Christmas Eve, 2010
In preparing for Christmas Eve, one of the members of the Contemporary Worship team presented a plan for the 7:00 service. And I had to laugh because, at the time for “The Message,” he had simply written as a note, “make it a joyful one.” Well, the funny thing is, that phrase, intended only as a sense of the mood of the service, has been bouncing around in my head. The more I’ve thought about Christmas this year, the more that “exhortation” seems important to me! “Make it a joyful one!”
By the nature of this time of year, it’s too easy to forget that, isn’t it? There seems so much to do to get ready that too many of us “miss the meaning” of what we do. And probably way too often, that causes us to “forget the joy.” The simple message for this evening is to recapture that joy. And it’s my hope that we will do that, that we will let it permeate every part of our lives, down to the very depth of our souls. Make it a joyful Christmas!
As we think about that, let’s go back to the source. Let’s consider this story as told by Luke, particularly the part that is the focus of that story, the part about the shepherds and the Christ child in verses 8 through 20. This is really the main story of the birth of Christ, and the announcement of that birth to the world. And of course it comes to the shepherds. That alone speaks volumes!!! It doesn’t come to rulers or priests or nations. The announcement comes in all its magnificence to the least of society!
I want you to consider the main points of this story. Because there is contained in it all the elements we might expect. And I think it’s a good guide for our thoughts this Christmas.
There is first this unexpected announcement. And I say “unexpected” because, as much as the people had been awaiting this Messiah, the actual announcement of that finally happening would be unexpected, wouldn’t it? Not only that, but no matter how we usually picture that in our heads, one thing is certain, that it’s completely inadequate to this picture of the whole of the heavens opened and all the host of heaven appearing all at once to these men.
So next, we have the response of the shepherds. This is probably also inadequate, too. But let’s for the moment see it for what it is – action. “Let’s go see.” They don’t understand it, I’m sure! It’s beyond their comprehension that it would come to them. They couldn’t begin to know all the implications of what has just happened. But, “let’s go see!” So let us seek him, too. We may not understand it, either. We may have lost the understanding of all of it in the craziness of this time of year, or in the responsibilities of our lives. But, “Let us go see!”
So they did. And so there is the journey. Now scripture doesn’t tell us how far a journey they took to find this baby. It says the shepherds were “in that region.” That’s the only indication of their location. But that could mean a lot. It certainly must have been a very secluded place. Because all indications from reading this story is that no one else saw what they saw. No one else is mentioned to have been there at the manger that night because they had seen this sight the shepherds saw. They had to tell. They had to explain what happened. So how far they traveled is still a question. And the question for us is, will we take such a journey? Will we go out of our way? Will we leave our many tasks and obligations this Christmas, and take time to find this baby?
The shepherds went, and they told. And “all who heard it wondered what the shepherds told them.” And I take that not as meaning, “they were intrigued,” or that they “questioned,” or that they were “skeptical.” (As in “I wonder about that?”) I take this to imply the active form of the word “wonder.” They marveled! They were amazed at what the shepherds told them!
But I wonder – the other kind of wonder, now – if we react to the call of the angels? There is much to rejoice about here, but too often our Christmas celebration has been so much preparation, that we don’t have time to respond to one more thing! And we don’t have time simply to sit and wonder! I wonder if ever take the time to do the next thing it says here, that “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
May we consider that, too. May we have the sense of the hymn we sang earlier. “Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand. Ponder nothing earthly minded…” But ponder the events that have been told us here. Again, if we don’t think about this and ponder it as did Mary, the power of this celebration will come and go and pass us by. The significance of this night will fade and dwindle, and we’ll be left with all the leftovers, wondering if it was all worth it. And it is worth it – believe me! But we won’t know it.
Then the final verse of this amazing story. “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen…” That’s the part that has been swirling around in my head. That’s the joyful part. Yes, ponder this story. Keep it in your heart. Know the wonder. But rejoice! Praise God!
Try to imagine in your mind and in your heart what that return journey was like for these shepherds. From this story we get the impression that they “got” what was going on. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. Probably not! But they were told, they went to see, they saw, they wondered. And I don’t think they could begin to know the implications. And how many of us really do? But they knew enough to rejoice.
And so do we! We know enough to rejoice! So let us not forget to do so. The reading, the pondering, searching, the seeing, the wondering – all those things are great. But the reason is the rejoicing! The purpose is the praise!
So, I ask you to think of all this means. I ask you to ponder, and to wonder. But I also hope you will take time to praise and worship God, to return the love he has given you in this story, and to thank him for all he has done. As you go through this entire Christmas celebration, I hope you will “make it a joyful one!!”
Eternal God, who once became one like us to show us your love and give us your grace, we thank you, we praise you, we rejoice in seeing and knowing this night – perhaps for the first time – the true wonder of this story. Give us hearts to rejoice in what you have done this night. For we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.