Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christmas 1: Practicing 4Rs: meet the first evangelists

Yesterday, we had our first class on how to read the Bible. Most of those attending struggle with Bible reading. We live in a day when people don't read in depth, instead we skim read. Our fingers flick through facebook posts, looking the next interesting cat video to watch. We rarely read slowly. The Bible is meant to be read slowly. It is like an expensive chocolate. Rochere chocolates are a favorite in Hong Kong. Grocery stores have stacks of them and during Chinese New Year thousands and thousands of them are purchased to be given away as gifts. Hong Kong people know how to eat a good chocolate. They peel back the golden aluminum wrapper carefully and slowly nibble on the chocolate. They can make one piece of chocolate last for 1/2 hour. I'm American. I unwrap the chocolate, pop the whole thing in my mouth and reach for another one before I've even finished the first. I've got it wrong. You don't treat a good chocolate that way. You shouldn't read the Bible that way either. 

Most of those who attended the class on how to read the Bible use the Daily Bread as their devotional guide, so I thought I would follow the Daily Bread's Advent reading plan. You can find it on bible.com. It has 10 days of reading to help you get prepared for Christmas. I'll probably stretch it into 20 days. If you use Bible.com Bible app on your cell phone it has a useful "catch me up" feature for when you fall behind. It will move the readings forward giving you a fresh start.

Before you read, REST. Quiet your heart before God. Listen to a Christmas carol if that will help you settle your heart and prepare to hear from God.

"Lord, help me discover anew the Christ of Christmas. I want to remember and experience again the wonder of Immanuel, God in the midst of us. Here I am. I'm listening." 

READ: Here is the reading for Day 1, part A: Luke 2.8-14

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” 
Reading this takes less than 30 secs, so you can read and re-read it and still have time to savor the richness.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What were the shepherds doing? Imagine the scene. Are they awake? sleeping? 
  • How does the angel show up? 
  • How did they react?
  • What do you think the angel looked like?
  • What does he say to them?
  • When do the other angels show up? What do they do? How are they described?
  • How do armies sound?
  • What is the announcement?
  • What words does the angel use to describe Jesus?
  • Where & how can the shepherds find him? 
  • What is the message "shouted" out by the army of angel warriors?
One of practices we learned was to "Read around". The Daily Bread doesn't include the end of the story. Here it is:

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.  After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.  All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished,  but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.  The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
Reflect:
  • If the the shepherds were terrified by the appearance of 1 angel, how do you think they reacted to the appearance of an army of angels?
  • After recovering from their "shock" what did the Shepherds do? List their actions. 
  • What was their manner or attitude as they did the things they did? 
  • What do the shepherds actions reveal about their heart attitudes?
  • How did Mary, Jesus' mother respond to the story of the Shepherds?
  • Think about the titles and words used to describe this newborn baby. Who is he? What does "Savior" mean? "Messiah"? 
  • What purposes did the angel army say God was achieving? When you read the end of the story, do you think that these goals, glory to God, & peace to men were achieved in the lives of the shepherds?
Respond: 
  • Who is this baby to you? Still a baby in a manger? Savior? Ruler (Messiah)? Lord?
  • When the Shepherds heard about Jesus what did they experience? What did they do? How has meeting Jesus effected you? How will it effect your work and attitude today?
  • Write a prayer. Below is mine.
"Lord, you are so amazing. A baby born in a cattle shed is Savior, Messiah, Lord of all. Wrapped in scraps of cloth and put in a feeding trough to keep him warm - could you find a more humble way to enter our world? I don't think so. Who would suspect that this child would be King of Kings and Lord of Lords? The army of angels that appeared to the Shepherds were his to command. Lord, this is crazy and wonderful. You are amazing. No wonder the shepherds went away glorify and praising God for all they had experienced. These first evangelists preached a message of praise to you. It flowed out of the joy and wonder they had experienced. Lord, I want to be like them - to share the story of Jesus from a heart of praise and wonder. I know some people will be "astonished" - doesn't say if they believed or not, but at least they heard the good news that brings great joy to all peoples. I want to be part of that. Praise God!