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AN ATMOSPHERE OF AMAZEMENT
by GLENN PEASE
12/14/02
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AN ATMOSPHERE OF AMAZEMENT based on Luke 2:8-20
By Pastor Glenn Pease


Human beings love to be amazed and filled with wonder. That is why they travel the world over to see the 7 wonders of the world and the million and more lesser wonders of God and man. That is why the constant craving for special effects in spectacular movies that take us out of dullsville into a world of wonder.

The amazing is always popular. Back near the turn of the century, Hodji Ali made his fortune by being amazing. In full view of the audience he would swallow peach pits, pennies, rhinestone rings, watermelon seeds and a whole series of small objects. Then he would bring up specific items at the request of the audience. Like the great fish in the book of Jonah, he could vomit for a profit{prophet}.

That was merely a warm up. While his assistant set up a miniature castle, Ali drank a gallon of water and then a pint of kerosene. The drum would begin to roll and he would spit out the kerosene in a six foot arc across the stage, setting the castle on fire. Then with the flames shooting high into the air, he would spit up the water and extinguish the blaze. The people loved it, for it was amazing, and people love to be amazed.

That is what the Christmas season is all about. It is about being amazed. The whole world, in shopping centers, is changed to convey a sense of amazement. The lights and decorations and colors are all changed to convey a sense of wonder. We are expected to respond, how wonderful, how beautiful, how amazing it all is! The world and the church cooperate once a year in an all out effort to create an atmosphere of amazement.

It is very Biblical to do so, for that is the spirit that characterized the first Christmas. After the shepherds had gone through the wonder-filled experience of hearing the angels and seeing the Christ-child for themselves, they spread the word, and we read in verse 18, "And all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them."

Amazement has three different levels very much like the three levels of heaven. There is the atmospheric heaven of the birds and the clouds. There is the astronomical heaven of sun, moon and stars. There is the angelic heaven of all the heavenly hosts and the Trinity. Human amazement begins on the highest level as the shepherds are confronted by the wonder of the angels. But then the shepherds have to go back to tending their sheep, and day by day the wonder of it all would begin to fade. The challenge for them and for us is to keep the wonder alive and on the highest level. Let's look at the three stages of amazement, for just being aware of them will help us.

I. THE RESPONSE OF AMAZEMENT.

This is the first and highest level where we are confronted by the mysterious and marvelous and feel a sense of awe. Georgia Adams conveys a common experience of amazement in her poem Evening Awe.

I am filled with awesome wonder
on moonlit, starlit nights;
Speechlessly I stand engrossed in
Such an array of sights.

Like a rich black velvet curtain
The sky hangs silently-
Studded with millions of diamonds
Shining so brilliantly.

Among the myriads of stars
Flung into outer space,
The dipper so majestically
Appears to take its place.

Each whirling, twirling planet spins
Within its orbit there;
The silvery moon hangs deftly
Suspended in mid-air!

Ah yes, the spacious firmament
In silent witness stands
To prove God holds this universe
Within His sovereign hands!
-Georgia B. Adams

We have all been amazed at some time by gazing up into the sky. The wise men were more amazed than usual when they saw the Star of Bethlehem. In that state of wonder they were willing to give up a good chunk of their life to follow that star to the Christ-child. When they arrived they, no doubt, had the emotions of those who sing, "I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene."

We see an atmosphere of amazement everywhere in the New Testament when people confronted Jesus. When Mary and Joseph found Jesus as a young boy in the temple talking with the scholars, they were amazed. When Jesus began to teach, the people were amazed at His authority. When He began to cast our evil spirits, they were amazed at His power. When He healed people, they were amazed, and they praised God. When He stilled the storm His disciples were completely amazed. The point is, there was an atmosphere of amazement that surrounded Jesus and His ministry, and we read in Mark 9:15, "As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet Him." The response of amazement was the normal response of men when they had an encounter with Christ. The next level we want to consider is-

II. THE RETREAT OF AMAZEMENT.

This second stage is a lower level and is the inevitable direction we must go. Just as Jesus did not permit Peter to build his three tabernacles on the Mt. of Transfiguration, and stay in that elevated atmosphere of amazement, so He does not permit anyone to go through life in perpetual wonder. The disciples were often amazed at Jesus, but after living with Him for some time, they went from being, sometimes awe filled, to being sometimes, awful. They fought and bickered over issues of pride, and lost the sense of honor it was just to be in His presence.

Judas retreated so far from the glory of his first response that he lost the light altogether. But nobody escapes the detour off the super highway of amazement. That is just the way God made us. The thing that amazes me is how fast we can retreat from the atmosphere of amazement. Some years back, my parents visited us and we took them down town to see the sights. It was new to all of us as we saw the flowing water and trees, and all sorts of plants inside a modern building. It was truly amazing. But years later when we returned to hopefully again be amazed, the novelty was gone. It was a boring journey for the atmosphere of amazement had vanished. I experienced the retreat of amazement.

Amazement thrives on surprise and the unexpected. It has a hard time surviving in an atmosphere where all is known. I enjoyed the amazing surprises of the movie, Raiders Of The Lost Ark. But when I watched the film again on television, I was no longer surprised by the unknown, and I lost a great deal of amazement.

