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On faith: The celebration of Christmas

From Joe Whiting,

Grace Baptist Church

Here on this 27th day of December, the North Shore has experienced another beautiful Christmas. Everywhere we look, Christmas trees stand laden with snow. Gifts have been opened, delicious dinners cooked and consumed, and now begins the big cleanup! After all, Christmas is over. Right? Not so fast. Before you start lugging cardboard boxes to the street, take a moment and consider the question, “What do I do now that Christmas is over?” Some unlikely characters from the Christmas story can help us with the answer.

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Remember the shepherds, those tough outdoorsmen who were the first to hear the news of Jesus’ birth? They ran to see the One the angels called, “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” They came and adored Him in a treasured scene relived in Christmas programs and Nativity sets everywhere. But what did the shepherds do afterward? St. Luke tells us, “When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds … The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.” In the response of the shepherds, we find our answers: they reflected, recounted, returned and rejoiced.

First, like the shepherds, let us reflect on what we have “heard and seen.” Luke’s brief comment “when they had seen this,” is quite an understatement. They had seen what theologians and songwriters have struggled to express. “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th’incarnate Deity, Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.” We can but speak of it, write of it, sing of it. They had seen it! For the rest of their lives, they could reflect on that scene. We can do that, too, although we see through spiritual eyes. Reflect on that scene in faraway Bethlehem. Consider that your Creator became a man that He might change your life forever.

Second, let’s recount what we have experienced. The shepherds “made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.” They repeated the words of the angels. Notice that the focus of their message was not the amazing chorus of the angels or their search for a nursery in a stable. Their account centered on what they had learned about the Child. They recounted that this Child was the prophesied one, the Savior of mankind, and Messiah God (Christ the Lord). After Christmas, we can still recount to others the story of the One whose birth we have celebrated.

After Christmas, thirdly, we have to return to our responsibilities. The shepherds “went back” to field and flock. They were not asked to serve on the Bethlehem City Council nor were they wined and dined by the religious elite. They didn’t even get any time off from work. They went back to their sheep. But they were not the same people they were before that first Christmas. They went about their mundane tasks with a newborn hope that great things were yet to come. Realizing the significance of Christmas does this for us too.

Finally, let us rejoice. The shepherds returned “glorifying and praising God.” Like the angels, they cannot contain their excitement. They spread the word that others might go pay homage to the Christ Child. The meaning of that first Christmas changed everything for the shepherds. Life had been transformed from dreariness to delight. When you and I contemplate the significance of Christmas, our lives are changed, even after the ornaments are packed away till next year.

Rev. Joseph Whiting is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Two Harbors.