Wednesday, December 5

advent 2007

An angel appeared to some shepherds as they were guarding their sheep on Bethlehem hills one night and told them a Savior was born nearby in the city of David. They hastened to the site and found the baby Jesus wrapped in long, narrow strips of cloth and cradled in a feeding trough, just as the heavenly visitor predicted.

The shepherds that night knew God had favored them by announcing the birth of the long-expected Messiah before anyone else knew about it. When they saw what had come to pass, they lost no time in sharing the good news with others. They saw for themselves the work of God, they experienced it themselves, and they became the first witnesses to God’s intervention in human history. They were chosen to see the Messiah even before the righteous Simeon in Jerusalem who eight days later uttered his famous prayer known as the Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32), part of which said Jesus would be a “light to lighten the Gentiles” and the “glory” of Israel.

There is a kind of irony in revealing the best news in the world to workers of the lowest social class, poor ignorant shepherds. Religious Jews generally despised them because shepherds were unlettered and did not perform religious duties according to Moses.

God often confounds the wise by choosing simple, unlikely people to do God’s work. In this instance, God chose shepherds to be recipients of “good tidings of great joy” and become the first witnesses of the newborn Messiah. Jesus, of course, is the light of the world, but he tells us to be the world’s light as well. How? Just as the moon reflects the sun, Christians light the world by reflecting the Lord Christ in what we think, do, and say.

Congregations must arise and show forth that heavenly light. The challenge is to demonstrate God’s all-sufficient grace by the way we treat other people and the compassion we have for a needy world that God created and loves.

Saint Francis of Assisi had it right when he said, “Preach always. Sometimes use words.” And the old spiritual puts it another way when it says, “Everybody talkin’ ‘bout heaven ain’t a-goin’ there.” In other words, talk is a poor substitute for showing the transforming power of the heavenly light, our blessed Lord Christ, in our daily life.

The shepherds did something about the heavenly visitation and the good news delivered for all people. They shared it with others and no doubt their lives were altered forever by the experience.

Let us arise and show forth the heavenly light as though we were seeing it for the first time. Later during his ministry, Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men [and women] that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16).

But the light must come from within. Let it illumine everything around us. And let it always reflect the indwelling Christ. Let us witness always, and sometimes use words.
– James C. Bryant

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