Last Sunday I preached on Luke 2:8–20 and the shepherds’ encounter with the angel who brought the news of the coming of the promised Messiah. As I reflected further on the passage I thought of how ordinary, how quiet, the evening must have been before the appearance of the heavenly messenger. I imagine the silence punctuated by the bleating of the sheep, the occasional cry of a night bird, the howl of a wolf from a distance, and the chirping of insects. Apart from a campfire or two, the night must have been dark before the appearance of the angel.
As an old, unrepentant X-files fan I can imagine the appearance of the light and the angel akin to the appearance of a UFO in an X-files episode. Perhaps this was the original UFO. Suddenly the evening was no longer dark and silent. Suddenly a light shone from heaven as an angel appeared to announce the good news that God’s promised Messiah had finally come. Then there was the full angelic choir praising God:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14 NIV)
God had entered the stage of human history and things would never be the same again.
Perhaps it is because I am getting older, but I am beginning to think that to be able to receive God’s most important announcements we need to be quiet. And to appreciate the divine light we shouldn’t be dazzled by too many earthly lights.
Yet this Christmas, like most Christmases I have known, will be noisy and dazzling. Whether from the heart, or from expectations, we will be rejoicing. Many churches will work hard to put up Christmas extravaganzas to signal our joy and hoping that our non-Christian friends will hear the gospel and hopefully respond to it. But I wonder.
It’s a bit difficult to be rejoicing when there is so much pain in the world, from wars, rumours of war, natural disasters, etc. Loud reminders to be joyful seem to ring a bit false. We know what has happened. Christ has come. He has died and risen again. He will come again to finish the restoration and healing He began at His first visit. But our non-Christian friends may not know the story and may be wondering why we are celebrating in the face of so much pain. Indeed some may think us horribly insensitive to be doing so.
So, yes, we do need to help folks connect the dots between Jesus’s first coming and His second coming, and the hope we have in the meantime. But I wonder if this is better done quietly, over a meal, and over caring conversations. I believe God is speaking to us, but like the shepherds we need quiet to hear His messages.