And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
(Luke 2:20, KJV)
As the shepherds returned to their sheep, they were praising God and saying wonderful things about him. Every thing they had seen and heard was just as the angel had said.
Delivered December 2002.
When the church went to the Missionaries of Charity Homeless Shelter on Tuesday, December 17, 2002, I was asked by the nuns to present the clients with the gift packages that had been made up for them. As I presented each one, instinctively I said “Merry Christmas.” When I got to one woman, she coldly declined my gesture and said, “I do not celebrate Christmas.”
I must admit I was startled and taken off guard by her adamant response. Even in a desperate condition she felt so strongly about not celebrating Christmas that she refused the gift until I said, “accept it in the spirit of the season.”
Later as I reflected upon this, I felt sad for that woman in particular. Her impoverishment was far greater than not possessing material things. She was missing the joy of knowing the greatest gift that the world has ever known.
I thought about her reaction in comparison to the shepherds in the text. These lowly regarded pastoralists had been privy to an angelic declaration that the Savior of the world was born. They had left their flocks to find the original nativity scene. There, they had beheld the infant Jesus, Mary, His mother, and Joseph, His earthly father.
In response to what they had seen and heard, they praised God. As they returned to their job of tending their sheep, they were excited and happy. They constantly talked about the goodness of God. These shepherds celebrated Christmas. They celebrated by giving God the glory. They celebrated because the birth of this child meant that relief had now come. They celebrated because God’s love had been demonstrated in a most dramatic fashion.
These shepherds were no longer the same. They had been transformed. The experience had made them new creations. They had witnessed the salvation of the Lord. For themselves they had beheld Heaven and earth in partnership. An angelic host had informed them. An earthly scene confirmed it. God’s only begotten Son had come to see about humanity.
The birth of Jesus makes faith pragmatic. It is real and tangible. The Christian’s faith is not just theory. It is not just speculation of the imagination. The birth of Jesus is an historical fact. His birth confirms that God is with us. The Divine Logos has become flesh and dwelt among us. The shepherds and others beheld His glory. His glory was as that of the only begotten of the Father.
How can one not celebrate such a gift? How can one not be excited and happy over such an event? How can anyone fail to be happy? It is so reassuring to know we are not alone. We are not drifting aimlessly and hopelessly through history. We are not coincidences that resulted from a random process of natural selection. You do not have to be strong to survive.
The Jesus who was born on that blessed morning came into the world to help the weak. The Spirit of the Lord was upon Him. He was sent to mend broken hearts. He was sent to set the captives free. He was sent to restore sight to the blind. He was sent to preach the Gospel to the poor. Oh yes, because of Him the weak not only can survive, but thrive. In Him is life and it is the light of humanity.
His birth ought to cause all of humanity to join in with the shepherds. We all ought to be a part of the celebration. We all should be excited and busy talking about the wonderful things the Lord has done. We ought not let this opportunity slip by us. He is the reason for the season. He is worthy of our praise. He is worthy of our gratitude. He is worthy of our loyalty and devotion.
Granted, most of us probably did not begin with this understanding of Christmas. As neophytes we began life by seeing Christmas from a selfish perspective. We probably thought of what we would receive. As children we probably looked forward to that time of the year when we could fantasize and believe that our fantasies came true.
Yet, the scripture reminds us that there ought to come a time in life that we mature. As adults, we ought to put away juvenile things. As adults we ought to act, think, and live as mature members of society. We can not continue in our childish ways.
So it is with our faith. It ought to mature. It ought to become stronger. Our witness ought to be more potent. Our testimony ought to be more convicting. Our love for our Lord ought to be more demonstrative. Somebody ought to see Jesus in our lifestyles.
Thus, as mature Christians, our celebration of Christmas ought to be Jesus centered. Believers do not celebrate Christmas by drinking alcohol. Believers do not celebrate Christmas through reckless and raucous behavior. Believers do not celebrate Christmas by excessive materialism. Believers do not celebrate Christmas by becoming indebted the rest of the year for the sake of one day.
We celebrate Christmas. Yet, we are careful of why and how we celebrate. We celebrate because we like the shepherds have seen and heard. Our knowledge did not come from an eyewitness to the physical scene. Nevertheless, faith has allowed us to experience what the shepherds experienced.