By Pastor Glenn Pease
Lucy is expounding on the meaning of Christmas and she says, "this is the time of the year that we show kindness and good will, when we accept others and welcome them into our home." Charlie Brown says, "why can't we be kind and accepting all through the year and not just at Christmas?" Lucy looks at him and says, " what are you, some kind of religious fanatic?" That is the way many people feel about those who would want to be a Christian even after Christmas.
There is something unreal about the Christmas spirit that only lasts till the lights and tinsel are put back into the attic. A seasonal Christian who reveals some kind of religious interest at Christmas only is not a real Christian.
It is not fanaticism but normal Christian living to have the Christmas spirit all year long. One of the problems with the Christmas season is that people feel they have to try and cram too much Christian living into too small a segment of time. David Grayson said, "I sometimes think we expect too much of Christmas day. We try to crowd into it the long arrears of kindliness and humanity of the whole year. As for me, I like to take my Christmas a little at a time, all through the year." There is no magic in December 25 that cannot be experienced any other day on which you decide to honor the gift of God, and praise Him for the Lord Jesus.
The real fanatic is the one who thinks you can get your religious devotion done at Christmas-who thinks thanking and praising God is a minor part-time commitment that can be gotten out of the way through a special event or two. The gift of God is unreal to one with such a mind. It is not just the tree, but the whole of Christmas is artificial to those who do not treasure the gift of God everyday of the year.
In the comic strip "Tiger", two little boys are talking and the one says, "We got an artificial tree this year." The other boy asked, "Doesn't it bother you?" He replied, "No, not as long as the presents are real!" That is to be the Christians attitude. Everything can be artificial and superficial, but he or she will still have the Christmas spirit because God's Present is real. Ray Phillips said, "Christmas is real. It's the rest of the year that is a myth." If the gift of God is real then all of life is made real by this ultimate reality in Christ. The poet put it beautifully-
Yet more and more we know Thee real,
And marvel more and more to see
Thine infinite Reality.
Lord Jesus Christ Thou art to me!
My glorious king, my Lord, my God,
Life is too short for half the laud,
For half the debt of praise I owe,
For this blest knowledge that "I know
The reality of Jesus Christ,"-
Unmeasured blessing, gift unpriced!
Will I not praise Thee when I see
In the long noon of Eternity
Unveiled, Thy "Bright reality"? Author Unknown
In the popular children's story, The Valveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams, the rabbit asks the toy horse that was so bald in patches because of hundreds of hours of being held and rubbed, "what is real"? The horse replies-"Real isn't how you are made. Its a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become real". For some, the baby Jesus is just another toy they play with. Its fun, but they never really come to love the gift of God. But for those who do, Jesus is a gift that is loved and treasured not just at Christmas, but every day. He is real and not just a seasonal plaything. The poet says it so well-
Lets have Christmas every day
The gladness and the heartfelt mirth,
Good will towards men and peace on earth;
The simple joy of giving things
To gain the joy that giving brings.
The practicing of what we preach
In word and deed, in thought and speech.
Lets have Christmas every day-
Its wrong to wait the weary year
to bring some fellow creature cheer.
We should adopt the better plan
Of doing good whenever we can.
But do it now, next Christmas may
Not come at all-Let's live today! Author Unknown
If the Christmas gift if real to you, then the Christmas spirit will be real to you every day. This was the spirit of the shepherds. As soon as the angels were gone they said lets go see this thing that has happened. These men did not know it was Christmas for the holiday did not yet exist. It was just another day, but one of great excitement now. They did not say to themselves, we have seen the supernatural-angels have spoken to us- we will be famous. They did not run to reporters to try and get on the front page or discuss what memorial they should erect in memory of this encounter. Their field never became anything but a field for they had a proper focus on what was real.
Many a place where people have seen visions become places where people build temples, and others make pilgrimages to worship there. But this is all a dealing with the unreal. The angels did not come to them to make themselves objects of worship, or to make the place a sacred spot of worship. They came to point the shepherds to Jesus. This was also the job of the Star of Bethlehem. It was to lead the wise men, not to worship the stars or anything in heaven, but to worship the Christ-child. The star and the angels were only means to point men to the Real, which was Christ. If the angels would have moved the shepherds to go to the library to study up on angels, and if the star would have moved the wise men to study astronomy deeper, they would have failed to achieve their purpose. Their one and only purpose was to move men to meet their Savior. They were great successes because that is precisely what they accomplished. John Erskine wrote,
Out of the midnight sky a great dawn broke,
And a voice singing flooded us with song.
In David's city was he born, it sang,
A Savior, Christ the Lord. Then while I sat
Shivering with the thrill of that great cry,
A mighty choir a thousandfold more sweet
Suddenly sang, Glory to God, and Peace-
Peace on earth; my heart, almost unnerved.
By that swift loveliness, would hardly beat.
Speechless we waited till the accustomed night
Gave us no promise of sweet surprise;
Then scrambling to our feet, without a word
We started through the fields to find the Child.
To find the Child-that was the goal. Anything that takes us off the path that leads to Christ is not part of God's plan. The job of the angels and the star was finished when the shepherds and the wise men bowed before the Christ-child. The shepherds were the most unique people in all of history in that they were the only people to receive a direct message from God about the birth of His Son. The wise men got an indirect message by means of the star. We want to look closer at the shepherds, and the sights they saw, and the song they sang. Consider first-
I. THE SIGHTS THEY SAW.
First of all lets see them as the sight-seeing champions of the Christmas story. Their job was to watch their sheep, and so they were used to seeing things at night. They would see sheep that began to wander, the prowling wolf, the thief in the night who would seek to build his flock at their expense. Watching was their life, and this night they saw more than human eyes have ever seen. These lowly shepherds were the most blest of all men in history as far as getting in on the sights of Christmas.
