Sing We Now of Christmas: Don't Let the Shepherds Quake Alone

Just six more nights. Just six more nights 'til we're singin' "Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright." What a wonderful first verse. What a treasured carol. But you and I are not called to be just first verse believers. Oh no, we're challenged to go well beyond that. So we'd do well to get ready this week. 'Ready, before we start heading for Bethlehem to catch up with Joseph and Mary. If we ever wanna get to the last line of the last verse, the one that rejoices, "Christ the Savior is born," there's that matter of hooking up with the shepherds who have gone before us. 'Member that line about shepherds… quaking? Maybe that's part of getting ready. A big part. This year, let's not let the shepherds quake alone. I mean, what better year than this one to be truly moved? 'To be shaken in our boots, shoes or sandals…as the shepherds were… to see God intervening to redeem this messed up, ungodly world?! How else can we respond when the light of Heaven and the minstrels of God laser in on us? Us, mind you! There's news for everyone and us. Everything is about to be changed in God's favor from now on! It's enough to make the whole earth quake, and our souls begin to shake. But there's more. There's gotta be. 'See, like the shepherds, we're comin' right up on the time to move beyond knee knockin'. You and I need to start steppin' out toward Bethlehem. Let's see this thing that the Lord is, even today, making known to us.

God is intervening to redeem this messed up, ungodly world, with all its lost souls. It's earth shaking. Even soul shaking. This makes the Good News good news. I know Luke's got the pretty version in his Gospel. It's complete with Gabriel's announcements and the song of Mary at the news of the coming Jesus. But Matthew puts it in such a blunt and startling way, he captures the shock of it. The impact of it. The blow-us-over force of the news that Christmas is bringing. Mary "was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit." Joseph, her fiancé was taken aback and ready to take things in his own hands, once he quit quaking. (Aren't we like this too? More ready to take things into our own hands than to place them in the hands of God?) But the angel has even more to say. This Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, that's what it means! In our very own company. And on our side, inviting us to be on God's side. Oh, the other Christmas Gospel will catch up. Luke will take us up into the hills around Bethlehem. 'Out there where they tend the sheep. The ones destined to be the sacrifice for sin in the great temple at Jerusalem. No wonder these herders get to shakin' at the angel's word that down in the town, the Savior is born. Why, if God is with us, we may not need those sacrifices on the altar anymore! The Savior will be all we need. Once we have the Good Shepherd for our souls, no other shepherding is needed, thank you very much. Oh, these hillside heroes may be out of a job, but then, they'll be into living in a whole new world. Now here's the Christmas point: so are we!

I like the fliers in the paper this weekend. Stuff on sale. The "perfect holiday", near as the plastic card in your purse or wallet. It's enough to get you pretty fired up, I guess. (When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.) But ain't nothin' in those papers any match for the latest tape from Osama Bin Ladin. Or the sad suffering of those deprived kids in Liberia to whom we've sent toys for their play and choir robes for their praise to God. If we had that, why, that'd be enough to get us all shook up! If only there were a Presence, enough to quell the quaking in the Holy Land and elsewhere on this earth, where we human beings have made such an unholy mess, as to the north and east of there. Oh, if only we had Something or Someone with us, enough to stir heaven to our side when there's trouble-at-home. Where marriages and households need mending. It's tough enough when your little kids come home with troubles. But what do you do when their grown? And they're ill. And you can't make it well? Is there a Great Physician in the House? You know what we need, dear friends? We need someone who will lay hold of our souls when we are lost, lost in sin or sadness, doubt, disbelief or fear. That's what we need. It would be one Holy Night if such a One as this were born into our world. And were this One to go so far as to give up for us, pour out for us, wrestle with death itself for our sake, body and soul, why, that would be all we need. Well, that's what we get, friends, come Friday night/early Saturday morning. This is no one day sale, this is the eternal purchase of our soul, heaven claimed and earth blessed we're talkin' about. The shepherds knew this. Grasped it, literally in a flash. And the first thing they did about it was shake- all-over in the power about to overtake and overcome them. If you haven't shaken a little, quaked in your sandals some, you're not ready yet, no matter what you've already baked, bought, wrapped or decorated for Christmas

Everything is about to be changed in God's favor from now on! 'You ready for that? When you are, it'll give you the shakes, like the shepherds. We read the line so fast, a few moments ago. I wonder if you caught it. We're in such a hurry to get our Savior born, we miss what the angel told to Joseph, shivering in his shoes. I just know it gave him goose bumps when that ole angel told him. All this has happened "to fulfill what the Lord has spoken by the prophet." It's a little more hidden in Luke's words, I suppose. But the shepherds got it from the start. "Unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord." Don't miss this "in the City of David" part. Those hillside hearers surely didn't. This child to be born fulfills a promise. He's part of a plan in place, well, you might say, forever! It's never been God's intention that we should be entirely on our own. And now he's come to carry out what he's always intended: to claim us for himself, body and soul. To cleanse us of sin and clothe us to keep company with him.

Get this. Don't miss this. God is about to apply both his power and his presence to our world. The world we share. And that personal, private world that we alone know as our very own soul. Sure, in both worlds, things often seem like their headin' the wrong way. There's a reason why we sing in this season, "Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today." A way lotta times, it feels like we're just your run-of-the-mill defense, and Satan's on the field, quarterbackin' for the other team. And about to set the record for touchdown passes, just like Payton Manning. Well, there'll be a momentum shift, come Christmas Eve. God's gonna keep his promise. God's gonna actualize his plan. From now on, things are going to be changed in God's favor. He's not gonna send an army. His only angel band will be just that, a band… or a chorus, as it were… He will work his will with one solitary life. And when we respond to this life, to this baby when he's grown, why, you and I will get to see how the changes God wants are already under way. I love the words of Jesus when the 70 souls he's sent out to heal and save others return to report in. The Savior says of them and their work, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." (Lk.10: 18-20) That's what this Christmas is coming to bring. The balance of power, shifted in Heaven's favor, inside and all around us. Are you ready? Isn't it enough to make you shake in your shoes?

But let's not settle for knee knockin'. Let's decide to start steppin' out toward Bethlehem, to see this thing that the Lord is, even today, making known to us. A sense of awe, of divine mystery and authority, passion and persuasion, is all part and parcel of getting ready for the coming Christ. But even the shepherds knew this was not enough. Each of us, like all of them, needs to decide to look and see what God is doing in this holy birth. Let me tell you a secret a week before Christmas. You can't pick up this baby in your arms at the same time you've got sin and sadness in your hands. Most all of us have got some stuff to set down, lay down, put aside before we come to the cradle come the end of the week. Let this be the one preparation you complete by Friday! If there's anything you're holding onto you can't retain and still embrace this Jesus, give it up. If there's anybody you need to get right with before you get goin' to Bethlehem, get to them. Don't dally. Don't delay. He's coming. He's on his way. Decide. Decide today. Like the shepherds, what you and I have heard is enough that we should quake. But it is not enough simply to sit or stand around and shake. No, no, let us too go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that the Lord is making known to us.

'See you at the manger, come Friday night.

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