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Prepare for The Wonder

Created by Love
God created human beings in His own image.

Genesis 1:1-5, 26-27

 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”

And evening passed and morning came, marking the first day. …

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

 So God created human beings in his own image.    In the image of God he created them;  male and female he created them.

“Let us make human beings…”  God the Father gathered close with God the Son, Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit, and all the glory of the Trinity gathered close when They imagined the masterpiece of you.  And God in three persons scooped a handful of dust together and knelt down, and together They kissed warm life into God’s children with the breath of His love.

No matter what happens in the world, the truth is always this: you were formed by Love … for love.

Adopted from Ann Voskamp’s book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.

God is looking for you
They hid from the LORD God among the trees

Genesis 3:6-9

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too.  At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.

When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

Adam and Eve stood in awe of the world God had created, and so can we: the whole world unfolds like an art gallery filled with the glory of God.  But what Adam and Eve didn’t know was that there is a thief in the art gallery.  An enemy of God, Satan is like a wily snake that slithers in at the corner of everything and entangles around you.  And if he can trip you with a lie so you fall away from closeness with God, he can snatch your happiness, steal god’s glory, swipe away your love for God, and leave you robbed.

Eve swallowed the fruit’s juice, and the snake’s lie and death began to flow slow through her veins.

When we’ve fallen, and when we’re lost, God comes with one question.  Not the question “Why did you do that?”  Not the question “What did you do wrong” He asks “Where are you?”

God’s love never stops looking for you, trying to find you and gently draw you back to Him.

Because of His unconditional, unbeatable, unfailing, unwrappable love, your God refuses to give up on you.  Your God looks for you when you’re lost.

Adopted from Ann Voskamp’s book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.

God’s Tears
Noah found favor with the LORD

Genesis 6:5-8

The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” But Noah found favor with the Lord.

Just like Adam and Eve, our love does not lean toward the one real God, with His arms wide open in His uncontainable, unending, unconditional, unbeatable, unfailing, unwrappable love.

Our love leans toward these selfish things that we make into our own fake gods – these little idols that have no real arms at all, so when we lean toward them, we just fall.  Hard.

God’s love for you made Him weep over all our sadness and sin, and His heart filled with ache and spilled like a flood.  And God offered everyone a gift, a rescue, a massive wooden ark – an ark much like a cradle on water – and He whispered, “Come to the ark.”

God sees our tears now.  And the hurt flooding our world right now.  And He offers everyone the greatest gift – a rescue, a wooden cradle, a wooden cross – and He whispers, “Come to Jesus.” Noah and his family were saved by the ark.  You and the whole family on this earth are saved by Jesus alone.

Adopted from Ann Voskamp’s book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.

Count the Stars
I will bless you … and you will be a blessing to others.

Genesis 12:1-4, 7

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.  I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”

So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran.

After the flood dried up, God’s tears still hadn’t, because the world still ached.  So God said, “I will do a new thing.  I will do it through a new child.  I will begin the new thing throug new children and new descendants and new families and a new King and a new Kingdom.”

So God came to a man named Abram.

God asked Abram, “See all the stars?”  Abram looked up and he saw: there’s always light in the dark.  “Can you count all those stars, Abram?”

Abram tried to count all the ways – the thousand and millions and billions of ways – God loved him, and it made him dance in awe with the stars, with God.

“See?” God asked.  “I will bless you.  I will not burden you down.  I will no break you up.  I will bless you – because I’m the God of unconditional, unbeatable, unfailing, unending, unwrappable love.

God keeps saying to us today, “I will give you the greatest gift of love.”

Adopted from Ann Voskamp’s book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.

The Gift of Laughter
God has brought me laughter

Genesis 21:1-7

The Lord kept his word and did for Sarah exactly what he had promised.  She became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age. This happened at just the time God had said it would.  And Abraham named their son Isaac. Eight days after Isaac was born, Abraham circumcised him as God had commanded.  Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born.

And Sarah declared, “God has brought me laughter. All who hear about this will laugh with me.  Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse a baby? Yet I have given Abraham a son in his old age!”

“Abraham,” God said, “everything is always more than it seems, more than you can see.  I am doing unexpected things!  I am sending you a child!  And through that child, your family will grow big and the whole earth will be blessed.”

Abraham laughed happy – but Sarah laughed sad.  Sarah laughed the way you do when you think someone is teasing you.

Many months went by.  And then, when Abraham was one hundred years old, Sarah has a baby – a baby boy!

Sarah held little Isaac and laughed with joy to the heavens.  “God has brought me laughter!”

Joy is the gigantic secret gift that God gives us and we never stop unwrapping.

