Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Shepherds in the Night

Merry Christmas! I love Christmas. I love this time of year. I don’t necessarily love the snow, though it is beautiful. It’s beautiful for a while at least! God bless you today. Jesus Christ is Lord today, tomorrow and everyday. I need Him now. He reigns over reality and He lives in me. He lives in me, He lives in you, and much more, He reigns over the universe, over all of history, and over reality itself. In fact His presence holds reality together. He is present everywhere.

Christmas is the time when we recall with joy the coming of Jesus into human history. Jesus was born, but the son of God is eternally existent. Before God established time, space, and physical matter, Christ was. And Christ is, and will always be. This is a concept insanely difficult for us as finite beings to understand. To understand infinity would mean setting aside time itself. Yet Christ left timelessness to become finite like us. Why leave aside such glory? Why set aside such majesty? Why come into the world He made?

He'd probably walked in human form before. Angels do it all the time. He exists throughout His universe, without being specifically united to it. Yet He came into the world in the same way we did, as an unborn baby, coming into the womb of his mother, and he was born, on some date, we don’t know what day, it wasn’t necessarily December 25th, though it could’ve been, but in any case, December 25th is the day we recall the fact that Jesus came.

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time being amazed about all of this. It all seems so normal and often repeated that I can’t seem to summon amazement or much wonder. But I’m like that. I’m not easily impressed and I’m often at least a bit pessimistic.

God came in human form? Why is that such a big deal? God can do anything, why does coming in human form mean so much? I’m not sure exactly. It’s mysterious and beautiful. It’s also quite simple. Jesus was born, in Bethlehem, in the middle east, about two thousand years ago. I wish I had video of this event, I’m a visual learner, that’s how I understand things. When I think in my mind’s eye, if you know what I mean, I see visuals. I’m a visual learner and a visual thinker. Audio is secondary, I learn by hearing. Last of my abilities to learn comes in the written form. So it’s really hard to understand this from reading it off a page.

But in Luke we see this event play out in beautiful form, in Luke chapter two you see this event play out. And there are flocks of sheep in these hills. It’s at night, probably very dark. I wonder what kind of night it was? Was it particularly cold? Was there dew settled on the ground? Were the sheep loud that night or were they eerily silent? Was it like one of those nights that make you feel like a blanket of darkness is wrapped around you and you feel oddly safe in the failing light? I bet it was just like that. I bet there was a sense of anticipation in the air, like the moment before a storm, when everything is charged with energy and pressure. Sometimes the anticipation is greater than the release, and you feel exhausted once the storm begins. But I suppose at this event it would’ve been quite different.

Was there a wind blowing through the valley? Or was it totally still? Many were probably caught off guard completely, but I bet there was one or two who felt or knew deep down something special was about to happen. I’ve known people like that, they seem to have a sixth sense for how time and history play themselves out. Yet I’ve also known people who dream about things that are to come. Think of Pontius Pilate’s wife who warned him that she had been having dreams about Jesus and pleaded with Pilate to not harm Jesus. Maybe there was a dreamer there that night. Maybe not.

The glory of God cuts forth into reality that night. And what’s the reaction of the shepherds? Total fear. They are so afraid. That’s the common reaction, fear and trembling at the incredible glory of God. They are shocked. I wonder what it was like. The glory of God is an interesting concept when looked at topically in the scriptures. It’s woven through the books of the Bible like a beautiful mystery. It seems to be the presence of God at least partially unvarnished.

Jesus came not in full glory, but in human form and there was nothing about him physically that distinguished him from other people. So the world didn’t recognize him. They couldn’t understand it. For those who did, they feared it, and they tried to kill him. But for others they celebrated his coming and welcomed it.

So the glory of God is the partial representation of the presence of God. Why add the qualifier “partial?” Because the full presence of God is destructive to humanity, at least in it’s fullest expression in the face of God. It’s so powerful and severe that anyone brought into God’s full presence would be immediately totally annihilated.

