This year, rediscover the true wonder of Christmas by sharing the love of Christ with others. Each chapter centers on one element of the Christmas story, looking to the Christmas story and the stories of real people today to offer inspiration and ideas for reflecting the light of Jesus at Christmas and throughout the year.
The Wonder of Christmas is a four-week all-church study for Advent with resources for all ages. The devotional is a beautiful companion volume that functions beautifully on its own or as part of the church-wide experience offers four weeks of daily devotions on four elements of the Christmas story that evoke wonder and inspiration for reflecting the light of Jesus. Each devotion includes Scripture and a reflection and prayer.
About the Author
Rob Renfroe is Pastor of Discipleship at The Woodlands UMC in Houston, Texas, leader of the popular men's Bible study Quest, attended by over 500 men, and the author of The Trouble with the Truth and A Way Through the Wilderness. He also is President of Good News—a national organization committed to the doctrinal integrity and spiritual renewal of The United Methodist Church. He and his wife, Peggy, are the parents of two adult sons.
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The Wonder of Christmas
Once You Believe, Anything Is Possible
By Ed Robb, Rob Renfroe
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2016 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
The Wonder of a Star
God Sets the Stage
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.
God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
Can you recall a time you witnessed something truly amazing? Maybe you vividly remember what it was like to stand at the edge of a vast canyon for the first time, or how you felt as beads of water showered you from a roaring waterfall. Or perhaps the amazing moment you remember was quieter, subtler — the first time your spouse held your hand, the moment a friend's kindness overwhelmed you, when you heard a beautiful piece of music that touched your heart.
Such moments, both big and small, fill us with wonder and awe at the depth and creativity of the God who so lovingly and intentionally created our world and each of us. When we are able to be fully present during these moments, aware of the vastness of God, we are changed. These experiences ignite something within us that longs for glory, majesty, and beauty. They awaken our desire for God.
The world as we know it began in darkness. But God was there in the dark of the heavens. The Bible says that God was "hovering" over the earth, as though eagerly anticipating what was coming next. Then suddenly there was light, and the world — born in God's imagination — began to take shape. The wonder of creation lit the world — with God's light a vital illumination for all the beauty and mystery yet to come.
It is mind-boggling to think that God created everything. Take a few minutes to reread today's passage from Genesis 1, lingering on the image of God creating everything out of nothing, bringing meaning and beauty into our world with one spark of life-giving, illuminating light. And one day light would illumine the night sky over Bethlehem with the hope of redemption and the promise that God would be with us always.
The season of Advent invites us to see the world through the gift of wonder — to look for the beauty in what God has done and believe there is more to this world than what we can see or understand; to be amazed by the most wonderful story ever told, a story that continues through each of our lives. You are invited to enter this season with a spirit of curiosity, asking to be astonished anew with God's gifts and trusting God to fill you with wonder.
How does meditating on the story of creation affect your view of God? What attributes of God come to mind as you read Genesis 1? Offer a prayer to God, acknowledging God's creative power in the world and in your life. Ask God to place the gift of wonder in your heart as you prepare for Advent.
Give Us Eyes to See
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."
Have you ever heard someone tell a truly amazing story? As everyone listens attentively — waiting on pins and needles to hear the terrifying, thrilling, or unbelievable details — the storyteller often concludes with these words: "You had to see it to believe it!"
Often it is easier for us to imagine and believe in something spectacular or extraordinary than to recognize the hidden miracles all around us. The people of Israel had been waiting for generations to finally have a king who would rise up and lead them. For as long as anyone could remember, they had been waiting for the Messiah, the one who would deliver their people. Surely such a person would be born in a castle or palace and be heralded with great fanfare and recognition. Yet he was born to a poor Jewish couple in a lowly stable.
It was an unlikely beginning for a king; the tiny, helpless baby lying in the manger was easy to overlook. But God doesn't always use the obvious. Scripture says, "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong" (1 Corinthians 1:27). A baby of humble birth was quietly welcomed into the world by seemingly ordinary parents, yet this was no ordinary baby. He was the promised Messiah, the king of the Jews. Matthew's Gospel tells us that wise men from the east had the eyes to see the sign — to recognize the wonder of a star. Do we?