All fear comes from thinking that somewhere God’s love will end.  But God’s unbeatable, unstoppable, unwrappable love for you will never, no matter what, end.  So we can loosen up, because all our heavy, sad chains have been loosed, and we can laugh free.

Because of Jesus, the other miracle Child, who came to us, laughter comes to us too.  And we get to hold the wonder of it close to us.  Sadness is not the end of the story.  Jesus is the end of our story – and the beginning of our story and the best part of our story.

Adopted from Ann Voskamp’s book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.

Here I Am
Abraham named that place The LORD Provides

Genesis 22:1-2, 6, 11-14

After these things God tested Abraham’s faith. God said to him, “Abraham!”

And he answered, “Here I am.”

Then God said, “Take your only son, Isaac, the son you love, and go to the land of Moriah. Kill him there and offer him as a whole burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” …

 Abraham took the wood for the sacrifice and gave it to his son to carry, but he himself took the knife and the fire. So he and his son went on together. …

 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham! Abraham!”

Abraham answered, “Yes.”

The angel said, “Don’t kill your son or hurt him in any way. Now I can see that you trust God and that you have not kept your son, your only son, from me.”

Then Abraham looked up and saw a male sheep caught in a bush by its horns. So Abraham went and took the sheep and killed it. He offered it as a whole burnt offering to God, and his son was saved. So Abraham named that place The Lord Provides. Even today people say, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

One day the one real God came and called: “Abraham.”

And Abraham said, “Here I am.”  And God said, “You know that very own son of yours, whom you love with your whole huge, soft heart?  Come sacrifice him as a present to Me on an alter up on a mountain I will show you.”

Abraham trusted God – trusted that God’s love would be like air and full his lungs, would fill his hurting places, would keep his whole huge, soft heart beating brave.  He trusted that God would provide another way, of he would just obey.

Worry is always belief gone wrong.  Because you don’t believe God will get it right.  Peace is belief  that exhales.  Because you believe that Gods love is everywhere – like air.

Abraham stacked the wood.  He made an alter, a place for a gift.  Abraham laid his very own miraculous child down on the alter.

“Abraham!  Abraham!” The one real God interrupted everything.  And Abraham exhaled relief: “Here I am.”  He said what he always said to God just as if he were saying another three words to God: “I love you.”

“Stop!” God said.  God hoped to show the world that He wanted all His miraculous children to be living presents to Him, to be living sacrifices, living gifts.  The one real God wanted all His children to say every day to Him, to people in need, those three words:  “Here I am” – which is another way of saying three other words: “I love you.”

And there in the thicket, a ram bleated.  Abraham picked it up, just like picking up a present, and he laid the ram on the alter.  God provides presents!  Just like any years later, God’s own miraculous Son would carry a wooden cross up a hill to be our very own Lamb.

Adopted from Ann Voskamp’s book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.

Climbing Up
Surely the LORD is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!

Genesis 28:12-16

 As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.

At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants.   Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants.  What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!”

Jacob was a struggler.  One night as he dozed off he dreamed of wonders – that from his hard bed of earth, right up to the starry heights of heaven, there was a long, long ladder that stretched on and on – the way things can only go on and on in dreams.

Now a ladder that reaches all the long way from heaven to earth would be impossible to climb and climb and climb.  Except people really do keep trying – not during dreams, but during the day.  People keep trying to do enough good, climb enough steps, haul up enough rungs to finally pull their whole wary selves all the long, impossible way up to heaven.

The real amazing dream is that there are no ladders to climb up at all, ever, because Jesus comes down to get you.  Jesus Himself explained the dream of Jacob’s ladder that goes on and on and on: “You will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth” (John 1:51)

Adopted from Ann Voskamp’s book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.

Surprise Gifts
You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.

Genesis 37:3-4, 50:15-17, 19-20

Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph had been born to him in his old age. So one day Jacob had a special gift made for Joseph—a beautiful robe.   But his brothers hated Joseph because their father loved him more than the rest of them. They couldn’t say a kind word to him.

But now that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers became fearful. “Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said.

So they sent this message to Joseph: “Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept.

But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you?   You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.

Joseph, beloved son of Jacob, was sold into Egypt by his very own brothers to be a slave, sold to strangers far away from the hug of his very own father.

Many years later, after Joseph embraced each of his brothers with forgiveness.

God always brings good out of bad.  God always turns hard things into good gifts.

One day Jacob’s man-many-many-many-great-grandson would be born in a manger and wrapped in rags by His earthy dad, and He would grow up to be sold by His friends and torn apart on a cross.  And God would take that greatest sadness and make it into the gladness of the greatest Gift for us.  Jesus embraces us with forgiveness and rescues us from all the sin and sadness!

Adopted from Ann Voskamp’s book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.

