To echo the words of the Westminster Confession, the purpose of humanity is to worship God and enjoy Him forever. The truth is breathtakingly revealed on the night the angels greet the shepherds with news the Messiah is born. Since my announced retirement, people have several times asked what has brought me the most reward or satisfaction during 40 years of ministry. I do not answer the question lightly, but reflecting on the Judean shepherds, what I have treasured the most, have been the times of just being with God and knowing Christ close, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes gathered in a group, like shepherds, God chooses to visit a Christian Community, and in a miraculous way one glimpses eternity and realizes how Holy and close Jesus is. At other times in the struggles of prayer, God is so close, indescribably close. In the mundane world of “doing church” or even in the habitual movements of spiritual disciplines, God breaks in, and once again there is the jaw dropping experience that Jesus Christ is who he says he is. I have sometimes wondered if the shepherds went flat on their faces before the angels, and how the angel’s announcement thundered through their souls, and how did they drink it all in?
In a couple of recent sermons, I have mentioned the times of ministry when as a pastor you feel at wit’s end: being exhausted on a Sunday morning, dreading a tense business meeting, anxious over another difficult conversation. Yet, I have occasionally in desperation prayed, “Jesus it will be all right if you just show up.” And more times than not, Jesus has. I see a fractured, hate filled, self-worshiping world, and too many times the Body of Christ mimics a secular society, and our aspiration for a timeless Spirit molded church are discouraged and eroded by headwinds blowing from 360 degrees. But Jesus arrives. The human condition remains the same, the propensity in C.S. Lewis’ words “to be bent.” But in cold and darkness, angels speak to the almost least of these, who raise lambs to be sacrificed. I wonder if the shepherds rejoiced as out of the night they saw the glory of God, and they knew everything was going to be o.k. The joy of knowing everything will be o.k. must have overwhelmed the shepherds.
Recently I heard a pundit say: “To be American is to be lonely.” I was struck by what is obviously and an oversimplified statement, but I cannot deny the truth it contains. How in a society so wealthy and technologically advanced, so “connected” can people experience personal and societal loneliness? Partly the reason is the problem of sin, and maybe part of the sin is that in a tribalized culture we are lonely because we have grown to hate one another. Bonhoeffer writes that we only truly see each other through the experience of the cross. Maybe the same is true about the manger. If I have not entered into the Good News from cradle to grave, if I truly believe that hope and salvation are fleeting solely human endeavors maybe hate becomes easy and hatred creates the deepest of despair, isolation,
and loneliness. But if the incarnation proves nothing else, it is hope and salvation are beyond ourselves found in the grace of God who sends the Son born of Mary and held by Joseph. And God breaks into the darkness and the message is “Glory to God in the highest.” And the response is to run breathlessly to meet Jesus.
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