surrounded the first Christmas. Everyone who was associated with the first Christmas was overwhelmed with what they were witnessing. Mary and Joseph were certainly awed by their experiences. You better believe that when they talked about getting married they had no idea what the future held for them. The shepherds were overwhelmed that they were visited by an angel of the Lord. That never happens to shepherds! That may not mean much to you, but let me clue you in on what life was like for a first century shepherd.
Shepherds were despised people in Jesus’ day. They were considered as second-class citizens and untrustworthy. Their testimony was not allowed in court because society couldn’t trust them. Dr. Joachim Jeremias writes, “To buy wool, milk or a kid from a shepherd was forbidden on the assumption that it would be stolen property.” The Jewish Mishnah, which was Judaism’s written record of the oral law, referred to shepherds in belittling terms. One passage describes them as “incompetent” and another passage says that no one should ever feel obligated to rescue a shepherd who has fallen into a pit. Shepherds were ceremonially “unclean” because they worked in the fields taking care of their flocks and didn’t come to the Temple. Shepherds took care of the herds that were offered as sacrifices at the Temple, but they weren’t allowed at the Temple.
Think of the irony. Those who took care of the sacrificial lambs would be the first to look upon God’s sacrificial Lamb. Those who were not allowed to testify in court were chosen by God to testify for Him about the birth of the Savior. Those who wouldn’t be invited to any of the festivities in Jerusalem were the first to be invited by God to come and see the long awaited Messiah!
We read in Luke’s Gospel that “an angel of the Lord” appeared to cast-off, despised shepherds and before they were ever filled with wonder, they were terrified. The angel said,
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11 NIV)
If that weren’t enough, we read that a “great host of heavenly angels” joined the angel of the Lord and began to praise God as they said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14 NIV) As soon as the angels left, the shepherds looked at each other and said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem!” When they got to Bethlehem they found things just as they had been told. There was the Savior. He didn’t look like a Savior. He was a helpless little baby. He wasn’t wearing royal robes–He was wrapped in rags. He was dependent on His mom and dad, but when the shepherds saw the baby they were amazed, they were in awe, they were filled with wonder.
If you are reading the Scripture right now then you will notice that Luke doesn’t tell us that they were filled with wonder or amazement, but he doesn’t have to because he does tell us that they when they saw the baby they left and told everyone the good news. Luke says, “They spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child…” Their enthusiasm had to have been at a fever pitch because Luke says, “…and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” The wonder of Christmas!
I spent some time this week taking a look at that word, “amazed.” I wanted to know just how amazed the people were because we say that something is “amazing” or that we are “amazed” at things which, if you really think about it, aren’t that amazing. The Greek word that Luke uses is, “θαυμάζω” (thaumazo) and it means, “to wonder” or “to marvel at.” Let me show you a couple of places in the Bible where the same Greek word is used. In Matthew 8, Jesus and His disciples are out on the Sea of Galilee in a boat when suddenly a killer storm sweeps over the waters. Look at verse 24 with me.
24 Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” 26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. 27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:24-27 NIV)
Now that’s amazing isn’t it! When was the last time you saw someone quiet a hurricane in its tracks? The next Scripture I want to show you is found in the very next chapter of Matthew. There was a man who was demon-possessed that was brought to Jesus. Let’s find out what happened. Turn to verse 32 with me.
32 While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. 33 And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” (Matthew 9:32-33 NIV)
I would classify that as amazing wouldn’t you? The same feeling of amazement that was experienced by the disciples when Jesus calmed the Sea of Galilee, the same spine-tingling amazement that was felt by those who witnessed the demon-possessed man speak was the same amazement that was experienced by those who heard of the birth of Jesus.
I was thinking about the story of the shepherds and Jesus’ birth on Thursday night and something dawned on me. Isn’t it interesting that the shepherds, and later the Wise Men, worshipped Jesus before He ever did one thing for anyone? He hadn’t performed one miracle. He had never preached one sermon. He had not gone to the cross. Yet, they worshiped Him. Before Jesus had ever done anything for them, they worshiped Him.
Stop and think about it. When Jairus begged Jesus to help his daughter, everyone told him to leave Jesus alone because his daughter was dead. Jesus visited his house, took his little girl by the hand, and raised her to life. Now, it doesn’t surprise me at all that Jairus would worship Jesus does it you? Oh, and by the way, when the people saw this, Mark tells us how they reacted. They were “astonished.” Listen to this.
42 Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. (Mark 5:42 NIV)
And I could go on and on describing for you the numerous times that Jesus did something for someone and they fell at His feet in worship, but that’s not what happened at His birth. They simply worshiped Him for who He was..the Savior of the world.
