Christmas

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened., which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

As often I read this text from Luke 2.15-20, I continue to be amazed by the hasty, ecstatic boldness with which the shepherds charge into Bethlehem to find Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus lying in a manger. Compare the visit of the shepherds with that of the wise men in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 2.1-12). The reverent worship of the wise men is acoustic whereas the boisterous happiness of the shepherds is joy turned up to eleven. Whereas the wise men may have entered softly humming “Adestes Fideles,” the shepherds shatter the silence of that holy night loudly singing “Angels from the Realms of Glory!”

And perhaps that’s the reason why Luke includes the visit by the shepherds. Matthew’s wise men are right to worship in their dignified and reverential manner. Christ is the Messiah. He is worthy of such respectful esteem and quiet adoration. He deserves to be presented with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. He is just as deserving of the ebullient worship offered by common men with callused hands bearing shepherd’s staffs. It is perhaps an oversimplification, but the two accounts describe a Christ who can be worshiped by all: the well-groomed and the common man. Worship with a grosso voce (big voice) is as acceptable as worship with sotto voce (subdued voice).

Some of us can worship Jesus with gold, frankincense and myrrh. Some of us can worship him with callused hands only. No matter. Worship reflects the attitude of the heart toward the Christ who has been sent as Savior, Redeemer and Lord. The voice with which we worship Jesus matters less than the thoughts and intentions of our heart in response to this Good News: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”

Luke includes the shepherds because although they are unlikely witnesses – they are witnesses nonetheless.[1] And having found Mary and Joseph and the baby, they tell them what they had seen and heard: how an angel of the Lord had appeared to them and told them of the baby’s birth and how suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying; “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.!”

This leads to the second thing that continues to catch my eye in this story is Mary’s response to these unexpected, enthusiastic visitors/worshipers/annunciators of Good News of great joy. Although Luke does not say, Mary must have been exhausted from the labor and delivery of her firstborn. Add to this, she gave birth in a stable of all places! How tired is she? Is she frightened? Anxious? Is she happy? Was she asleep? Her physical or emotional condition notwithstanding, it is her response to what the shepherds say which Luke describes as follows: “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” In other words, Mary contemplates the significance of this thing that has happened.

Some people celebrate Christmas like the angels. They announce the birth of Jesus at the top of their lungs. They greet His birth by singing, “Joy to the world! The Lord is come!” Some people celebrate Christmas like the shepherds. They go to the manger to see this thing that has happened, then return to their work “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”

And then there’s Mary.

If you are an introvert, you know exactly what is happening in Mary’s heart and mind. Every word spoken by the shepherds is cause for rumination, cogitation and deliberation. The Good News of Jesus’ birth confirms her faith in Him who is able to do “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” Simultaneous with this realization is the awareness of her daily and future dependence on Him who created the universe by the power of His word.

So here is Christmas. Here is Good News. Here is the what C.S. Lewis called the Grand Miracle. Jesus is born. The Word is become flesh. God the ineffable who dwells in unapproachable light has come near. He is the Lord who has taken the form of a Servant to be the Savior. Shepherds announce his birth in joyous repetition of the angelic message. Mary ponders the news and treasures it in her heart.

So let us join them. So let us adore Him. So let us rejoice with them.

Christ is born! Christ is come! Salvation is here!

Hallelujah and Merry Christmas!

 

[1] Shepherds were on the lower rungs of the social order, somewhere between Samaritans and tax collectors. They were considered to be ceremonially unclean by the very religious establishment. They were also considered to be unreliable witnesses and were not used to testify in law courts.

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