Earl Stanley Gardner tells of the fascinating experience of a traffic officer who was patrolling the highway one hot summer day. He found a place in the shade to pull over and observe the traffic. He saw a car which was acting strange, as a driver drove slowly along a creek road leading to the highway. He got his binoculars out, and to his surprise, he recognized the driver as his next door neighbor. He observed him stop the car, and get a bag out of the trunk, and lay it in the shade by the stream. He then got back into the car and left.

The officer was curious, and drove to the spot, and checked it out. He discovered a mother cat and six kittens. He quickly picked them up and drove with his siren blaring at high speed to his neighbors house. He ran around the back of the house and put the cats on his porch. He never told his neighbor what had happened, but delighted in hearing him tell others of the impossible story of how his cat and six kittens beat him home, when he drove off to abandon them. His neighbor lived in perpetual amazement at finding these cats purring in the sunlight on his back porch. The point is, had the officer told him what had happened, the amazement would retreat rapidly into oblivion. It was kept alive by the mystery of the unknown.

Children are amazed at the commonplace because to them it is the unknown. They love it for they enjoy wonder. A little boy was asked when his birthday was and he said he didn't know. When he was asked why he didn't ask his parents he said, "because I want it to be a surprise." Children long to be surprised and amazed, and it is a mistake to tell them they are silly. You can bring about the eclipse of wonder and the retreat of amazement by forcing a child to move too rapidly out of the world of play and fantasy into the world of work and reality. The retreat of amazement is sure enough without provoking it prematurely.

We need to recognize the reality of the retreat of amazement, so we can work at counteracting it. Christmas and communion have this in common-they are events which we repeat so often that they can lose their sense of wonder. They focus on the two great events of our faith-the birth and the death of Jesus. They are the beginning and the end of Him who is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Because their is a retreat of amazement at these events of wonder, we need to look at the third stage-

III. THE RENEWAL OF AMAZEMENT.

The key to wonder is to recognize that we only know in part, and we see through a glass darkly. There is so much more to the familiar than what we know. We lose our sense of wonder because we think their is nothing new. The childlike mind says their is always something new. When I read Dr. Paul Brand's book, In His Image, I realized how little I knew about the wonders of the human body, and the fantastic intricate mechanism by which we live and breathe and have our being. We take it for granted, but there are few things in this universe more filled with wonder than this body we live in. After reading that book, I recognized just how true an insight St. Augustine had, when he wrote, "People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering."

The value of having children around at Christmas time is that they help you keep wonder alive. We need, not only the Christ-child in the center of Christmas, but we need other children around the circumference of Christmas, for without child like wonder you lose a lot of what Christmas is all about. Kenneth Wilson wrote, "Take the wonder out of Christmas, and you take a star not only out of the skies but out of eyes. Take away the soft edges of wonder, and you wind up only with hard questions. Take away the angels, and you have to start looking for the angles. Whatever else Christmas is, it is wonders response to something bigger than life. Sometimes-and Christmas is one of the best times-the secret is not explain, explain, but enjoy, enjoy."

That is what it means to be childlike. The shepherds were adults, but they came in childlike wonder to behold the baby in a manger. The wise men were adults, but they came in childlike wonder to bow before the Christ-child. I see three ways to get on the road that leads to a renewal of amazement.

1. Research-both shepherds and wise men said let's go see. If you set out to see more and never be content with what you know, you can renew your sense of wonder.

2. Retelling-like the shepherds, share the message of Christmas with others. Just to get a child to see the wonder of it all will rekindle your own childlike amazement.

3 Remembering-the reason Jesus said to do this in remembrance of me is because He knew the rejuvenating power of memory. We have all found old pictures that brought back the emotions of the past. The past is never over, for by remembering it you can relive it in the present.

The wonder of Christmas is that God would send His Son into the world as a infant. We say you don't send a boy to do a man's job, but God did, and the wonder of it is that the boy got the job done. He did what all of history failed to do. He reconciled God and man. Gambling men would have put their money on Herod or Caesar, and big armies, and big budgets to solve the world's problems with evil. But God used a baby to win this war of the ages.

In Alex Haley's book, Roots, there is a scene where the slave Kunta Kinte drives his master to the big plantation house. He parked the buggy, and settled down to wait. He heard the music of the white folks as they danced, but then he heard other music coming from the slave quarters. He got out of the buggy and went to the cabin, and there he found a man playing African music. He remembered hearing this music as a child. The man had come from his section of Africa, and they talked of home and the past. That night when he got back to his cabin, he laid on the floor and wept, for he almost forgot who he was and where he was from. The music had rekindled his memory, and he was restored to an attitude of amazement concerning his roots. So, when we come to Christmas, we are to look back and remember what God did for us through this baby he sent into the world. We are to remember that it was by means of this child that we gained the right to become children of God. We are to make Christmas a time of the year when we enter into an atmosphere of amazement.





If you died today, are you absolutely certain that you would go to heaven? You can be! TRUST JESUS NOW

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