So God’s glory breaks into the night. Was it bright? What was it like? I’m not certain. I’ve witnessed parts of God’s glory, I think many of us have, when we hear a beautiful sermon, or during worship, or watching a beautiful sunset, or looking up at the moon at night, or hugging our children or husband or wife, but this expression of God’s glory seems to be a moment where God relays his own beauty to us. He shows us the beauty of who He is in an expression of the unified complexity of his being. We witness his timelessness, we witness his power, we witness his beauty, we witness his creative genius and we realize and feel a fuller expression of his own love for us. That’s what it means to experience the glory of God. Yet to experience the glory of God is to come face to face with God’s holiness, meaning the full just nature of God. It’s the realization of God’s perfection, how perfect he is in every way, how wonderfully just his system is and the perfect justice of his mind and personality. This is both beautiful, and terrifying, because at that moment we both realize the incredible beauty of God’s perfect just nature and we also realize the incredible depths of how low we fall short and how filthy we are in own selfish attitudes and selfish ways of living and our own debased desires that seem to totally rule over us. Oh, it’s so terrible, and when we see that glory of God we realize our accountability, and we realize God’s love for us and we also realize our own utter guilt before Him.

That’s why they were afraid. Shepherds were the lowliest of people, not very well respected in society. They were the taxi drivers of their day, the truck drivers, the bar tenders, and the manure shovelers of their day. By the way there is nothing wrong with those professions. But I’m just saying, it’s not like the glory and presence of God came down to a group of senators having lunch, or in that time, a king or a group of leaders, or a throne room, nope, God’s revelation came to a group of Mcdonalds workers walking home from work. A bunch of nobodies by the world’s standards.

And God came forth to them, and apparently “the angel of the Lord” appeared. This is a hot button right here. Some say the angel of the Lord is actually Jesus. But that wouldn’t make much sense since Jesus was in the womb at that point, about to be born. Speaking of which, good thing there wasn’t a planned parenthood next to the Inn that night aye? Just putting that out there. I’m sure they would’ve found a room for Mary, on tax payer dollars at the PP death center. Moving on. The angel of the Lord has also been speculated to be the arch angel Michael or Gabriel, Gabriel was the angel who spoke to Mary the mother of Jesus I believe. I don’t recall if Gabriel also spoke to Elizabeth, the high priest father, or Joseph. But at this point it’s not a major concern.

The angel of the Lord gives a message to the shepherds: Jesus is coming. Go check it out yourself. They’re given a sign, and told that they’ll find Jesus in a manger.

Then something crazy happens, apparently a heavenly host appears around this single angel and they praise the Lord singing glory to God in the highest heaven and peace to those on whom his favor rests. So glory to God, and peace to his people.

Peace is a rare commodity in this life. And Jesus said we would have trouble. I’ve had much trouble in my life. Though compared to most in the world, I’ve lived a life of luxury. But I don’t think that diminishes the reality of the suffering that all people endure. Whether it’s in abject poverty or in luxury and wealth, misery is the constant companion of humanity. Misery, sin, suffering, and sorrow, we know about those things. But we try to stay positive. We try to overcome every obstacle. We look for the good. We learn to love the small things. Yet we struggle.

Jesus came to bring peace to us, and hope for those in the shackles of sin. Sin is the real problem. We like to call it a “slip up” or a “mistake” or a “an issue we have” or other curt answers. But sin is what it really is. Sin, seated beneath our composed figure, our quick jabs and intellectual answers and scientific examinations, sin is that selfish, plotting designing self interested obsession beneath the surface that attempts to guide all situations to our own favor. It’s the selfie stick. It’s the me me me lifestyle. And Jesus came to set us free from that, so we can be free to put God before self, and to serve others instead of constantly serving ourselves.

That’s what the world needs more of, and it all began with God coming into the world, and calling out to the shepherds, to spread the word, that hope was kindled. Hope is sweet, like nectar. It’s rare in this crusty dark world when every day our soul grows a little colder, a little more dusty, a little more empty, a little more dress, breaking into pieces, until we can hardly stand it. I suppose that’s why just a word from God, just a moment of the realization of his presence with us, is enough to bring us to tears.

God revealed himself and a big chunk of his plan to the shepherds in the wilderness tending their flocks at night. And he reveals himself to us during the Christmas season, if that is, we can slow down long enough to ponder his presence. If we can slow down long enough to take in the Christmas spirit, to smell the Christmas air, to enjoy the Christmas times with friends and family and children and grandchildren. So Merry Christmas, and don’t miss those moments when God speaks to us in the darkness, in the quiet times, when we’re tending our flocks, and God bursts forth onto the scene sometimes in words, sometimes in feelings and stray thoughts that float in to transform our lives.