READING Luke 1:26-38
It was a tradition in the Williams home that there was always a large nativity scene in their lounge. Mark and Julie, and their children, loved Jesus and wanted Him to be the centre of their celebrations.
Another tradition was that the Christmas tree, beside the nativity, went up on Christmas Eve after the kids had gone to bed. That way, the first time they saw it was on Christmas morning.
And a third tradition was that Grandad Steve always came to stay. Steve didn’t sleep very well so, on Christmas morning, he was up, and sitting in the chair in the corner of the lounge before the children stirred. It wasn’t long though until he heard them moving and their excited chatter, before footsteps ran down the hall. All three of them burst into the lounge and stopped dead in their tracks, their mouths wide open. They stared at the tree. It was beautiful. They edged closer, pointing out the things that were different from last year. There were little squeals of delight and excited giggles.
They then turned to the manger. “Wow! Look at baby Jesus! Look at his tiny hands! And look at Mary’s beautiful clothes! Look how she is looking at him with such love in her eyes. Oh wow! Thank you, Jesus for coming into the world at Christmas.” The children joined hands and danced around in a circle, singing and giggling.
“Hi, Grandad”, they called when they saw him, and broke out of the circle to give him a hug. They then ran out of the room but Steve could still hear the sounds of excitement coming from other parts of the house. He smiled, thinking about their enthusiasm.
It wasn’t long before Mark and Julie were also up. They came into the lounge smiling. “Hi Grandad” they said before each giving him a hug. Then the children burst back in. “Get the Bible, Lukey”, Mark said, and Luke raced off to the bedroom. When he returned, Mark and Julie sat on the floor and the children sat around them, pulling in close to hear the story. They read from Matthew and Luke so as to get the whole story.
When they heard about the angel visiting Mary, their eyes and mouths were wide open imagining what it would have been like to be visited by an angel but even more so, imagining what it would be like to be told you were going to have a baby – a miracle baby – not just a baby but God’s baby. “Do you think it would be funny walking around knowing you had God in your tummy?”, Emma asked, and everyone laughed. Luke added, “What I think is amazing is that this baby was going to be the Messiah. Imagine being the girl who was told she was going to be the mother of the Messiah! How amazing would that be?”
“Mummy,” Sophie said, “how long was it between Adam and Eve and Mary?
“I don’t know, Honey.” Julie replied. “Why do you ask?”
“I was just thinking that God told Adam and Eve about the Messiah, didn’t He?
“Well, yes. He didn’t call Him the Messiah at that point but He said that Eve would have a descendant who would crush Satan. He was obviously talking about Jesus.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking,” Sophie continued, “so when was that?”
Julie laughed. “Good question, Honey. I don’t know. It’s kind-of before recorded history even started. Some people would say a few thousand years. Others would say it was millions of years. What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking how amazing it must have been after all those thousands or millions of years, and all those prophecies of a Messiah, that it was actually happening. This was perhaps the biggest event in the history of the world. Generation after generation after generation had heard God’s promises but nothing had happened. And now suddenly it was! That is awesome! Yay God!”
“Yeah, true!” Luke shouted. “That is amazing! God kept His promise even after thousands or millions of years. And, one day, Jesus is coming back. People might think it is never going to happen but God will keep that promise too, won’t He. Imagine how history is going to change when that happens!”
“What’s the matter, Wee One,” Mark asked suddenly concerned. Emma was crying. Everyone looked.
“I don’t want Jesus to die.”
“Oh wow,” Mark said. “It is horrible to think that this little baby would be hated and killed, isn’t it? People didn’t treat Jesus very well. It’s horrible, horrible, horrible. But you know what? God was still in control. This was all part of God’s plan. The angel had said to Joseph that the baby was to be called Jesus because he would save His people from their sins. He had to die to save us. But remember… He rose again. Jesus had to die. It looked like death defeated Jesus but, in the end, Jesus defeated death.”
Emma smiled and the children jumped up and down chanting, “Jesus wins! Jesus wins!”
They had heard this story many times before, of course. They knew the details well, but every time it seemed to fill them with wonder.
Steve was delighted seeing his grandchildren so engrossed in the story and understanding it so. Oh to be a child again and have that sort of wide-eyed awe. But then he wondered why you had to be a child. Why couldn’t he be equally amazed? The story contained many amazing things – truly incredible things – why did they no longer cause him to dance and sing? What happens when we become adults? What do we lose?