I’ve heard that the Christmas season is the one time of the year when more people battle depression than any other. There are those who are not normally depressed, they don’t battle depression at other times of year, yet they sense a heaviness, a depression at Christmas. We talk about “Christmas cheer” and getting into the “Christmas spirit” while people sink further and further into depression. Why is that? Could it be that we have placed such an emphasis on what we are going to give and what we are going to get that we’ve excluded the real Gift of Christmas? It’s not the gifts we give or the gifts we receive that makes Christmas, it is Jesus that makes Christmas. Let me close by telling you a story.
Back in 1974, Lee Strobel was working as a reporter for The Chicago Tribune. He was an atheist at the time and it was Christmas Eve as he sat in the newsroom. There wasn’t much going on, no breaking news, and Lee couldn’t get a family out of his mind that he had written about one month earlier when he did a series of articles on “The Poor of Chicago.” It was just before Thanksgiving when Lee did an article on 60 year old, Perfecta Delgado and her two granddaughters that she was raising alone.
When Lee walked into their little apartment on the west side of Chicago, just before Thanksgiving, he was shocked at how the family was absolutely devoid of possessions. They had virtually nothing to their names. There was no rug on the floor, no pictures hanging on the wall, no appliances, and no extra clothes hanging in the closet. They had a rickety card table in the kitchen and some rice. Mrs. Delgado’s two granddaughters, Lydia who was eleven, and Jenny, who was thirteen, each had one short sleeved dress and one gray wool sweater that they literally shared on their half mile walk to school each morning. Lydia would wear the sweater halfway to school and then she would take it off and give it to Jenny who would wear it the rest of the way to school.
What amazed Lee, as he was interviewing Perfecta, was that despite her absolute poverty and her crippling arthritis, she still spoke so confidently about her faith in Jesus. She was absolutely convinced that God had not abandoned them. Lee never sensed any despair or self-pity, but instead he got the sense that Mrs. Delgado was full of hope, love, grace, and their home was full of peace. Lee wrote his article about Mrs. Delgado’s family and moved on.
Then, on Christmas Eve, Lee couldn’t get Mrs. Delgado out of his mind. He was wrestling with the irony of the situation. Here was this family who had nothing, in terms of material possessions, and yet they had faith. They seemed genuinely happy. And yet, Lee had everything he needed materially and he had no faith. Lee said, “On the inside, my soul was as barren as their little apartment.”
On Christmas Eve, Lee Strobel decided he would go back and visit them on West Homer Street in Chicago. Lee knocked on the door and Jenny answered. As Lee walked into their apartment he was blown away by what he saw when he walked in. In the month since he had written the article, the readers of The Tribune had showered Mrs. Delgado and her granddaughters with gifts. There was a rug on the floor, furniture in the rooms, appliances on the counter, and a huge Christmas tree with gifts underneath. As Jenny showed Lee around she opened the closet door and there were clothes and coats for the girls. As they made their way into the kitchen the cupboards were full of food. What blew Lee Strobel away was what he interrupted on that Christmas Eve. Do you know what that grandmother and her two granddaughters were doing when Lee paid them a visit? They were boxing up much of their newfound wealth to give it away.
Lee asked, “What are doing?” Mrs. Delgado said, “Lee, our neighbors are still in need. We can’t have plenty while they have nothing. This is what Jesus would have us to do.” Lee says he was blown away by that because if he had been in their position at that point in his life he would have been hoarding all of the gifts that had been given. So he asked Mrs. Delgado, “What do you think of all of the generosity of all of these strangers who sent you all of this stuff?” She said, “Oh this is wonderful. We did nothing to deserve this. It is really a gift from God, but Lee this is not God’s greatest gift. That we celebrate tomorrow. That we celebrate on Christmas. God’s greatest gift is Jesus.”
To Mrs. Delgado it was that Child in a manger that was the greatest gift. Lee says that at that moment there was something that desperately wanted to know that Jesus because Lee saw Him in Perfecta and in the lives of her grandchildren. Lee says, “They had peace despite their poverty while I only had anxiety despite my plenty. They knew the joy of generosity while I only knew the loneliness of ambition. They looked heavenward for hope while I only looked out for myself. They knew the wonder of the spiritual while I was shackled to the shallowness of the material. Something in me, at that moment, wanted to know their Jesus.”
My friend, I don’t know why you have come here tonight, but let me tell you there is something in you that needs to recapture the wonder of Christmas. It isn’t going to be found in any gift you unwrap from under the tree. Neither will it come from watching the expression on the face of someone for whom you have bought something special. The wonder of Christmas can only be experienced when you humbly, quietly, draw near to Jesus. He is the Wonder of Christmas. Won’t you draw near?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
December 24, 2011