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.

The Smile of Good News of Great Joy

Dear Travelers,

Several years ago, while traveling home from a conference and wearied by two long layovers, I trundled into an airport coffee shop. I had been up since 6 a.m. When I arrived at airport number one at 8:30 that morning, I discovered I needed to switch flights. This meant spending an additional four hours waiting for flight number one. Waiting in an airport is the closest earthly experience to purgatory. Eventually I boarded flight number one. All went well and we landed at airport number two en route to airport number three and a ninety-minute ride home.

However, it was winter so flight number two was delayed. More waiting. Purgatory redux – the sequel was more tedious than the premiere. An already long day stretched into the interminable. Flight number two would not board until 7 p.m. The flight home would last two hours. The drive home would take ninety-minutes. At night. In the snow. In the cold. On bad roads. I sighed.

My entire day had been spent sitting in an airport and sitting on a plane. Not exactly taxing work, but those who have endured such days know how draining they can be. All I wanted to do was get home. I wanted to see my wife and hug my children. I just wanted my already long day to end. And yet, after fourteen hours I still had more hours and more miles to go.

So while waiting for the flight home, I trundled, luggage in tow, into an airport coffee shop. People tell me I am a jovial, friendly fellow: easy-going and affable. Feeling neither jovial nor friendly, I heaved myself forward to the counter.

And that’s when it happened.

The woman behind the counter smiled at me. It was a friendly smile – nothing untoward about it. It was a welcoming smile; so warm it could melt butter. It was the kind of smile that oozed grace, goodwill and cheer.

“And what I can get for you darlin’?”

I almost cried. My throat tightened. Why was I so emotional? I was tired, sure, but tears? Really? In an airport?! I coughed in order to cover the tightness in my throat. Then I half-stammered, half-mumbled my order, “I – I’d like a medium coffee and a cheese Danish, please.” The warmth and charm of the smile made saying “please” both appropriate and necessary.Fortified by the coffee and Danish I boarded my flight, drove home and fell into bed sometime around midnight.

I do not remember much from that long day – not the conference, not the airports I walked through; certainly not the flights. But I do remember that smile.

Until that smile I was a tired, irritable, mumbling grouch. I missed my wife and kids. I had spent an entire day in airports surrounded by people hustling and trundling who-knows-where. I felt all alone and mostly I felt sorry for myself. And then that smile happened. It didn’t shorten my layover. It didn’t alter my circumstances. But it did change me. Sometimes a smile is the best news we can ever get.

Have you ever had a moment like that?

Near the end of his life, the apostle John wrote this about Jesus

. . . .that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

Just like that smile, the gospel is best news we can get. The gospel tells us that Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to have fellowship – communion – with God the Father and with one another.

And like that smile, John shares the gospel in order to make his joy complete. John wrote in order to share the smile the gospel shone into his life. The that in . . . . that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Do you know Him? Do you know His smile?

On the night Jesus was born, the angel announced His birth to the shepherds by saying, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”

Jesus’ birth was announced with a smile.

Dear Travelers, may this be the year your journey is made more joyful by the smile that brings good news of great joy.

Merry Christmas and you think about that.