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Advent | Christmas | The Polar Express

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Read | Luke 2:1-20

1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed,[b] who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Most of us have heard the Christmas story. We think about the manger and a perfect and peaceful scene that has been the nativity most of our lives. But when we lean in, when we take a closer look, the wonder of Christmas isn’t in the artificial peace of tradition but the gritty reality of a teenage couple welcoming their child into a world that was already threatening his existence. The real wonder is that this really happened.

When I first saw the Polar Express (which was only a couple weeks ago!), I was immediately struck but how intense it was, whether it was the ominous conductor, the boy from the other side of the tracks trying to get on a little late, or the train sliding across cracking ice, it was stressful! I had seen enough of the story to assume I knew what to expect but it was so much more real and wonderful when I took the time to watch it and soak in the tension that was present in the story.

Christmas can become something that we feel pressured to make into perfect family traditions and tranquil memories but what if the wonder God wants for us this Christmas is more intense, more risky and more real? What if the wonder of Christmas for you is taking the chance on that relationship, that conversation or expressing the grace and forgiveness to someone who doesn’t deserve it and can never earn it back from you?

That’s what’s so wonderful about the first Christmas two millennia ago; we couldn’t earn it and yet it’s because of that fact, not in spite of it, that God sent His Son to earn it on our behalf. His love motivated our relationships and we can reflect the same kind of love because of Him in the lives of those around us. Will you take the chance this year to not only experience Jesus’ love for yourself but to extend to others as well? Whose Christmas depends on it?

 

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Advent | Week Four | Joy

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Read | Luke 2:8-14 (ESV; emphasis added)

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths 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, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Merriam-Webster defines joy as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.”

I think the movie Elf does a great job of capturing the idea and concept of joy in the character of Buddy the Elf. He’s full of wonder and hope and is always ready with a smile (because smiling is his favorite). We don’t talk about joy that much in our culture these days … but joy is at the center of the Christmas story.

The angel appeared to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem with an announcement of “great joy.” It wasn’t a message that the shepherds were more successful or that they had been blessed by “good fortune,” wherever that comes from. It wasn’t even that they had won the lottery or anything like that.

The message of the angel was that God was sending a Savior. Because of that, because God was doing something unique in the history of the world to save people, there was cause for joy. And the joy wasn’t just for the shepherds. It was for “all the people.”

The fact that God sent Jesus into the world is cause for joy … for everyone. For you, for me, for the people you work with, for the people you go to school with, for the people who live next door, and for the people who live on the other side of the world.

Whether we realize it or not, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we all need a Savior. We need to be saved from a life that’s all about ourselves. We need to be saved from a life that’s all about doing what we want when we want. We need to be saved from a life that is small and inward-focused and anemic and short-sighted.

Jesus came to save us from that kind of life and invite us into the life we were created for—a life that’s about God and His vision for the world, a life that’s expansive and growing and dynamic and eternal.

Jesus came to earth. And that was cause for “great joy for all the people” two thousand years ago. And that same joy can grip our hearts today if we realize the greatness of the gift God has given us in Jesus.

May your heart be filled with joy this Christmas season.

Reflect | Where or to who do you need to spread Joy to this Christmas?

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