For Christmas Eve, Faith Church included as part of our worship service, the excellent depiction of the Christmas Story as told by the TV show The Chosen. Before continuing with this post, I urge you to watch the episode below:
As I watched the first part of the video, the introduction felt very familiar. Remember the intro? The people were suffering. In first century Palestine, the brutal Roman Empire occupied their land and taxed them heavily. Poverty was rampant. They knew darkness and pain and suffering. Sounds like 2020 doesn’t it?
We know darkness and pain and suffering, too, don’t we? It has been a dark year. If any other year included only one of the major crises we’ve faced for the last 12 months, that year would have gone down in history. We (as a nation) have not had one, but four. On top of that are personal struggles, tragedies and hard things you have all probably faced this past year. Thinking of those four national struggles, what made them more painful is that they all occurred at the same time, all lasting for months, and all four continue to this day. What four difficulties am I referring to?
First, as 2019 became 2020, bitter politics were already well underway. But in the early weeks of 2020 it exploded with acrimony during the impeachment hearings. That tone would only get worse through the primaries and election, and it has not stopped during the post-election transition lawsuits and mayhem. Second, there was a string of awful acts of atrocity against persons of color, kicking off a renewed movement to right the wrongs of racial injustice, which is our nation’s original sin. Yes, we’ve made progress, but we have a long way to go. Third, many across the country have suffered natural disasters. Fourth, it was around the time of the impeachment that we started hearing about Covid. The “19” in Covid 19 means that it actually started in 2019, but it didn’t reach our shores till 2020. The spring shutdown were some dark days. We got a brief respite in the summer, but now Covid is worse than ever. We praise God vaccines are finally being administered, but the darkness will be with us for a while, won’t it?
For you and I this is a Christmas Eve like no other. Just 12 short months ago, we hadn’t heard of Coronavirus. Tonight we mourn the loss of 320,000 dead and counting. I wonder if we’ve become callous to the numbers of Covid deaths because we’ve seen it on the news and watched them steadily climb day after day for months?
320,000 dead! Countless more survived, but many of them lost time at work and now have hospital bills due to being sick with Covid. Many others have never caught the virus but have had their businesses and lives impacted, not to mention the anxiety and stress we’ve felt.
What would you have said if someone told you that 12 months ago? Imagine on the blog, for Christmas Eve 2019, I wrote, “This time next year, at Christmas Eve worship, one of two worship services of the year when the room is usually packed, you will be sitting in a half-empty sanctuary, and you’ll all be wearing face-masks. There will be a bunch of people worshiping online, connecting from their homes via Zoom, because we’re quarantining from a disease that has taken 320,000 people in our country.” You’d be thinking, “No way. That’s ridiculous. … and what is Zoom???”
It’s been a dark year.
What do we do about the darkness?
Go back to the original Christmas story, and we do what the shepherds did!
Did you hear that phrase repeated in the story, right at the end as the shepherd leaves Joseph, Mary and Jesus? “People must know.” The shepherd has some good news, and people must know! In the middle of darkness, people must know. That was true then, and it is still true now!
What must people know?
People must know that God is with us. People must know that God came in the flesh to become one of us. That’s what the baby in the Christmas story was, in true historical fact. Yes, Jesus would grow up to be a great teacher, even a miracle worker. But those were signposts pointing to another reality, pointing to the truth. His teaching and his miracles are astounding in their own right, and we would do well to learn from them, as Jesus himself, through his teaching in particular, was showing us what kind of Kingdom is best, his kingdom.
But ultimately his life and ministry pointed to another reality, the truth that Jesus is both human and God. That he is God with us.
As the video closes, the shepherds are running around Bethlehem spreading the good news, when suddenly the mean, religious leader calls out. The leader asks a very important question to the shepherd, “Have you found a spotless lamb for sacrifice?” As the shepherd quietly looks back at the religious leader, a smile slowly forms on the shepherd’s lips. It’s a mysterious ending. Maybe it leaves you wondering.
Of course we know that the shepherd did not find a spotless lamb the religious leader had in mind. So why does the shepherd smile? Because he found a different spotless lamb. A very different one indeed.
It was a sacrificial lamb that people must know about.
I don’t know how much the shepherds understood about the significance of the birth of this baby. But they had just witnessed an astounding event, starting with the visit from the angels. This was the moment in the video when the light broke through the darkness of the shepherds’ camp. Here’s the story, as told in the Bible, the book of Luke, chapter 2, verses 8-20:
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
“13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
“15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
“16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”
We learn from this story that Christmas is a participatory event. Just like the shepherds, we tell the good news about what we have seen. People must know that God is alive and well. People must know that he was born, lived, gave his life to die as that sacrificial lamb, and then rose again from the dead to give us all the hope of new life.
I love how we see new life depicted in the shepherd, Simon, in the story. He has it rough. Shepherds, in general in that society, were outcasts, considered very dirty and crude. Of course Simon is a fictional character who not only has his leg healed, but also has new hope in the birth of the savior, we read in the story that the actual shepherds, the real historical shepherds, the ones who visited Joseph, Mary and Jesus in Bethlehem, were filled with rejoicing, with new hope, because the of birth of the savior. Maybe you feel dirty, outcast, marginalized or just plain old depressed and frustrated by 2020. There is hope! Please comment below, as I’d be glad to talk with you about this.
People must know!
People living in our dark world must know that there is a bright shining light of hope. As the ancient prophets foretold, “The people living in darkness have seen a great light.” That’s not only the people living in Jesus’ day, that’s also you and me. We have seen the light. We have the hope the world is longing for. We don’t have a solution that will eliminate all hard things for the rest of our lives. Even Jesus went on to have numerous difficulties in his life, as did those who chose to be his disciples. But he promised hope, he promised an abundant life, he promised to be faithful to us through it all, to never leave us or forsake us. There is a great light, a great hope, and great joy, that is found in Jesus. People must know! Who can you tell this good news to? How are you a living, breathing message of hope, joy and love?
One of my favorite parts of 2020, and yes there have been some good parts, is a phenomenon called Some Good News, a YouTube show created by actor John Krasinski, most famous for being on the TV show The Office. During quarantine he collected stories of wonderful ways people were treating each other with kindness, and he made about eight episodes, because he wanted to share good news.
We have good news, and arguably the ultimate good news, Christians. We have the good news of Jesus. Let the good news sink into your heart, let it affect your thoughts and your actions. May we end this year knowing the truth that God adores us. He sacrificially gave us his son in the most vulnerable and humble of ways. He desires to be known by each one of us. He is the hope of the world.
People must know!