They saw The Angel of the Lord.
They saw the Glory of the Lord.
They saw the Heavenly Host.
They saw the sign of the baby lying in a manger.
They saw Mary and Joseph.
They saw people amazed when they told their story.
For variety, intensity and quality, there is no record of anyone who can match the shepherds in their experience of the sights and sounds of Christmas. They left their sheep to go see the Lamb of God, and as far as we know, they were the only people besides Joseph and Mary to see the Christ-child in the manger.
They were not terrified of this child, as they were when they were confronted by the angels, even though He was the King of the angels. His glory was veiled in flesh and was non-threatening. That is why God entered history as a baby. No one can see God and live, but God in the flesh can be seen safely. God came down to our level where He could be seen and approached. In the Old Testament God was not approachable. Even in the temple only the high priest could approach God, and then just once a year.
The baby in Bethlehem changed the relationship of God and man. The lowly shepherds who were totally unfit to approach God in the temple, are now invited to come into the presence of God in the flesh, and to worship Him. They are to come with joy, and not with fear and trembling. They were the first to see this amazing reality that Christmas is about God making Himself approachable. Deity has always been frightening for man. The majesty and power of God are an overload for man's emotional system. But Christmas changed all that.
The reason we need to focus on the Christ-child over and over again every year, is to keep us from losing sight of the truth of the Incarnation. Jesus is no longer a baby, but Lord of all at the right hand of God. He is in a state of glory and majesty that makes men fall in fear before His presence, as John did when he saw Jesus in heaven. We need to be reminded over and over that this is the same Jesus who was the babe in Bethlehem. The babe of Bethlehem is the perpetual sign that God is always the approachable God.
People will go out of their way to approach a baby. You can be a total stranger but people will talk to you if you have a baby. Nobody moves to the other side of the mall when they see you coming with a baby. Instead, they move closer to try and see. A baby draws and attracts people. A baby is approachable, and this is the message of Christmas to all people about God. He is not to be feared and avoided. He is to be approached in faith for He cares enough about man to have given His very best-Himself.
The simple shepherds were the first to see the sign of God's approachability. The wise men eventually came as well, and so all men of all classes are welcome to approach God. Jews and Gentiles, poor and rich, simple and learned, all have this in common, they can come to God with the same sense of peace that you have in approaching a baby. The peace on earth the angels were singing about was not the peace of lack of war. It was the peace of heart and mind that men can have in approaching God. Christmas marks the celebration of the beginning of man's being able to come to God in peace knowing that He is approachable. He is not God above us, and beyond us, but He is God with us.
How do you describe the Hallelujah Chorus to a deaf man? How do you convey the majesty of the Grand Canyon to a blind man? How do you help a man who has lost his sense of smell grasp the fragrance of the orange blossom festival? This was God's problem-How do you as an infinite God communicate to finite man that you love him and that you are approachable? The answer is the sight the shepherds saw-the babe of Bethlehem. Not only was Jesus a baby to make it clear that God is approachable, but he was born in stable for the same reason. It was not an accident that Jesus was not born in the inn. Had He been born inside He would have been an insider, and unapproachable by the outsider like the shepherds. If there would have been room in the inn for Jesus there would have been no room for the shepherds in the Christmas story. But Jesus was born in a place where He was totally approachable. They did not have to get an appointment. He was right out in the open in public territory. He was not like all the other Kings of history where you would have to have a special invitation to approach him. Jesus was approachable to even these lowly shepherds.
They saw God and did not die, but lived on a higher level of peace and joy ever after. If like these shepherds we too can see the sign and what it signifies-God with us-God approachable, then we too can have the profound peace and joy they had that first Christmas. Now let's go from the sights they saw to-
II. THE SONG THEY SANG.
The shepherds were like our early western cowboys. They sat out under the stars and sang songs. David was a shepherd, and he sang many of his songs out under the stars, possibly even in that same field the shepherds were in. The point is, shepherds were often good singers, and these particular shepherds had a theme to sing about as never before. They echoed the angelic anthem as they glorified and praised God. They no doubt sang about this event for years to come. All we know is that the shepherds song was the beginning of Christian hymnology. Millions of songs have been composed since to praise God for the giving of His Son.
What is a Christmas song? It is simply a means by which we express our enjoyment of God. Do you think the shepherds enjoyed their experience of seeing the Christ-child? Of course they did, and they passed on that enjoyment to others by expressing it in praise.
J. B. Phillips tells of an exciting evening in a youth center in London. The youth were cheering and singing, and after awhile he suggested they spend some time in worship. One of the youth said, "we don't know what you really mean by worship." Phillips responded, "It's three cheers for God." We cheer our school, and we say three cheers for the red white and blue. We cheer for what we enjoy and what we are thankful for. So why not songs of praise as three cheers for God? God is an enjoyable God, and He is so because He is the approachable God. This is the good news of Christmas, and wise are those who take advantage of this reality. Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no man comes to the Father but by me." God gave us His Son so we could have a way to come to Him. If we take God's gift of Jesus, and trust Him as our Savior, we have found the path of Life that leads us to the approachable God.