The Shepherds Who Missed the Manger
written in December of 2014, edited a few weeks ago
‘Tis the season of children’s Christmas programs and musicals. Other years I have written and organized such productions; this year I merely dreamed of one. And this was what I dreamed…
Dressed in a tunic, a yard of cheap fabric wrapped around my head, I was a shepherd, surrounded by a group of smaller shepherds, little friends who were also part of the church’s Christmas program. We were sitting in the shadows just offstage, waiting for the moment when we would enter the scene, to worship the baby Jesus, the Saviour whose birth the angels had announced.
But we missed our big debut. As we waited for the right time to go onstage, the program continued without us. The wise men, who traveled from afar, arrived at the manger, while we sat quietly on the sidelines. As all the cute little angels, wise men, animals, Mary and Joseph sang the final song, we realized we had somehow ignored the cue given by the play director. We had missed our moment to enter the story and be part of the celebration of Jesus’ birth!
I woke from my dream, sad and confused. How had it happened? How had I failed to pay attention to the cues that our director had trained us to notice? How had all of our reasonably successful rehearsals culminated in such utter disaster?
Worse yet, it was not just me. All the smaller shepherds had been watching my actions, waiting for my lead to enter the scene, go worship Jesus, and then spread the news through the streets of Bethlehem! When I failed to play my part, they failed to play theirs. Thus, we all missed out. Even if we couldn’t remember exactly when we were supposed to go onstage, it surely would have been better to take a risk and enter at any moment during the production, rather than stay backstage.
Have you ever imagined yourself in the Christmas story? I like to imagine that we are the shepherds. Like them, we are quite average and ordinary, caught up in our daily activities of work, community, family and responsibility. God took the initiative to come to us, just as He took the initiative to go to the shepherds. One night that seemed like any other night, as they watched their flocks, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared, saying,
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. Luke 2:10-14
True, we don’t receive angelic visitors in the middle of the night, giving us a GPS location to track Jesus with our phones. But through God’s word, through friends who told us about Jesus, and through the personal ways He has worked in each of our stories, God has made known the incredible news that to US a Saviour has been born. This Saviour came to save us from our sins, bring us into God’s family, give us unparalleled joy, and fill our hearts with true and lasting peace. And this good, wonderful, terrific news is for all people living in the world today, just as relevant and life-changing as it was two thousand years ago.
This is our moment. Our time to enter the Christmas story is today. If we hesitate or ignore the ways God is trying to get our attention this holiday season, we might miss a glorious opportunity scripted by Jesus Himself. But He gives each of us the freedom to choose how we will react and respond to the good tidings of the angel.
What will your choice be? Will you ignore the message completely, and go on with life as normal? Or will you stay backstage in the shadows, waiting until you are certain that the timing is right, that the situation is perfect? Or will you get up and go to Jesus in faith, believing the Word of God, which declares that that He came to save you from your sin, and that He is the only way to God? Will you take risks if necessary, leaving your place of comfort and security to worship and obey the Lord, whatever He asks you to?
That’s what the real shepherds did, saying,
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.”