Angels, Shepherds and Magi…
I’m sitting here – it’s Christmas night – the day is over, the dishes are done, the wrapping paper is all cleaned up, everybody has returned to their own homes and how soon it all seems to end – at least for another year. Most of us are getting ready to think about the decorations coming down in the next week or so and the after Christmas sales are already in full swing. According to the news reports, sales were drastically down this year – due in part to the shortened time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But that’s not the whole story – internet sales were up sharply and that that has hurt the bricks and mortar stores. Who knows how this will affect retail sales in the next five years or so.
As you can see, most of us are caught up in the consumerism of Christmas. But more than 2000 years ago, the Christ child had just been born and it wasn’t the end of the celebration – it was the beginning of His whole life on earth. Most of the time, we tend to forget that. In fact, Luke, a doctor and author of one of the four Gospels, undertook to write an accurate account of the facts about Christ and he tells us that there were angels and shepherds in the fields after the birth of Jesus. Matthew, another author, tells us about the Magi. Most of us know this, especially since we have heard the Christmas carols that tend to let us know about the Christmas story.
There are songs like “The First Noel” where we learn that there were shepherds and angels in the fields. Or “Silent Night”, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and so many others depicting the birth of Jesus. After the angels and the shepherds, we also learn that that there were Magi, or Wise Men, who also visited the Christ child. From a historical accuracy perspective, there were probably several hundred Magi who made the journey and it would have taken several years for all of them to have gathered and made the trip. That’s why Herod issued the order for all the male children to be put to death – to make sure that Jesus wouldn’t survive. But, consistent with God’s grace, Jesus was spared and went on to become known far and wide as a remarkable man, the King of the Jews, but a far different King than had been expected. It all started that day in Bethlehem.
I was speaking to a friend of mine about the Christmas story. His daughter teaches sixth grade and she was recounting how few students these days know about the Magi and their visit to see Jesus. When quizzed about who was involved in visiting Jesus, most of the students correctly answered that the shepherds and angels were there but they really didn’t have too much knowledge about those foreign kings who gave the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. I found that fact rather disturbing. After all, as Christians we have the responsibility to make sure that our children are well versed in the history of the faith and how it all started.
Our daughter, Kristin, also teaches children at church and writes curriculum for kids’ ministries. She is diligent about making sure that children learn at a very young age about the events surrounding the birth of our Savior. It’s fundamentally important for all of us to do the same thing.
The verse for this evening is the one that highlights the events that followed the birth of Jesus on that “Christmas Day” so many years ago. Luke tells us in chapter 2:8-16, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 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. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, 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.”
My encouragement this evening is that our children need to learn this history backwards and forwards – and you are the person to do it! My prayer is that the greatest story ever told will continue to be at the forefront of our minds and will remain vitally important to pass on to our children and our grandchildren and even great grandchildren. It’s the traditions that we set that will become so important to them as the years go by. Have a wonderful Christmas, and a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…