Serendipity: An instance of making a delightful and unexpected discovery.
"In a manger in a stable, long ago on Christmas day, lay a tiny little baby on a blanket made of hay. The angels, they adored Him. The Shepherds, they watched over Him. The Kings, they bowed before Him. Hallelujah, His is born!"Welcome to the fourth and last week of the celebration of Advent. We have celebrated with expectation and hope, peace, and joy. This weeks focus will be upon love. Love usually refers to a deep feeling of tenderly caring for another person. The Christian understanding of the word "love" is that love comes from God. Over 2000 years ago love came down at Christmas time.
So often we associate Christmas with candy canes, Christmas trees, and pretty packages all tied up in bows. Family and friends usually gather in fellowship. Gifts and cards are exchanged. Much food and goodies are consumed.
Trees are trimmed and gifts are wrapped,
and at the end our energy is sapped.
We have shopped,
until we have dropped,
and we still can't seem to find that perfect gift,
to give our loved ones spirits a lift.
Our focus is gone and carried away,
of the real reason we celebrate Christmas day.
The perfect gift cannot be found in the store,
or wrapped in a box or tied with ribbons galore.
It was not wrapped in gold foil or green bows,
but in swaddling clothes.
It could not be found under a tinsel laden tree,
but lying in a manger beside His mother, Mary.
This gift, the baby Jesus, is the ultimate expression of love. This expression of love was given with a purpose in mind. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life, For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved." (John 3:16-17) God has a deep feeling of love for each one of us. His desire is to tenderly care for each one of us and His ultimate show of love is His provision for salvation.
With these thoughts in mind, let us gather together in worship. Once again the lights are dimmed, soft instrumental carols are playing in the background. We gather around the Advent Wreath and bow our heads in prayer. A guest lights the candle of hope and expectation, the candle of peace, the candle of joy, and tonight it is joined by the candle of love. This candle is also known as the Shepherds candle, it stands for God's love and faithfulness.
This weeks focus verse for memorization continues on with the theme of light. "This then is the message which you have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is not darkness at all." (1 John 1:5)
We will now begin by reading Luke 2:15-20 telling of the Shepherds seeking Jesus and finding Him lying in the manger. Also, Luke 2:7, no room at the inn. This weeks wreath symbol is a manger and each person receives a bit of hay to place in the manger.
NOTE: If you have been following along with us, you might notice that the Scripture reading this week and last week overlap. My apologies, I made a typing error last week, the verses were supposed to be Luke 2:8-14 and I typed in Luke 2:8-20. I have corrected it in the previous post and wanted to let you know in case you plan to do this celebration in the future so the readings will correct.
The empty manger is settled on the gold cloth the middle of the wreath and each person is given a bit of hay, straw, or excelsior to hold. Here I want to relate a story I read some years ago that leads back to that opening thought of the proper focus at Christmas time and the gift of love that we are to focus upon.A frazzled mother had been out Christmas shopping with the masses. She had elbowed her way through crowds, despaired over parking spaces, stood in line 20 people deep, and heard enough ringing bells to drive a person crazy. She came home dejected and deflated feeling like she had spent too much money on things she was certain no one would appreciate. She realized something was wrong.
Her schedule was loaded down with every event possible to cram into a Christmas season, concerts, parties, cookie exchanges, a tree lighting ceremony, and even a church Christmas pageant. There was not any room for a single thing more. Somehow Christmas had taken on a life of its own. She felt she was being driven by an endless cycle of haves, wants, and musts.
She wandered outside to find her husband and son in the barn pitching hay to the animals. Her little son had gotten some of the straw up his sleeve and complained that it did not feel good, that it was not comfortable on your skin. When the mother did not respond her little son repeated that it did not feel good. The frazzled mother quipped, "Then don't put it up your sleeve!"
The little son persisted, saying that he was thinking, "Was Jesus really born in a barn and why did that happen?" The mother explained that they tried to find another place but there just wasn't room and that was just the way it was. The little boy said that this was not good. He picked up a handful of straw and walked toward his mother telling her to feel it saying that it felt bad.
The mother looked at her son and then at the small pile of straw he had placed on her arm and felt the prickle on her skin acknowledging that he was right. The little guy was troubled and said they laid Him in manger and that he knew that was a thing full of straw and not a place to put a baby. He went on to say that they should have made room for Him some place better. He said this baby was God, he should have been born in the nicest hotel!
