December 19, 2010

Saying Yes to God with the Shepherds

Christmas is almost here. The commercials for the product you ‘have to’ get are increasing. Those in church work are feeling a bit stressed with the last minute production of bulletins and pageants and sermon preparation. We are all busily wrapping gifts and hoping we got what everyone wanted. Where in all the rushing around is the ‘reason for the season’? Where is the ‘desire of nations,’ spoken of by the prophet Haggai?

The prophet is called to speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the high priest, and to the ‘remnant of the people’ exiled in Babylon under Darius (ca 500BC) He says, “Be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts: According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not. For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come.” (Haggai 2:4-7)

Georg Fredric Handel uses this citation in his well known work Messiah. It is one of the more thrilling parts of the oratorio, I think. Nearly everyone knows the Hallelujah Chorus, but not everyone has had a chance to hear other parts of the massive work which uses Bible citations set to music to tell the entire salvation story.

Haggai is reminding the Jews in exile that God is with them and will come among them with power. In the midst of our Christmas preparations, it is easy to forget that the Lord does indeed come, but not necessarily as we expect. Unlike the vision Haggai creates of the shaking of earth and nations, God is in a manger, visited by some of the lowest members of society-the shepherds.

Even though they served a necessary and important function, shepherds were considered uncouth and smelly and not fit for ‘polite society’. However, it is these men on the fringe who receive the message from God. Like Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph they were greeted by an angel,Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-20)

Like Mary, the shepherds were receptive to the news of the Savior’s birth. “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.” Because they were willing to hear and believe, the shepherds were witness to the miracle of God who stoops to enter the lowest of homes and hearts.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, Paul reminds his fellow Jews that “Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses also ‘was faithful in all God’s house.’…Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later. Christ, however, was faithful over God’s house as a son, and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope.” (Hebrews 3:1-6)

Like the Shepherds, we are called to ‘hold firm’ the confidence, pride and hope of our calling as children of God. Michael Card calls this our Soul Anchor:
“So hold fast, draw near
It’s a soul anchor
Hold onto the hope…
Hold onto your courage
Before we call he answers us with hope”

"Before we call, he answers us with hope" says Card. The humble shepherds knew that hope. They were minding their flocks, when the most glorious hope of all interrupted their lives with the opportunity to say Yes. They abandoned their livelihood and after seeing the Child, they "they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them." All were amazed, says scripture, but not all returned with the shepherds who came back to the stable, "glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Now, 2000 years later, we sometimes lose sight of the One who made the angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

What can we do to rediscover the surprise and joy that the Shepherds must have experienced when angels filled the sky and proclaimed that Messiah was born? There are a few days left in the season of Advent, perhaps one thing we can do is return to our Advent box. Look at the images of God we put in along with the fears, scars and changed dreams you put in the box. This week add your hopes and prayers—hopes for yourself, your family, your friends, the world, etc.

Behold, the Desire of Nations has come. He is our Soul Anchor and all things are possible in Him. We have “a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain.” (Hebrews 6:19) How does that change our life? How will that change your life? I hope you will find time in these last few days before Christmas to take time to consider the Desire of Nations and how that His coming offers amazing hope.
On Sunday, we'll look at someone who said 'NO' to God's call.

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