|"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby..."|
Shepherds around the time of Jesus' birth were the modern equivalent in society of the garbage man: Someone that we know we really need, but not someone you generally think of as being "clean". This was the main problem for shepherds, they were unable to carry out the ceremonial washings that had made their way into Judaism. BUT they were the ones that made sure there were lambs available for temple worship and passover. Kind of a rock and a hard place. So it was that Shepherds provided their service on the edge of culture. They were brave, hardy men who lived in an open field and often were threatened by wild beasts and thieves who were trying to steal the sheep.
It was to men like this that the greatest heavenly declaration was made: "Do not be afraid! I bring you good news (Gospel) of great joy (literally Mega-joy) that will be for all the peoples...a savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord." Then a great company of heavenly hosts appeared praising God and saying "Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace to men on whom His favor rests."
In an instant the night was shattered with Good News and God's favor. What were these men to do with this? Settle back down to their job? Discuss the personal ramifications of this information? Just forget all about it? No. They didn't do these things. And neither would we. Confronted with the Good News and God's favor our response should be the same as the Shepherds: Grow in Faith, Share the Joy, Adore God.
1. Grow in Faith - In the last blog post we understood that Immanuel (God with us) calls us to faith in God. The Shepherds heard of the good news, and of God's favor, and said "let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." Faith is never simply mental assertion, it is always accompanied by action. When we see a chair we judge if it will hold us if we sit in it. But it is not until we attempt to sit in it that it proves faithful. And once we have sat in it our faith in the chair grows because it has proved itself faithful. Simple illustration of what went on with the Shepherds and what goes on with us. When we comprehend the Gospel, and understand God's favor towards us in giving us His son we can either intellectually agree or dis-agree with the information, but we do not have faith in it until we "go and see". God's faithfulness is never in question. Jesus was already born. He was already lying in a manger. He was already wrapped in cloths. God invited them into His faithfulness, the same as He does for us.
2. Share the Joy - The Greek for the declaration is amazing. "Megas (Great) Chara (Joy)". I wish we'd just leave the first part in Greek: Mega joy. When the shepherds heard and saw (grew in faith) they "told everyone what had been told them concerning this child." Here he is! The long awaited Messiah! What else could they do but tell people. He was not just A messiah, he was THEIR messiah, THEIR savior, THEIR Christ! Unspeakable, glorious, wondrous joy was theirs because "a savior has been born". Evangelism is not about the simple dissemination of information to people who just need to know the facts. Evangelism is the proclamation of MEGA joy! We have a savior. God is with us. You should see this! And these shepherds didn't know the full story of their deliverance. By God's favor we know the full story of just what Christ would save us from (sin, death, and the wrath of God) and whom he would save us to (himself as a covenant child of God). Can we not help but share the joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Or have we forgotten that joy.
3. Adore God - Vs 20 says "The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them." We praise what we enjoy. When the mega-joy of the Gospel is seen and heard, not only do we tell others what we've seen and heard, but we praise God who orchestrated it and gave it. The famous CS Lewis quote on this seems appropriate:
All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise...The world rings with praise - lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game...I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. (1)
As we will see next week, we were made for worship. And with the "Good news of Great Joy" we cannot help but follow suit with the angels "Glory to God in the Highest" and the lowly shepherds "glorifying and praising" the One whom they now believed in. When God interrupts your night with His favor you will enter the dawn worshiping Christ the Lord.
(1) C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (Orlando: Harcourt, 1986, 94-95