20 Dec 2013 by Jason Law CM –
Christmas is just around the corner. Last Sunday, Pr Datuk Kee Sue Sing of DUMC shared on a perspective concerning this significant time. The coming of Jesus to Earth more than 2000 years ago is one of the most momentous events in Christian History, apart from the resurrection of Christ. These days, Christmas means a lot of different things to different people, depending on their background and cultural factors. Some of these meanings are good ones, like reunion, joy, and hope, but it would be a wonderful thing if we could get to experience what the event meant for the people who were actually there. Pr Kee’s message was aimed to bring us Christmas through the Shepherds’ eyes.
The immediate thing to note is that God’s message of the birth of Christ did not just come in the sign of the Star guiding the wealthy and wise like the Magi, but also to a humble group of people like the Shepherds. Pr Kee shared that this says something about the character of God. Who were the Shepherds exactly? Throughout the Bible, we find that in earlier times, eventhough the position was never a prestigious one, it was a noble one. An agricultural people such as the early Israelites depended a whole lot on the shepherds for sustenance, and great men of God like Abraham, Moses, Amos, and even the great king David were shepherds at one time of their life.
Sadly, by the time of Jesus’ birth, the profession of shepherds had declined drastically. There was a period of 500-600 years without any visible sign of God between the times of the Old Testament and the New Testament, and by the time of the New Testament, things had changed. The New Testament scholar, Leon Morris, pointed out that
‘Shepherds were the social outcasts of their day, a necessary yet ostracized caste without whom the temple could not function.’ ( The Gracious Light of Christmas; www.texaschristianchurch.org/2010/121210.doc )
Amidst such a setting, however, two characteristics of God immediately stand out. The first is that God is never concerned about prestige. God is deeply concerned instead for the humble, marginalized, and unfortunate. God’s primary concern is that we learn to rest and glory only in the Lord (1 Corinthians 26-31), and God cares for the ordinary and simple. But we can also read another facet of God’s character in a representational way; the choosing of the Shepherds had a symbolic meaning for His people being shepherded (discipled). Like the shepherds who led and cared for the sheep, the Body of Christ is also to build each other up and guide each other. It is interesting to note that of all the people in the world, God sent the angels to appear to the humble Shepherds.
The initial response of the Shepherds themselves, to the angel as the first visible sign from God in years, was a very natural one. Being outcasts, they had a holy fear of God’s righteousness and judgement (Luke 2:9). Basically, they feared that their sins have found them out, and God was coming to call them to account. They found to their great amazement that the message was not one of condemnation, but of forgiveness and acceptance, hope and joy (Luke 2:10-14). This is the main message of Christmas, and it was meant both in a personal way (‘And this will be a sign to you’: Luke 2 v12) and for all people (‘…And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’: Luke 2 v14). This is the essence of Christmas; a message of hope and reconciliation, beyond all the external stuff like Christmas trees, gifts, spectacular stage performances, and so on. Christmas is Christ the Son of God becoming the Son of Man that Sons of Men might become Sons of God (John 1:12)
12 Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God..
This message was so significant to the Shepherds that they did not waste any time but hurried off to search for the baby in a manger. Jerusalem was a huge city but they acted on faith. Verse 17-18 of Luke 2 tells us that as soon as they saw Jesus with their own eyes, they excitedly shared the Good News. There are three things that stand out here in the Shepherds’ retelling.
- The Shepherds were simple people, without any sophistication, but they were not concerned about the presentation. The story was all that mattered to them.
- Because the story mattered so much to them, they did not fear that they would be looked upon as delusional or fools. They trusted in the Spirit of God to convict and convince those that they were sharing with.
- They were not the same people anymore. They had a newfound confidence and purpose in life. They glorified and praised God to others without fear or condemnation.
20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
A few things stand out about the revelation of Christmas. Foremost, it is a message of hope and reconciliation. This everyone knows, even the secular world. But on a deeper level, there are a multitude of other significances. Christmas is the first step in a deeper restoration plan God has for mankind, and a freedom from the legalistic spirit. It is a calling for Christians to share the Good News to the straying. It is a calling for Christians to build up the Body of Christ. And together, these two aspects brings in a third one; Christmas is a reminder for all of us to reach out to the broken and overlooked today; to the elderly, homeless, unappreciated, single mothers, orphans, rehabilitation patients, migrant workers, refugees, etc, both Christians and non-Christians. May we have not just a merry Christmas, but a meaningful one this year.
References for pictures