ANGELS (?) WE HAVE HEARD ON HIGH

Every other year our church does a living nativity called Journey to Bethlehem as an outreach to our community. It is a huge event with more than 200-300 people from the church involved, and attracts thousands of people from around our area. I was able to go last night and tagged along with my sister Cheree and her husband and son.
*
Actually, Journey to Bethlehem is much more than just the nativity scene. It starts in the church auditorium with a wonderful Christmas concert by some of our church’s very talented singers. This is where you wait for your journey to Bethlehem to begin. When it is time for your group of people to begin I could scarcely tear myself away from the beautiful music!
*
A guide led us across from the church building to the family center. It is amazing to see as we step into the gym that it is no longer a gym, but is transformed into the village of Bethlehem, as well as Herod’s palace. Hundreds of people are in Biblical costume, sitting outside their homes and going about their daily chores, or selling their wares in the village market place. There are bakers and poultry, cheese, vegetables and grains vendors; sellers of leather, copper, jewelry, cloth, and flowers; tentmakers, dyers of cloth, and so on all trying to hawk their products as you walk by their booths. A well stands in the center of the village with a live goat tied nearby. I was amused as we passed the tentmakers’ booth. My sister Corinne and her husband Ray and youngest son Sam were supposed to be making and selling tents. As we walked by, Sam said, “Buy one, get one free!”
*
Our tour guide took us to Mary’s house where we witnessed the angel of the Lord suddenly appearing to her, making the announcement that she was to be the mother of God’s only Son. We were then lead to Joseph’s carpenter shop. He told us of his thoughts when he heard that Mary was expecting a baby and it was not his, and how the angel appeared to him and told him not to be afraid to make Mary his wife. We were led to Herod’s palace and saw him questioning the wise men who came from the east searching for the newborn king of the Jews and heard Herod’s evil plans. (Another nephew, Lance, was one of the Roman guards. He played the part to the hilt, being as stern and authoritative as he could be—the complete opposite of the normally smiling and pleasant person he normally is!) We stopped at the tax collector’s booth where we registered for the census and paid our taxes, and then moved on to the inn in Bethlehem. We were informed there was no room and, in fact, the innkeeper had been forced to send one young couple out to the stable since she was about to give birth.
*
From there our tour guide led us outside. It was pouring rain all day yesterday and didn’t let up at all for our Journey. All day I had thought about the poor shepherds (another nephew, Caleb, was one of them) standing out in the field and wondered how they would fare in the cold and wet. They had a big bonfire going, so I am sure that helped (although I wondered how that blaze kept going in the rain. It must have been a miracle!) There were live sheep there with them. Suddenly a bright spotlight shone down on them, and they hid their faces from the light. A voice boomed out of loudspeakers somewhere—the angel’s voice, obviously—and Cheree jumped! (Later, when I went to my mother’s condo which is about a mile from the church, I could hear the “angel” voices booming in her parking lot!) The angel told them about the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, and the shepherds headed for the stable with us following through the rain.
*
Mary and Joseph and the baby, as well as more sheep and a donkey, were at the stable, just as you would picture the scene. It does give you goosebumps as you look at the scene, and not just from the cold. You imagine how it must have been that night, bearing a baby all alone in such lowly circumstances.
*
From there we were led to a barn where we were offered hot cider or coffee, and heard our pastor speak for five minutes about how the journey led from Bethlehem to the cross and an empty tomb and how we can be saved through that babe who became our Savior.
*
Journey to Bethlehem is a beautiful experience and I can see why it is so popular in our community. It is one thing out of all the commercialism of Christmas that makes you stop and focus on the true reason for it all.
*
I was thinking about those shepherds all day yesterday. Oh, not just those young guys playing a part at Journey last night—but about the actual shepherds who were out in the fields outside of Bethlehem that night more than two thousand years ago. Who were they? The Bible doesn’t give us their names. Most likely they were lads—sons of the owners of the sheep, or maybe hired to care for someone else’s sheep. I don’t know—maybe they were older adults. They were poor, I am sure, and probably had no expectations of being anything other than poor, lowly peasants all their lives.
*
That night changed their lives. Here is the account as Luke 2:8-20 tells it:
*
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
*
It was a night like any other night they had watched over the flocks. Can you imagine their fright when suddenly out of the darkness, the glory of the Lord shone ‘round about them and angels appeared before them? They wasted no time, however, once they had heard the message the angels brought. They hurried to Bethlehem and saw for themselves the Messiah, the Savior, Christ the Lord. They spread the word, not caring if others thought them crazy or not. And then they returned to their quiet, ordinary, lowly lives as shepherds out in the fields outside of Bethlehem.
*
They returned with a difference, however. They returned praising and glorifying God for these glorious things they had heard and seen—the angels, the Christ-child—and for the fact that for some reason God had chosen them to be the first to hear the announcement of His birth! Who were they, that God would choose them above all people to hear it first? Just as God had chosen a lowly peasant girl to bear His Son, a poor carpenter to raise Him, and the humblest of places for his birth, He had chosen them.
*
They returned changed. They would remember that night for the rest of their lives. I am sure often they would lie out in the fields, scanning the skies for a glimpse of the glory they had once seen and talking among themselves of that night they could never forget, remembering the sound of the angels’ voices and the glory too bright for their human eyes. They probably relived over and over in their memories how they had quickly sought for the stable and the baby lying in the manager. No, something like that they would never forget!
*
We are ordinary people. I doubt that any of us sharing together here today have great wealth or position or power. We go about our ordinary lives, doing our ordinary jobs. But one day God chose us to show us a great miracle and a glorious message and to lead us to His Son, our Savior. He chose us, the lowly and humble and ordinary and yes, foolish and weak, as I Corinthians 1:26-28 puts it: For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen… We may not have heard the angels’ voices, but we heard and responded to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
*
He changed us. When we truly meet the Savior we cannot forget it. Our very purpose in life is changed from living for self to living for God and bringing glory to Him. Our standing before God is changed from His enemy to His beloved child. Our lifestyle is changed from walking in darkness to walking in the light. Our desires are changed from earthly concerns to things that matter for eternity. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

We are challenged as well to, like the shepherds, tell others of the Savior. Everything they had heard and seen that night they told to all they met. They spread the word in Bethlehem until the entire town was abuzz with the news. What?! The Messiah had come?! Not everyone believed, but some did, I am sure. They saw the change in the shepherds. Their words and their lives were witness to all that God had shown them and done within them. Like the shepherds we are chosen to be witnesses. Isaiah 43:10 says, Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen… Acts 1:8 talks about the change and the challenge: But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. Christmas is the perfect time of the year to be witnesses to others, when they are more focused on the birth of Christ and perhaps more open to reason He came.

This Christmas I am praising God for choosing me, nobody special or great or wise, to be His child. I am thanking Him for changing me and praying that I might bring glory to Him. And I am challenged, especially now at this time of year when we are more open to others and they might be more open to hearing about why Jesus came, to be a better witness for Him.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s