The gift of wonder is what allows us to see more where other people see less; to be surprised again and again by beauty and mystery; to be thankful for the wonderful gifts we have received. By believing in the miracle of Christmas and God's plan to redeem a dying world, we are able to see how God is also waiting in this season — waiting to show us the amazing riches of God's love. Waiting for us to stop and wonder and ask for eyes to see his goodness and grace.
Lord, give us eyes to see.
How is God nudging you to have eyes to see the plans for you? In what ways might God be waiting in order to reveal heavenly things to you during this season?
The Search for More
The star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Images of the Christmas story are familiar to most of us — rocky hillsides, dusty roads, shepherds, sheep, and crude structures are all things we would expect to find in the rural desert land where Jesus was born. Scripture doesn't tell us anything about the wise men's appearance or how they traveled into town, but it's safe to assume their presence in Bethlehem must have created a scene that was out of the ordinary.
We read yesterday that the wise men had the eyes to recognize the wonder of a star. Matthew 2:1 tells us that they were from the east — perhaps Babylonia, which is now modern-day Iraq. The Greek word magos, which is used to describe the wise men in the original text, describes them as scholar-priests. This description no doubt means they were educated men — a select few who were very knowledgeable about religion and culture. Certainly they held positions of power and were greatly respected. Even their ability to embark on such a lengthy journey indicates they were men of wealth who probably traveled with a large entourage.
The wise men had "successful" lives in terms of what the world values. They did not need more money or accolades. So why did they put aside everything to go and follow a star? What compelled them to travel hundreds of miles through barren terrain and unknown dangers to find a promised king? What did they hope to gain? What did they long to find?
At one time or another, all of us sense that we are made for more. We ask questions and go on journeys to find the answers. Often we feel that something is missing — that we need something more in order for our lives to be right. But not all of us recognize what this need for more truly is. In fact, many people who yearn for more end up focusing on simply getting more of the same — more wealth, more success, more recognition, more possessions, more pleasure — more of everything that has already left them unsatisfied and unfulfilled.
While it seems elusive, the root of this consuming desire is actually no mystery at all. Through Scripture God has revealed the answer: "I have called you by name; you are Mine" (Isaiah 43:1 NASB). Our hearts long for more than we can see, for something bigger than ourselves, because we belong to God. God has "set eternity in the human heart" (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and so deep within we long for him — no matter our gender, race, or nationality. The psalmist proclaimed,
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.
By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me — a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42:7-8)
We cannot know all that motivated the wise men to seek Jesus, but we do know that the same God who prompted their journey calls to us today. The longing within each of us is a yearning for something more than this world can provide; we long for our Savior. As Saint Augustine wrote, "Thou hast made us for thyself, and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee."
In what ways have you been searching for more? Describe the yearnings you are feeling, and ask God to satisfy those longings today.
Signs from God
Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." ...
"If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you."
(John 14:5-7, 15-17)
Have you ever wondered what it was about the star that made so many people look up and take notice? When we look into a clear night sky, it's easy to be in awe of a mass of brilliant, twinkling stars set against a vast black backdrop. But what was it about this star hovering over Bethlehem — the one that set local leaders on edge and prompted some to come from so far away?
Whether the light of this brilliant star was the result of planets coming into alignment during a cosmic phenomenon (as some have hypothesized) or simply an extraordinarily bright star, it was a sign from God. Though the wise men were not the only ones to see the star — after all, you couldn't miss it — they saw the star for what it was; they realized it would lead them to God.
Life is full of signs. Your life is full of signs; and when you have eyes to see, you notice signs that point you to God and a life of fullness in God. What stirs you deeply and awakens your heart to the love and majesty of God? If you are a parent, you may have felt it the first time you looked into the face of your child. Perhaps you were amazed at the possibility that anything so wonderful could exist. As your gaze was transfixed upon your child's face, you knew in that moment that the big questions in life have an answer — that this child must be a sign that there is Someone greater than you who is authoring our stories.