The mother sat pondering her little sons words and something clicked for her in that moment. Her sons words pierced her heart. No room. No room for Jesus. That is what her holiday had been missing. She realized she had been the innkeeper, and had left no room for the Savior. She too had pushed the baby out and let unimportant things take over the place that should have been His. Her quest for the perfect Christmas had lost the meaning of the manger. She had forgotten the simplicity of the straw.
This pivot point is when this frazzled mother pulled out the Advent paper she had been given by a friend who promised she would be blessed for setting aside this time throughout her holiday. At the time she thought this was just four more appointments on an already full calendar of "have tos". She read over the paper and decided it was too formal for her family so she chose bits and pieces and formed her own Advent celebration.
She formed a simple wreath from evergreen branches gathered from her yard. She and her son formed candle holders from clay and tucked them around the wreath. Nothing fancy. And on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, her family gathered, not knowing what to expect. They dimmed the lights and lit the first of the five candles and opened in prayer. At the center of their celebration in middle of the wreath stood a canning jar filled with straw. A visual reminder of the miracle that happened in the manger. Jesus was restored to His rightful place that year ~ at the very center of Christmas.
Each person will place their bit of straw in the empty manger. We will bow and close in prayer, thanking God for using a hand full of straw and a little child to capture our attention and to bring us back into focus. We will ask forgiveness for pushing Him aside in all our plans and preparations from His proper place in our hearts and lives. We will ask that the meaning of the manger stay clear and with us in the coming year.
Tonight's hymn story and music will be "Away in a Manger."
ADVENT CONCLUSION:CHRISTMAS EVENOTE: Have a candle for each guest present for an object lesson.
Begin by gathering around the Advent wreath and open in prayer. You may wish to do a review of all the candles and symbols and their special meanings. Light the candles of expectation and hope, the candle of peace, the candle of joy, that candle of love, and finally light the final candle, the candle of Christ. This candle symbolizes the fulfillment of the promised Messiah. With the lighting of this candle, the circle of light is complete just as we are complete only in Christ.
Scripture reading will be Galatians 4:4-7 about the fulfillment of prophecy.
The wreath symbols are Mary and Joseph. They are placed beside the straw filled manger where they will wait in anticipation of the birth of the Christ child. The manger will remain empty this night. When Christmas morning arrives, the baby Jesus will have arrived and be in the manger.At this point in your celebration, explain that you want to approach the subject of light as Advent is a celebration of the light of the world, Jesus. Hand each person a candle and have a match or lighter handy. Please carefully supervise children if they are participating. Explain that John 8:12 says, "I am the light of the world." The point of having light is to banish darkness and as believers we are to reach out to those who still live in darkness.
Turn out all the lights and blow out the advent candles. Pose the question, "How much light does it take to overcome darkness?" The person posing the question lights the candle they are holding and says, "It just takes one. Now lets illustrate how bright our lights can be when we each one reach one." Light the candle of the person next to you with your candle and say, "I am the light of the world and I give you my light." Have that person turn to the next person and light their candle, repeating the message, and continue the pattern until your circle of light is complete.
Explain, "As you can see we no longer sit in darkness. What started out as one small light has spread and grown brighter. We are to take our candles, and go light our world. This is the great command and commission we have been given."
Tonight's hymn story and music will be, "Joy to the World."
CHRISTMAS DAYWe do this first thing in the morning before presents. I get up before the family and turn all the Christmas lights are on, light all the candles, and place baby Jesus in the manger. When the family is ready to emerge, I cue Handel's Messiah, the Hallelujah Chorus as everyone enters and gathers around the Advent wreath. This music never fails to take my breath away!
Even though it has been read in bits and pieces through out the celebration, we always read Luke 2:1-40.
Over two thousand years ago the people waited for a Savior and a King. A man in Jerusalem named Simeon expected the Messiah to come soon. When Mary and Joseph arrived, presenting baby Jesus to the Lord in obedience to the law, Simeon was there and took the child in his arms praising God. "Lord," he said, "I have seen the Savior you have given the world which you have prepared before the face of all people; a light that will shine upon all nations." (Luke 2:29-32) In this coming year let us keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus, not just at Christmas when we celebrate His birth, but all year round. May we let His light shine through us. May we make pleasing Him a priority. May we strive in the coming year to live a Christ-centered life where He rules in our hearts, actions, and minds. May we each begin today to leave a Christmas legacy of sharing Christ's love and may we be thankful for His unspeakable gift to us.Merry Christmas to you all!