Christmas Day Meditation: 25th December 2016
I have often wondered what it was about the infant Jesus that so inspired the shepherds who were his first visitors. Women are traditionally fascinated by babies, gazing at them, cooing over them and talking nonsense to them. Men are generally more business-like. They know it is their duty to look approvingly at babies, and to find some tactful words to speak, but babies do not grip men’s attention.
These shepherds, however, were different. Or it was the baby who was different. News of the baby was given to the shepherds in a spectacular way. They saw an ‘angel of the Lord’ and God’s glory shone around them, causing them to be terrified (Luke 2:9). The angel then spoke to them, giving news of the birth of a saviour, ‘Christ the Lord’. Next the angelic host appeared, praising God and speaking of earthly peace.
The angel had told the shepherds that in ‘the city of David’ they would find the baby ‘wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’, and when the angels disappeared back into heaven, the shepherds felt inspired to see for themselves. Whether it was just curiosity that initially motivated them, or real awareness of the uniqueness of the event, something compelled them to leave their sheep on the hillside and to head for Bethlehem. They were then further compelled excitedly to spread the word of what they had witnessed, to the amazement of all who heard them. The experience drew the shepherds into praise and worship, and sent them back rejoicing to their flocks (Luke 2:20).
We are so accustomed to the Christmas story, so used to seeing children with tea-towels on their heads acting out the parts of Joseph and the shepherds, that we can miss the significance of this entire narrative - that it is the account of God entering our time and space as a helpless baby. The Jews knew to expect a saviour, but in their minds he would be a great military leader who would release them from the domination of Rome. In fact, the saviour was to be much greater than that, although he would not come with visible power and glory.
In a letter that we do not often associate with Christmas, the apostle Paul writes ,that it was the ‘the kindness and love of God our Saviour’ that was made manifest in Jesus (Titus 3:4). Jesus came to teach us about God, to demonstrate God’s love, to heal the sick, but principally he came to save us. The Jews knew about seeking God’s favour by keeping his law, but Jesus came to offer God’s favour freely. Salvation does not come to individuals ‘because of righteous things’ that they do, but because of ‘his mercy’ (3:5). God’s grace – God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense – is ‘poured out generously through Jesus Christ’ so that we become heirs with the hope of eternal life (3:6-7).
It must have been ‘the kindness and love of God our Saviour’ that the shepherds perceived in the face of a sleeping infant and that so inspired their praise and adoration. We also have to look beyond the traditional trappings of Christmas to perceive the God of grace reaching out to every man and woman with the offer of salvation.