Maybe you are stirred when you gaze upon the beauty of a sunset or stand in awe of the majesty of a mountain. Perhaps music speaks to you, pulling out depths of feeling and questions that you cannot express in words. Maybe tragedy and suffering have left you broken but buoyed by a strength you know is not your own, making you certain that only God can get you through the deep valley of pain.
There are so many things in life that defy explanation or understanding. In The Wonder of Christmas we read, "Life is full of signs, and what distinguishes the wise from the foolish is the ability to recognize them for what they are." Thankfully, God doesn't leave us to figure out all these mysteries on our own. As Jesus prepared his disciples for his death on the cross, he assured them that he would not leave them alone but would ask God the Father to send a helper, the Holy Spirit, to live within us. Jesus said:
"All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
God did not leave us alone to rely on our own wisdom. Instead God sent his Holy Spirit to guide us. In wisdom and love, God has declared: "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you" (Jeremiah 29:13-14a). May this promise point you to God today.
Do you sense the Holy Spirit leading you in life? Ask for the gift of wonder this Advent and for eyes to recognize God's ways of reaching out and revealing.
The Word, for Us
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Long before the star appeared in the sky above Bethlehem, God was sending God's people signs to tell them of Jesus' birth. Since the beginning, when God created Adam and Eve, God had been speaking to his people, reminding them of who and whose they were. Even when things were bleak and the future seemed dim, God spoke to God's people again and again, reminding them of the Savior who was to come:
"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress ... The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
(Isaiah 9:1, 2)
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Though the Old Testament stories of laws, wars, tragedy, and bondage often seem far from our own reality, God's words to his people long ago are meant for us today as well: "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10).
Just as the light of the star pierced the night sky and led the wise men to Jesus, so the light of Jesus has been guiding us toward truth since the creation of the earth. The specifics of Jesus' birth were planned long before the day Mary felt the first pangs of labor. In the beginning, God's plan was written on the stars and trembled through every breath of creation. It became the song of nature, the breath of all life. It shouted through the words of the ancient prophets, planting hope in the hearts of all who longed for and believed in God. God was coming, and God wanted everyone to know.
Jesus, the Word, became flesh and lived among us, walking beside us and reassuring us that there is a good plan in place, that we are not alone, that the author of heaven and earth claims us as God's own and walks with us every moment of our lives. Immanuel, God with us.
John's Gospel says, "[Jesus] came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him ... he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:11-12). You are a child of God. Tell God how you feel knowing the great lengths God went to in order to claim you as God's child.
Courage to Follow
The angel went to [Mary] and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob's descendants forever; his kingdom will never end." ...
"The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. ... For no word from God will ever fail."
"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May your word to me be fulfilled."
(Luke 1:28-33, 35, 37-38)
Excerpted from The Wonder of Christmas by Ed Robb, Rob Renfroe. Copyright © 2016 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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Table of Contents
Week 1: The Wonder of a Star,
1. God Sets the Stage,
2. Give Us Eyes to See,
3. The Search for More,
4. Signs from God,
5. The Word, for Us,
6. Courage to Follow,
7. Bow Down and Worship,
Week 2: The Wonder of a Name,
1. A Different Point of View,
2. The Many Names of Jesus,
3. Scriptures and Signs,
4. Jesus, "the Lord Is Salvation",
5. The Name that Saves,
6. Children of God,
7. A New Name,
Week 3: The Wonder of a Manger,
1. An Inconvenient Journey,
2. God Came for You,
3. The Humble Manger,
4. The Great Pursuit,
5. A New Perspective,
6. How to Be Human,
7. A Promise Fulfilled,
Week 4: The Wonder of a Promise,
1. God with Us,
2. Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,
3. The Promise of Christmas,
4. A Promise to Keep,
5. Weights and Measures,
6. The Abundance of the Promise,
7. The Promise, for You,