“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” (Luke 2:17-18)
Last week, I talked about the shepherds. No one would have believed that angels would appear to shepherds. But, as heaven’s light blinded and terrified them, an angel personally delivered a birth announcement. The first thing out of the angel’s mouth was, “don’t be afraid!”
Two thoughts grab me when I read this story.
First, have you ever counted how many times God, or Jesus, or an angel start a conversation with the words, “don’t be afraid”? The angel said the same thing to Mary: “don’t be afraid.” Jesus told a ruler of the synagogue “don’t be afraid.”
We are afraid of things we can’t understand. Many times in my journey with Crossings, I have been jolted out of a comfort zone. Finding yourself in uncharted waters can be very frightening, and when you’ve been led into those frightful experiences by God himself, you sometimes wonder how He could possibly have any friends!
It took far too long for me to learn that the best place to live is in a place that requires immense amounts of faith. I’ve heard “don’t be afraid” many times.
I’ve learned that God is not in the business of making me comfortable. He calls me to something beyond my comforts, my abilities, my preferences, and my plans.
It took a little while, but I finally came to realize that the most exciting times are when God uses you to do something impossible, something you know you cannot do on your own, something you can’t invent, manipulate, predict, or even understand.
God sent the angel to the shepherds on purpose to make what I believe to be a very serious theological statement: everyone is included. And for those shepherds, it could have been the first time in their lives they were intentionally included, invited, and valued. God knew this would be a disturbing and hard-to-believe event for the shepherds, so He made sure the first thing out of the angel’s mouth was “do not be afraid.”
The second thought that comes to mind in this story is the phrase: “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened…so they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby.”
By the time our third child was born, we said farewell to the minivan and bought the first of what would be many SUVs. I vividly remember those times when we would load up the Suburban for a trip to the mountains. The kids brought their suitcases and whatever they felt they needed with them in their seats. Then, I’d get our suitcases and pack everything into the back of the truck. Once packed, it seemed that we’d never be able to open a door, but rather have to climb out the windows when we stopped.
I could not believe how loaded down we were. Five of us. An eight-passenger SUV loaded without room to squeeze in a bottle of water. As the kids got older, we added golf clubs and bicycles to the experience. I had to stand back and laugh one day when I saw the SUV loaded full inside, a travel container strapped on top, and five bicycles hanging off the trailer hitch in the back.
This brings me back to this second thought: for the shepherds to go anywhere was quite cumbersome. As I think of the shepherds deciding to go and see the baby, I think of how hard it was to move our family down the road for vacation. We do not get further information from the shepherds related to how many sheep they were keeping watch over. Did one of them stay behind to watch the sheep? All we know is they showed up at the manger.
What if they had said: “sounds like an amazing event, but it’s just too hard to move these sheep.” What if they had chosen to not “spread the word” about their experience?
When did we decide that following Christ was just too hard? Too demanding? At which point in our lives did we lose the sense of joy and awe, the joy that once compelled us to “spread the word” about Jesus? When did we decide to show the world a play-it-safe God? When did we settle for a God of comfort instead of the God of the miraculous?
It isn’t a Christmas carol, but I love this song and especially at Christmas. It invites us to something much deeper and more satisfying than the God of comfort:
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find you in the mystery
In oceans deep, my faith will stand
Christmas calls us to something greater than trees, lights, ornaments, food, family, or presents. At Christmas we are invited back to the manger so we will remember what God can do, so we will remember how much we are loved, so we will not only encounter the living God, but that we may “go and tell” that God has arrived and His primary message is the four letter word called love.
There’s nothing to fear. His arrival has made a statement, an announcement to us all: we are loved by the one who created us. And that is Christmas.