I have spent my share of nights far away from civilization under star-filled skies listening to the sounds of God’s creation all around me. If you are in a reflective mood, you are confronted with your insignificance in the grand scheme of things. One can feel pretty small and vulnerable in such a setting.
The shepherds in the Christmas story (Luke 2:8-20) were professionals however. There probably was not much that they had not seen. They were comfortable with the noises of the night. They were prepared for any threat to the flocks they were watching. While some may have been at ease, most were probably vigilant.
Suddenly, their evening was transformed. An angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. Luke declares, “They were terrified.” Certainly, that has to be counted among the great understatements in the Bible. God had their undivided attention. The world which they had sought to order and control was suddenly threatened by a celestial being – most likely not within their frame of reference.
The angel had a singular mission – to announce the arrival of the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord. The angel had no other purpose that evening. And what an announcement. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David.”
The significance of this announcement was underscored as the angel was suddenly joined by a vast host of others – the armies of heaven – praising God and saying “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
You know the rest of the story. The shepherds, abandoning their assignments, rush to Bethlehem to seek this Savior. They find Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. And they cannot keep the good news to themselves. “The shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished.”
The Bible does not tell us what became of the shepherds after that marvelous night. However, I, like so many before me, can witness to the reality that the events of that first Christmas dramatically impacted my life. My life has been transformed by the good news shared with those shepherds.
Each Christ-follower and each church has a singular message just like the angel on that first Christmas. And what a message! The impossible has happened. God has broken into our world – Emmanuel – God with us. Jesus has come fulfilling God’s promise as the One who would save us from our sins and alienation from God. He has come to be our righteousness. His presence among us is astonishing. Wherever that message is shared authentically, joy and peace become our reality.
The good news entrusted to the shepherds is the great news that is entrusted to us. There is much that grabs our attention in a world that bombards us with information, but there is only one consequential message – the message that Jesus has come to meet us where we are, to save us from our sins, and to transform us with His love.
All the other things that the church does only have significance when subordinated to the mission of sharing this great news with hurting and alienated people. Everything else only finds meaning in the fulfillment of that singular mission.
O that the Holy Spirit would guard our hearts and minds to keep us from being distracted from this mission. O that everything we do might be evaluated in light of how it serves this one mission.
At the Wesleyan Covenant Association, we are committed to ensuring that sharing God’s great news remains paramount in all that we do. A lot will happen as we move into and through 2020. Much will seek to distract us from the primacy of the mission entrusted to us to share God’s great news. Individually and corporately, we must not let this happen.
The world in which we live needs to hear this great news of Jesus’ arrival, the successful completion of His mission, and its implications for each of us as much as the shepherds and their neighbors on that first Christmas. We are entrusted with great news that must be shouted from the mountaintops and spoken into the hearts of all people.
On this Christmas 2019, please take a moment to give thanks for the most wondrous gift of all – Jesus, our Savior and Messiah – and rededicate your life to sharing God’s great news with every person God places in your path, regardless of who they are, where they have been, or what they have done.
By Keith Boyette
The Rev. Keith Boyette is president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.