The Love Rules
The LORD said to me, “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep allmy commands always, so thatit might go well with them and their children forever!”

Deuteronomy 5: (selected verses)

Moses summoned all Israel and said:  Hear Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today.  Lean them and be sure to follow them.  “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
“You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.
“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
“Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you.
“You shall not murder.
“You shall not commit adultry.

“You shall not steal.
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
“You shall not covet … anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

The LORD said, “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!”

The Ten Commandments are more than God saying, “Here are My rules of law for you”; they are God saying, :Here is My real love for you.”

God wrote His love right into the rock, saying to His people, “I take you to be Mine, and you will be the one I will love more than anything – so have nothing in your life you love more than Me; I give you My name – My very name to make you Mine – so please do not say My name without love; I want nothing more than to spend time with you, holy time just for you and Me – so set apart one day every week for you and me to enjoy each other; I love you, special one – don’t want what others have, because I will give you what you need.  So don’t lie, because My forever-love for you means you never have to  be afraid of telling the truth.  Don’t steal form others, because I promise I will always, always give you what you need.  Don’t murder anyone in anger, because My love for you will always soothe away any anger: I love you with an unconditional, unbeatable, unfailing, unending, unwrappable love – so let’s live out of our love.”

But God know that we would fail to keep His love commandments and we would take things that aren’t ours and we would want so many things more than God and we wouldn’t keep te commandments and keep close to Him.

On Christmas, God gave us the love commandments to us again in the way of Himself.  God give Himself, Jesus, to keep the love commandments for us.

Loving Jesus and loving everyone are the biggest, grandest, greatest gifts you can give back to God.

Adopted from Ann Voskamp’s book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.

The Red Rope
You must leave this scarlet rope hanging from the window.

Joshua 2:1, 8-9, 12-13, 17-18

 Then Joshua secretly sent out two spies from the Israelite camp at Acacia Grove. He instructed them, “Scout out the land on the other side of the Jordan River, especially around Jericho.” So the two men set out and came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there that night.

Before the spies went to sleep that night, Rahab went up on the roof to talk with them.  “I know the Lord has given you this land,” she told them. “We are all afraid of you. Everyone in the land is living in terror.

 “Now swear to me by the Lord that you will be kind to me and my family since I have helped you. Give me some guarantee that when Jericho is conquered, you will let me live, along with my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all their families.”

Before they left, the men told her, “We will be bound by the oath we have taken only if you follow these instructions.   When we come into the land, you must leave this scarlet rope hanging from the window through which you let us down. And all your family members—your father, mother, brothers, and all your relatives—must be here inside the house.

God can show Himself and His huge, uncontainable love, wherever, whenever, to whomever.  High walls and hard hearts can’t stop His love from coming.  Sin and badness can’t stop His love from coming.  The love of God can come over any wall, can open the door of any heart, can find anyone, anywhere, in anything.

Rahab, a not so squeaky clean great-great-great-great (and many more greats) grandma of Jesus, was saved – not because she was good, not because she did good things, but because she rusted the one real God

Jesus who painted a rope red with His very own love, with His very own blood, and gives Himself to you like the red rope that saved Rahab, whispers, “No matter what you’ve done, hold on – I love you, and I’ve got you.”

Adopted from Ann Voskamp’s book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.

The Little Things
Your people will be me people, and your God will be my God.

Ruth 1:6-9, 16

Then Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had blessed his people in Judah by giving them good crops again. So Naomi and her daughters-in-law got ready to leave Moab to return to her homeland.  With her two daughters-in-law she set out from the place where she had been living, and they took the road that would lead them back to Judah.

But on the way, Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back to your mothers’ homes. And may the Lord reward you for your kindness to your husbands and to me.  May the Lord bless you with the security of another marriage.” Then she kissed them good-bye, and they all broke down and wept.

But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.

Naomi’s heart broke.  She felt alone in all the world and hungry for love.

Ruth, her grieving daughter-in-law, was smart, when faced with her present darkness.  She looked for the light.  That’s what smart people always do: brilliant people are the ones who ever stop looking for the light of Jesus in everything.

Ruth left the land of idols she had grown up in and went back to Naomi’s land and moved to Bethlehem to be with Naomi, Naomi’s people and Naomi’s God.

In the story of Ruth and Naomi, it sure doesn’t look like any miracles were happening.  No angels appeared stage left, no donkeys started talking, no fireballs fell from heaven. BUT all the little things that happened, just happened to be little miracles.  All that’s happening around you every day is happening to make miracles.

God is working good through every little ting.  There is never a night, never a darkness when gifts and miracles and joy  aren’t coming … Jesus is coming – coming like a miracle into everything!

