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Wonder: Week One

Wonder Week One First Sunday of Advent 2022 David R. Collins Listen

Today we’re beginning a new sermon series called Wonder. And do you want to know why? Because I need it. Megan needs it. And we have a hunch that you do too.

I know that we have it better than most people in history, but modern life is hard on the soul. We’re distracted and tired. Life starts to feel a little dull sometimes. So dull that we stop noticing. So dull that we can’t notice.

So we scroll on our phones, and the most common reaction to what we see, beyond more boredom, or the occasional feeling of envy, is that we exhale peculiarly when we see something interesting. Or if it’s an especially great reason to exhale, and you’re sitting next to someone, you hold your phone over and make them look. But they’re expecting something good, so they don’t usually exhale. They say something like, “That’s crazy”. Maybe you did this as a whole group after Thanksgiving dinner this past week. It starts to feel normal. Not great. But just the way life is now.

But then Christmas comes around, and we get these little glimpses of what it was like to be a child. Maybe it’s from kids on our own family, or from the movies that we watch every year, or maybe we’re lucky enough to see or hear just one thing that makes us feel like a kid again. And it’s wonderful. But then it’s over.

We’re not the only ones who want to recapture that feeling. God wants it for us too.

The gospel writers tell us that Jesus once made an important point about it. In his 10th chapter, Mark tells us

Mark 10:13 People were bringing children to him in order that he might touch them, and the disciples spoke sternly to them.

Can you imagine? Who gets mad at someone else’s baby?

Your own goes without saying. But who gets mad at someone bringing their kids near Jesus? Well, I guess some church people do. Just not here.

And the disciples did, too. But only because they had never heard what Jesus was about to say.

14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant

You know, this is a really strong word. This is Biblical greek for PO’d. A lot of people get indignant in the Bible, but it’s usually not Jesus. Even when he made a whip to beat up some bankers, it doesn’t say he became indignant. Even when he got into arguments with religious fundamentalists, it doesn’t say he became indignant. But here it does!

This is what gets Jesus’ dander up. Jesus takes children really seriously. And so should we. They aren’t distractions. They are an essential part of the community. So feel free to also get indignant if you ever see a church person not putting kids first.

So Jesus became indignant,

and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.

Now, this isn’t just Jesus saying “I believe the children are our future”. This goes much deeper than that. When Matthew and Luke tell this story, they put it right after the Beatitudes, where Jesus tells us directly that God’s plan is to turn the world upside down, where he tells us who the kingdom of God really belongs to. And it’s not the rich and powerful. It’s the poor, the humble, the meek. They are the ones that the earth really belongs to. And children are all of those things.

I remember one time when my kids were still little and we went clothes shopping as a family and we brought our dog for some reason. This was back when we only had one.

When we went to check out, the line was enormous, so I volunteered to take the dog outside (really selfless of me), and Megan didn’t bring her wallet, so I left her with mine. Mac stayed with her and Andrew came with me, and the dog. We wandered around for awhile and Andrew said he was thirsty. But I didn’t have my wallet. We walked up and down the street, looking for a water fountain that didn’t exist, while passing all of these shops where I could easily buy him something to drink, but I didn’t have my wallet. Kids don’t handle thirst very well. It had been like 5 minutes, so he was close to death. But I couldn’t help him! In my frustration I announced, “I feel so powerless without my wallet!” And then I turned to my 7 year old son and asked, “Andrew, is this what it feels like to be you?”

Suddenly, his thirst was gone. It was replaced by the feeling of being seen for the first time, and he yelled out, “YES! And I hate it!”

Kids are small, and they don’t have any money.

That’s a part of what it means to be like a child. To know that we are completely dependent on God for absolutely everything, even when we have our wallets and are under the illusion that we are masters of our fates. The kingdom of God belongs to people like that, Jesus says.

But it goes deeper, too. Jesus also wants us to emulate them. He said

15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

Jesus tells us to “Receive the kingdom of God as a little child.” Receive.

How do kids receive? They receive willingly. Gratefully. Excitedly.

Have you ever seen a child see snow for the first time? Or the second or twentieth time? How their eyes get so wide? Like they’re trying to make their eyes wider than they can really go in order to take it all in? That’s how Megan sees fireworks every time, by the way.

That is how we are meant to see the kingdom of God.

So what is the kingdom of God? Jesus talks about it so much that sometimes the word loses its meaning for us. Here’s what it is:

The kingdom of God is the idea that God is really orchestrating events in the world all around us. Not everything, but lots of things. It all started in Bethlehem so long ago, when God invaded his own creation in Jesus Christ. And it broke into every aspect of life when Jesus rose from the dead. Like when victory comes ashore into enemy territory, and its only a matter of time until it wins. That’s the kingdom of God. It is here on Earth right now. It is all around us, and you see it every day.

It belongs to the meek, and the poor, and the children. And to really become a part of it, we have to see it, and receive it, like they do. With gratitude, and awe, and wonder. That’s why Jesus was so passionate about the children.

16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

It’s all blessing. It’s all a gift. And we are meant to accept it all with open hands and hearts.

When did you last feel that way about your faith?

Was it when you were a child?

What happened?

For a lot of us….life happened. Pain and disappointment happened. Or we learned things about the world that seemed to contradict what we were taught about the Bible as kids, and it never seemed to be quite the same again. So when we hear Jesus say that we have to receive the kingdom of God as a child, or we won’t be able to enter it at all, and we don’t know what to do with it. If we can no longer believe the way we did then, what are we supposed to do? Just pretend that we do? Fake it till we make it?

Not at all. There’s another way.

I think the answer comes in our Christmas traditions. Especially the ones where we read stories together.