My wife and I went to a Christmas Eve service at a local church – the type where it is easier to find a leprechaun than a pew Bible. The church was packed and we watched them as they took Communion, wondering whether they believed that they were singing about the Savior of the world.
However, it wasn’t this way for the shepherds in the field on what seemed to be a very ordinary night. Suddenly the boredom was shattered by the presence of an angelic messenger and the glory of the Lord.
The lowly shepherds, who had been living with their sheep in the fields, were perhaps by now, covered with dew. Instead of filling them with excitement, this divine appearance filled them with terror. Why? This was always how people experienced the presence of God. At the manifestation of God upon Mt. Sinai, the Israelites were so terrified that they thought they would die. The entire Mosaic sacrificial system informed Israel that they could not approach God without being struck dead. After all, they were still in their sins – they were under a curse – and their holy and righteous God had not yet been satisfied. Instead, He was breathing wrath.
· But 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. (Luke 2:10-11)
They would no longer have to fear the presence of the Lord because the promised Messiah had already come, and it was time to celebrate. He would save them from their sins. The marriage between God and His people had begun. They would now be enabled to approach their Savior.
· 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!” (Luke 2:13-14)
Peace? Yes! What kind of peace? Between God and His people! The Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) had finally arrived in the most unlikely way – in a smelly manger, swaddled with strips of cloth meant to wrap the dead. The symbolism was unmistakable to the shepherds – a Child born to die, just as the sacrificial sheep, which they had been shepherding.
It was now grabbing my heart. He is also my Savior. I hadn’t been waiting for Him, but He had been waiting for me to come to the end of my hope. I knew that I was an utter failure and felt deeply ashamed of myself. It was so tormented that it was hard for me to come into the presence of others, let alone the presence of God. I so hated myself that I was sure that others hated me.
However, this suffering, this consuming shame, this insecurity has all been eradicated by the advent of this Child who became sin for me. Consequently, He is precious to me. He must have also been to the lowly shepherds who had been invited into His presence to celebrate His advent.
What He has done for us is very tangible:
· Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)
Consequently, we need no longer dread the presence of God. We can stand tall, even in the face of persecution. We know who we are, and no one can take that away.
I wondered whether the congregants of this church were just going through the motions. Did they understand what they were doing here and who they were singing about? I wanted to scream out, “Do you realize who this Child is,” but I didn’t.