Adopted from Ann Voskamp’s book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.

Looking at Things Inside Out
People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.

1 Samuel 16:6-7, 10-12

When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

 In the same way all seven of Jesse’s sons were presented to Samuel. But Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.”   Then Samuel asked, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse replied. “But he’s out in the fields watching the sheep and goats.”

“Send for him at once,” Samuel said. “We will not sit down to eat until he arrives.”

So Jesse sent for him. He was dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes.

And the Lord said, “This is the one; anoint him.”

Daddy Jesse nudged his oldest son – the one with big broad shoulders, the one who was tall enough to play basketball – and the boy stood grinning right in front of Samuel, ready to be picked as the next king.

But the Lord gently drew near to Samuel: “But look here – I don’t see the way you see.  You people look on the wrapping paper on the outside – but I look on the gift inside:  the heart.”

Samuel wasn’t alone in seeing how things look on the outside.  Grannies and truck drivers and little kids and all of us – we look at the wy things seem on the outside.  But God looks at the way tings really are on the inside.

When you walk with Jesus, your eyes do the most miraculous things:
Your eyes go around turning everything inside out.
You start to see the realest most wondrous things.  People aren’t really bodies; they are really hearts.  For all our skin, people are really souls.

Long after the smallest, youngest and forgotten son of Jesse was anointed king in Bethlehem, there was another unseen One born in that very same little town of Bethlehem – One who was left out with the sheep because no one made room for Him either.

Jesus was the most beautiful One who came down so our ugly hearts might become beautiful in the eyes of God.

Adopted from Ann Voskamp’s book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.

A Candle in the Darkness
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

The people who walk in darkness
    will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness,
    a light will shine.

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen!

Our God who breathed stars into the dark – He breathed Bethlehem’s Star, then He became a Baby with lungs and breathed in stable air.  We are all saved and rescued from the hopeless dark because God came with infant fists and opened wide His hands to hold yours.

We are all saved from the dark of our loneliness because God is love and He can’t stand to leave us by ourselves n the dark.

And it doesn’t matter how dark the dark is – Jesus comes to the darkest places so you can see His light the brightest.

And now Jesus comes to be God with us, God in us, and He makes you to be a very real miraculous candle, a little light of joy and hope and love in the dark wherever you go.

Adopted from Ann Voskamp’s book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.

Bowing Down
How much longer will you waver, hobbling betwee two opinions?  If the LORD is God, follow Him!

1 Kings 18:18-24

“I have made no trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “You and your family are the troublemakers, for you have refused to obey the commands of the Lord and have worshiped the images of Baal instead.   Now summon all Israel to join me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who are supported by Jezebel.”

So Ahab summoned all the people of Israel and the prophets to Mount Carmel.   Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent.

Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only prophet of the Lord who is left, but Baal has 450 prophets.   Now bring two bulls. The prophets of Baal may choose whichever one they wish and cut it into pieces and lay it on the wood of their altar, but without setting fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood on the altar, but not set fire to it.   Then call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by setting fire to the wood is the true God!” And all the people agreed.

Now every heart beating in every person is made and wired to worship something.  You might not be able to tell from the outside, but every one of us is bowing down to something.  And if you don’t choose to bow to the One real God, you’ll bow down before a fake god – some Baal.

Can you guess how you know you’re bowing down to a Baal on the inside?  When you are trying to perform, trying to impress on the outside.

You know you have a Baal when you cut yourself down or cut anyone else down.  never forget the gift of it: there is onl One real God who was cut open for you so your heart could be close to Him, so you don’t cut yourself down or cut anyone else down.

On Christmas, we remember a star that burned like a glowing flame in the sky right over a stable where the little Baby God would lie in a manger much like an alter, and tongues would murmur  it again that night, just like on Mt. Carmel in Elijah’s day and just like we do tonight: “The Lord is the One real God.  He is really our God.”

Adopted from Ann Voskamp’s book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.

Turning Around
Go … and deliver the message I have given you.

Jonah 1:1-3, 17; 2:10: 3:1-3

The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai:   “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”

But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.

Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.

Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.

Sitting there in the dark tomb-belly of a fish, Jonah got the gift that we all get in every storm: the gift of seeing how muc we need God.

Little did Jonah know that nearly eight hundred years later, another Man would board a boat and sleep right through a rocking and rolling storm.  And He’d wake up to friends whose eyes were big with fear.  And that Man, Jesus, would whisper, “Someone greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:41.)

Because Jesus didn’t calm just one storm but all our storms.  Jesus throws Himself right into our angriest storms so He can calm our ugliest days.  Since Jesus came to save us, there isn’t a storm big enough to scare us.

Adopted from Ann Voskamp’s book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.