We are in the middle of our sermon series, Fresh Eyes: Seeing Christmas in a New Light. We talked about how we can be so familiar with the Christmas story that we no longer pay attention to the details. That can cause us to miss some of the best parts. So, we are approaching the Christmas story in a fresh way. We are looking at some specific characters in the story and look at some of the plot twists that we might not have considered before. Maybe we can better understand why God crafted the narrative this why, and in turn why God may have crafted the narratives of our lives the way he did.
Last week we looked at Mary, this teenage girl who is given the most extraordinary news, news that could have been a death sentence in her time. Whereas people like Moses and Gideon made excuses why they could not do what God tasked them with, Mary says something completely different. “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). We were invited to be inspired by Mary when life throws us a curve ball or a plot twist. Today, we are going to visit with some other people who were given a major plot twist before heading over to Bethlehem.
One of the best things about Christmas in families is seeing kids with their new toys! If they are of a certain age, they may be more interested in the boxes, but they are so excited and having so much fun. Did any of you have a toy train as a kid? I don’t think I got my first one until I was in my 30s, but I loved it. Let me show you some of the hottest toys of this Christmas season.
- First we have the Lego Batmobile. I mean look at it. What kid wouldn’t have a ball with this?
- Next we have a remote control BB8 from the new Star Wars movies. They even have ones that you can control with your smartphone. R2D2 is still very popular for those of you who prefer a “classic.”
- Then there are the WowWee Fingerlings. They are handheld monkeys that will climb on your finger, coo at you, and even wink!
I loved many classic toys like Barbies, stuffed animals, some of which I just parted with last week at the Children’s Christmas Store. I loved my little chalk board, so I could play “school.” I might be playing that out a bit today as I show you these images.
Let me show you one of the all-time most popular toys of Christmas. In fact, this toy is in the Toy Hall of Fame. And yes, there actually is a Toy Hall of Fame. This was also one of my favorites growing up.
A ViewMaster. It was an early form of 3-D. Usually, the pictures were of tourist attractions and travel destinations. You could use this to travel all over the world and never leave home. Long before the internet, smart phones, and personal computers there was the ViewMaster.
You look through those lenses at the backlit film, and it changes your whole point of view.
This symbolizes real life. We all have a view/perspective of life. It just depends on what filter we use to look through. There’s the Past. There’s the Present. Both greatly dictate our view of the Future.
And here’s why this is important: How you view life drives how you do life.
We all have a filter that we use to view life—just like this toy. For some of us, it’s the past, a relationship, a situation or circumstance. This makes perfect sense.
Let’s call the filter the “Look At filter.” We Look At our circumstances. We Look At our Past. We Look At our relationships, our finances, our choices, our career, our school, and the list goes on. For many people, the Look At filter is the primary filter they use to view life. This is why many people want to control life. When the Look At filter becomes the primary filter in which to view life, oftentimes the result is control, or fear, or anxiety, or greed, or insecurity, because this filter has its limits. While that may be true, the question to ask is, “What does this have to do with Christmas?”
It has everything to do with Christmas. At Christmas, God gave us a new way to view life. God gave us a new way to view Him. This can change how we view life. This is such a gift because, remember: How we view life drives how we do life.
Last week, we looked at Luke 1 and the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Today we are going to be in Luke 2 and look at another group of people, and how their view of life and God changed when they came in contact with the God of the Christmas story. When this happened, they saw God with fresh eyes. What happened to them can happen to us. It’s the beauty of Christmas.
What’s interesting about this group is, as far as we can tell, they aren’t very religious. Up to this point this group has had no connection to the Christmas story. They aren’t religious. They aren’t in a temple. They’re not even aware of what’s going on. They’re at work, doing what they always do: taking care of sheep.
They are shepherds.
In all likelihood, they are sitting around a campfire. And when you sit around a campfire you talk about life, right? And in this moment, they’re looking at life through the Look At filter. They’re Looking At their work. They’re Looking out for predators. They’re Looking At life at home, probably talking about normal everyday circumstances of life. This makes complete and total sense, until everything changes.
They are given a completely different way to view life. And not only does that change them. What happened to them eventually flowed to us.
Now we are going to hear what happened.
Luke 2:8-14 NIV
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
In this instance, they went from Looking At to Looking Up.
God intervened and gave them a new place to view life and Him.
I wonder how many of us spent more time this last year Looking At instead of Looking Up. I’m not saying we deny reality. I’m saying we don’t have to let reality define us.
Look Up and let God define who you are. Let God define your circumstances.
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to whom his favor rests.”
When you view life through this filter, something powerful happens.
I think we could all use more AWE in our lives.
So, let me ask you some questions. Which is bigger in your life right now? God or your circumstances? When you Look Up, consistently, God takes His rightful place, and so do your circumstances.
Let me show you what that looks like.
Let me give you an idea of what the shepherds might have looked like.
