The message you didn’t hear

For the past several years, this has been a highlight of my Christmas season and even the entire year at DHWC as we celebrated the imminent arrival of the Christ child, but this year, we were compelled by the weather to cancel. To say the least, I was disappointed. There were a number of reasons for this, including the fellowship, the chance to play with fire at the church (okay, candles), the opportunity to hear Adoration perform (really, I can’t tell you how much I enjoy their ministry!), and more. I enjoy the simplicity of our service, which is essentially Scripture readings and Christmas carols, but every year, my favorite part of the entire Christmas Eve service is getting the opportunity to share about what Christmas is really all about. So I wanted to take a moment before I headed for bed this Christmas to share with you a few of the thoughts that I would have shared at last night’s service.

You see, Christmas isn’t about presents. It’s not even about family or friends. It’s about the day when God became one of us, took His place in a trough of hay in a cold, damp cave which doubled as a stable, and brought with Him the best news of the greatest joy that could ever be.

For most people alive that night, the arrival of the Christ child was just another baby born in Bethlehem. It was no big deal, but on the hills surrounding that tiny village in ancient Palestine, something absolutely extraordinary happened at the same time. Luke 2 tells us that an angel appeared to a bunch of shepherds as they kept watch over their flocks and proclaimed “good news of great joy” which would be for all of us. And then we’re told that an entire choir of angels (which Revelation describes as numbering “ten thousand times ten thousand” voices strong) appeared in the heavens as well and sang what must have been the most amazing chorus ever heard. The birth of this Child was so important – the good news and great joy represented by His arrival so great – that the entire host of heaven gave an absolutely unprecedented concert! Clearly, this wasn’t just any other birth announcement!

When the shepherds heard the choir of angels, their response is also interesting. We’re told that they met together and resolved to go and see if the angels’ words were true. It seems strange that one wouldn’t believe an angel, but for these guys to leave their flocks and head into town was a very, very big deal. You see, this was their job. If they failed to protect and tend the flocks, it would be their heads. Almost literally. More than that, though, they were shepherds. You remember the loners from when you were a kid. They were the ones who hung out on the far swing and never said anything to anyone. If someone tried to talk to them, they ignored him completely, and so no one really tried anymore. These shepherds were on the very fringe of society, and so it was absolutely extraordinary for them to return to town for any reason, much more so to see a baby! Yet they went. Clearly the joy was better than anything they had ever known!

And then there’s what happened after the shepherds saw the baby. Luke tells us that they left the makeshift stable and headed back toward the fields, but they didn’t go straight back to work. Instead, they fanned out and started telling everyone they could find about what they had seen in the field (i.e., the angelic choir) and at the stable (i.e., the Christ child). This one act was so far out of their collective comfort zone that it wasn’t even funny! And yet they went! This wasn’t just another Savior!

Indeed, this Savior came to save all of mankind. He was the one and only human ever born without that natural bent toward the not-quite-right. The one and only who could be qualified to pay the blood price for our sin. The one and only who could provide us the strength to live a truly godly life. The one and only who would lay down His life to save mine. The one and only who could enable me to truly, really live. St. John put it this way: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV).

Tonight, as you prepare for bed this Christmas day, know that the dinner will be digested by morning. The decorations will be taken down and carefully stored by next month. The presents will probably be broken and/or forgotten by this time next year. But Jesus would save you and me from the mediocrity of a life that’s dominated by the not-quite-right. He would deliver us from the punishment of sin, which is eternal death down the road but a strange not-quite-life right now. And if we would only follow Him – that is, do as He did – He would infill us and indwell us so that we would know a life which is so much better, so much more intense, so much more rewarding than anything we’ve ever known before, day in and day out for the rest of our lives and beyond.

So tonight, I would ask you to celebrate this good news of great joy of which the angels sang and the shepherds could help but profess not with a dinner or presents or even family and friends. Celebrate by choosing tonight to follow Him all the days of your life. Because only then can you, too, know what it must have felt like to be in those shepherds’ shoes!

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