Dear Friends,

Can you feel the excitement in the air? It’s only early December and already the streets are laden with decorations and lights, all announcing the arrival of a very special guest. Now, for many in the world, that special guest wears a red suit and drives a sleigh with magical reindeers. However, we know that the most special guest is the One that God sent so many years ago to a manger in Bethlehem. We celebrate Jesus, our Savior, who came to bring us forgiveness and hope, and who continues to bring us joy and peace beyond human understanding. There are so many things around us that can distract us from the real meaning and message of this season if we allow it. How easy it is to get caught up in the commercialism and miss the real reason for the season! I believe that this is the season for the Church to shine with the good news. At this time of the year we have a great opportunity to share the message of the Gospel with many who choose to have nothing to do with faith or religion.

I think we have a wonderful example in the Christmas story from Luke 2. In fact, one of my favorite parts of the story focuses on the shepherds. Luke writes: “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and 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 among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Lk 2:8–20, ESV).

Once shepherding was a noble task. After all, King David started out as a shepherd. Things had changed in the days leading up to Jesus’ birth. The shepherds were often viewed in a negative light. They were considered by many as dishonest, dirty and outcasts. They were alienated from the mainstream of that society. Yet, it was to the shepherds that the angel’s announced the good news of the Savior. Maybe it was because they were the neediest, or maybe because God wanted to display His transforming power to the world. We can speculate but God had His own reasons. These shepherds were so transformed that they sought out the Holy Child, worshipped Him, and then became among the first evangelists as they made known what had been told to them concerning this child.

At the risk of stretching the image too far, let me offer this Christmas lesson. In our postmodern day Christians have often been, like those shepherds, labeled as dishonest outcasts. The truth is, we are all sinners, in great need of God’s grace. That grace came to us in the gift which the angels announced to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem. Like them, we don’t deserve to hear this good news, but God chose us from before the foundation of the world. Paul reminds us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9, ESV). God chose us with great purpose, even as He chose the shepherds.

My family had some sheep when I was growing up. They taught my brothers and me many lessons, not all of them pleasant! One of the most important things I learned was that if you care for the sheep they respond. They know who will feed them and protect them. Shepherds form a bond with their sheep. Perhaps this is why the shepherds have a special meaning to me. I think the shepherds teach us about how we can reach out those who may have all the right ideas about celebrating, but fail to grasp the One we celebrate.

The response of the shepherds is a wonderful example of how we can spread the true Christmas cheer. When they heard that good news, they didn’t allow how they were viewed by others stop them from sharing the good news. They weren’t concerned about who would listen. They were so overjoyed they couldn’t contain the good news. Shouldn’t this also be our response to the good news?

I believe that God gives us so many opportunities—from the Christmas music to the lights and decorations – that can all be used as “handles” to point to the story of Jesus. So many of the songs we hear at Christmas, even some that are more “secular” can point to the good news of Jesus. The lights remind us that Jesus is the Light of the World, who entered into the darkness of the world to give us hope. The gifts point us to THE GIFT, Jesus! With a bit of creativity, we can find bridges to tell the true story of Christmas. A case could even be made for sales at the stores—how Jesus came as our Redeemer to buy us back from sin and death!

If the shepherds, despite all their challenges, could share the good news, then how much more can we? God is opening the opportunities all around us. Take some time to find someone with whom you can share this wonderful and joyous story. They are in your neighborhood, in your work place, maybe even in your own home.

We are indeed privileged “shepherds,” chosen by God, called by Him, and now sent to the  world that has so commercialized this celebration that many are growing up not really understanding it’s true meaning. We have a part in the story.  We aren’t called to be like the ceramic shepherd figurines in so many nativity sets.  Ours is a call to action.  We have the privilege to tell the real story of Christmas joy–unto you a Savior is born! Take time to share the real reason for the season, Jesus, our Savior. May the excitement of the shepherds fill you as we anticipate our celebration once again!

God’s blessings for a very Merry CHRISTmas!!