Has anyone ever heard of Andre the Giant? Many people remember Andre the Giant for his role in the movie “The Princess Bride.” But before that, Andre the Giant was a very popular professional wrestler. As his name implies, Andre was a giant. He was reportedly 7 feet 4 inches tall and weighed over 300 pounds. How would you like to face Andre in the wrestling ring?
Everywhere he went, people stopped and looked up in amazement. That wasn’t unusual. They had never seen anyone this big before. But there was one time where this interaction was captured by a photographer and I think it illustrates the reaction of the shepherds that night.
One day, as Andre the Giant was walking through an airport, a little boy ran up to him. This little boy had never seen anyone this big before. And as he walked up to Andre, they both stopped. Andre looked down and the little boy LOOKED UP. It was an amazing scene.
Fortunately for us, a photographer was there to capture this moment. And here it is…
Look at the expression of the little boy. How incredible is that?
It is a look of awe. In one moment, this little boy is just at an airport but then suddenly his whole perspective changes because he looks up. It’s what I’m encouraging you to do this Christmas season. Instead of looking around, Look Up and see the Glory of God….
For some of us, this year has been the year to Look Up. You had a life change; you came back to church…
For some though, you’re scared to Look Up. You’re convinced God is mad, disappointed, frustrated, and exasperated with you. You need to look again at the Christmas story. God went to great lengths to show you He’s FOR you. It’s another reason why I love this Andre the Giant photo. Everyone looks at the awe on the face of the little boy. That represents us when we Look Up to God. But when we Look Up, God is also Looking Upon. According to the angels, God is looking upon you with peace and favor. It is symbolized by the expression Andre the Giant has.
One of the best things about this photo isn’t just the little boy’s expression. It’s Andre’s. Don’t forget. Andre the Giant probably had this happen to him every single day of his life. It would be easy to get tired of it. Plus, Andre was on his way to catch a plane. He didn’t have time to interact with this little boy.
It’s why I love his expression. As the little boy looked up, Andre looked down. And I believe the look on his face reflects the look on God’s face when He looks down upon us.
This smile is a smile of grace and understanding. This is a picture of how God sees you. He loves you. He created you. You are His son. You are His daughter. When you begin to understand how God sees you, you begin to see life with Fresh Eyes.
This is why this could be the best Christmas ever if you would begin to believe that God is looking upon you with peace and favor, and if you’ll simply Look Up to Him.
My hope is that we will be a church full of people who Look Up, knowing God is Looking Upon with peace and favor. This is the Christmas story.
Look Up examples:
- Be here in January to start the year. We will be starting our new series, Chase the Lion.
- Join a Bible study group.
- Place your faith in Jesus.
But before that, take a moment tonight. Tonight, before you go to bed, simply go outside and Look Up. If you can’t see the stars, remember how they look. The same God of the universe is the same God who knows you.
This is one of the many reasons I love being a part of this church. When you Look Up and see God for who He is, and realize He Looks Upon you with peace and favor, your faith grows. And as it does, it inspires and encourages my faith to grow. This is a beautiful thing about the church.
Let me tell you about a man named Ralph. He was raised in the church. He attended Sunday school as a child. His attendance chart was full of stickers. He attended youth group. He knew all kinds of Bible verses. He had mountaintop experiences at Camp. He was trained in the faith. He knew it. Probably very much like these shepherds When they were growing up, living in the religious culture they did, with mandatory festivals teaching children the story of God’s love for God’s people, it would be almost impossible not to be aware of God.
Ralph knew that he believed in Christ, knew that he had sinned, made mistakes, didn’t live up to the mark. He knew that he could be forgiven because of Jesus. All he had to do was ask, but once he graduated from high school, he really didn’t live like it. He got lost in the everyday-ness of everyday life. He had bills to pay, a wife, kids, his job, deadlines, responsibilities. Remember that View Master? He got where he was looking at his life like that, stopped seeing the rest of the world around him, tunnel vision. He was looking AT things, like those shepherds.
Ralph brought his family to church. He wanted his children to have the experience he had growing up, but this year something changed. I don’t know whether it was a Bible reading, a song he sang in worship, or maybe even a sermon… But he remembered… He remembered what the Shepherds were told that night. “A savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) He really accepted the opening line from the hymn “Amazing Grace.” “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.”
All of these things Ralph was looking at: bills, job, responsibilities, we’re still there, but his perspective changed. He was looking up with awe. He saw God, who had been with him all along with fresh excitement, new joy, with a feeling of reality that he hadn’t experienced before. It happened for Ralph. It happened for the shepherds. It can happen for you when you look at the Christmas story with fresh eyes.
Let me pray for you.
Lord, you put a fantastic story before us. No sci-fi writer could do better. You sent your angels to share the news of your son to Shepherds and fill the night with light. You inspired them to look at their life and you in a new way. Help us to do the same as we remember how Jesus came into this world and anticipate his return, help us to look up to you. Help us to be awed by the enormity of your love for us, today and every day. Amen.