Steve began to wonder about wonder. He loved Jesus but he was hardly ever blown away by the wonder of it all in that wide-eyed sort of way. He couldn’t remember the last time he had sat with His mouth open when he had realised something of the magnificence of Jesus.
He thought about some of the reactions of the personalities in the actual Christmas story. Mary was deeply troubled when the angel appeared and was told not to be afraid. When had Steve felt the fear of being in the presence of God? Was He taking God for granted? John the Baptist had leapt in the womb of Elizabeth when Mary, with her baby in utero, had entered the house. My goodness, imagine the power of the presence of God when one unborn baby can have that effect on another unborn baby! Mary had broken into a magnificent song of praise and prophesied about the nature of the Kingdom of God.
Even John the Baptist caused extraordinary reactions. The neighbours were filled with astonishment when he was named John. Zechariah, when he was able to talk again, praised God and the people were filled with awe. When had Steve – or actually, anyone in his church – last been astonished or filled with awe?
When the angels had appeared, the shepherds had been terrified but, after having seen Jesus, they glorified and praised God and told everybody about this child. And, again, the people were amazed. Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and praised God. Anna likewise. And Mary and Joseph marvelled at what was said about Jesus. They were blown away by it. The Magi were overjoyed when they knew they were in the right place to see Jesus and they bowed down and worshipped Him.
Yeah, but all of these people were excitable Mediterranean types. Steve was a Kiwi and an introvert; they were just more expressive people. But suddenly “introvert” sounded cold and passion-less. He could jump up and down and scream at the TV when the All Blacks were playing. Was he really passion-less when it came to Jesus? As he understood it too, the same personality types existed in all cultures. Did even the introverts in the Christmas story still sense the awe?
Being an introvert, maybe he was less likely to express it but did he even feel it? Even if it wasn’t visible on the outside, did he feel it on the inside?
Steve thought about the fact that when Jesus taught, the crowds were amazed. There was something so different… so authentic… so true… so powerful about Him that the people were blown away. Jesus was different. Jesus was – is – God. Demons screamed in His presence and pleaded for mercy. When Jesus healed the lame man lowered through the roof, the people were filled with awe and praised God.
Steve picked up his iPad and started searching the Bible for words like “awe” and “wonder” and “amazed”. He was surprised how many there were. People were constantly blown away by Jesus. He didn’t find “blown away” or “gobsmacked” (although he thought God-smacked might have been appropriate.) But the word “amazed” occurs 45 times in the New Testament. Jesus (and even the disciples after Him) did things that took their breath away. “We have never seen anything like this!” they said shaking their heads. And Steve realised why signs and wonders are called wonders.
He was particularly troubled though by
Hebrews 12:28-29 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.
Acceptable worship involves reverence and awe. Steve began to wonder if his relationship with Jesus had become too ordinary… too boring. He knew about Jesus; he appreciated Jesus; he talked to Jesus, but why was he no longer in awe of Jesus? If the real Jesus was constantly amazing people, was Steve even relating to the real Jesus – or just to a domesticated, safe, no-longer stunning, replica of Jesus?
Steve did not want his relationship to be just boring. He wanted it to be a walk with the real Jesus. “God, please give me again a sense of wonder. When I was first saved, I was amazed that you could love someone like me. I was amazed that You cared enough about us to send Your Son. I was amazed that the immortal God would become a man and would suffer and die. But now that is just routine. I talk about it with no sense of wonder. I am not stunned by it. Lord, please touch my heart again. Please open my eyes again to the wonder of it all.”
He felt a little hand on his leg and he opened his eyes. Emma, the youngest one, had come back into the room. “Grandad, do you see it?”
“See what, Wee One?”
“Look at the manger, Grandad.”
His eyes opened wide and he spun around to see the cause. True enough, it was just the way the sun was shining through the exposed beams at that moment, but on the manger there was a very distinct, brightly-lit cross. And, although he knew it was impossible, he was convinced that the doll was looking directly at him and smiling.
He swept Emma into his arms, holding her tight, and started crying.
“What’s the matter, Grandad?”
“Honey, I think God has just answered a prayer for me, and you were part of it. You and Luke and Sophie were a big part of it. I think God just showed me that He is a lot bigger – a lot more amazing – than I had remembered. Do you know that song “Our God is a great big God”?”
Hearing the sounds, the rest of the family came back into the lounge and saw Grandad and Emma singing together at the top of their voices, tears streaming down both of their faces.