One night, while shepherds were simply doing their job and going about
their business, they were surprised and terrified by what happened next
— they were visited by angels sent from God! It’s a wonderful story,
and I think we can learn several important lessons from their
experience that incredible night – the night Jesus was born!
1 — Embrace the Moment
Many things are out of our control, but we are responsible for how we respond to “sacred surprises.”
I think of …
- Moses, out in the desert, minding his own business, doing his
job, when he encounters God’s presence at the burning bush; he was
changed, and so was the future of God’s people
- Jacob, on the road, about to meet an angry brother, has an
encounter – a wrestling match – with God; he was forever changed, with
a limp to prove it
- Peter, praying as he normally did one day, but this time, God
spoke to him through a vision; and, he and the church were forever
Scripture if full of stories of people who encountered God in various
ways. We too encounter God in prayer, in worship, in our homes, through
all kinds of situations and experiences.
Embrace the moment!
How will we respond when we encounter the sacred surprises?
“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46.10)
When you encounter a God-moment, don’t rush, don’t leave; just wait,
and listen. Like Moses at the burning bush, take off your shoes and
stay awhile! God-moments can happen anywhere, anytime. I believe we
should expect to encounter God’s presence whenever we come to worship!
“Ruthlessly eliminate hurry …”
One of my favorite writers, John Ortberg, tells the story: “Not long
after moving to Chicago, I called a wise friend to ask for some
spiritual direction. I described the pace of life in my current
ministry. The church where I serve tends to move at a fast clip. I also
told him about our rhythms of family life: we are in the van-driving,
soccer-league, piano-lesson, school-orientation-night years. I told him
about the present condition of my heart, as best I could discern it.
What did I need to do, I asked him, to be spiritually healthy?
“You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life,” he said at last.
Another long pause.
“Okay, I’ve written that one down,” I told him, a little impatiently.
“That’s a good one. Now what else is there?” I had many things to do,
and this was a long-distance call, so I was anxious to cram as many
units of spiritual wisdom into the least amount of time possible.
Another long pause.
“There is nothing else,” he said. “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”
Eliminating hurry will help create an environment where we can
experience and encounter God! Eliminating hurry removes the
distractions, so we can focus on God.
2 — Evangelize others (tell the Story)
I know the word “evangelism” (or evangelize) has become scary word in
our culture, but we need to hang onto it. The angel says to the
shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy for everyone!”
Literally: “I evangelize to you great joy!”
To evangelize is simply to share good news, to tell God’s Story, the
Story of Jesus Christ: “The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been
born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David!” There is no greater
message than that, no better news!
It certainly doesn’t mean that life is going to be easy, or even get
easier, once you start following the Jesus, the Savior. But it does
mean that we will be free from sin, and the penalty of sin, which is
death. We will live forever with Christ in heaven! It means we will
never do life alone! We will experience the same things that everyone
else experiences; the difference is that Christ-followers are like
houses built on solid rock!
I encourage you to attend every week you can of the series I’m planning
for next spring (right after Easter) – “Gone Fishin!” it will be a
series on what it means to evangelize, to tell the story, to be
witnesses of our Savior!
I love this: “And this is how you will recognize him: You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!”
The angels, who were evangelizing the shepherds, told them about the
Savior, then they told the shepherds how to find the Savior. We must do
the same – tell people about Jesus, and then tell people how to find
In this case, the shepherds became seekers!
3 — Always be a seeker of the Christ-Child
Disciples are seekers. But not all seekers are disciples! There are
people out there searching for God, but are looking in all the wrong
places. But if you’re going to be a disciple, you must be a seeker!
I love what the Scripture says: “When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Come on, let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’”
They heard, then they acted on what they heard! Wow, if people who hear
the Scripture taught and proclaimed each week would hear God’s Word,
and then act on what they hear, we would literally turn the world
“If you look for me in earnest, you will find me when you seek me.” (Jeremiah 29.13)
Other Seekers in the Story …
- The Wise Men sought Christ, too. They followed the star until it led them to baby Jesus.
- Mary was also a seeker. The shepherds told everyone, including
Mary, what the angels said about the baby (again, they’re telling the
story). Remember, she’s very young, and the Scriptures keep telling us
that she ponders what all of this means. Here, “Mary quietly treasured
these things in her heart and thought about them often.” IOW, she
internalized what God was doing! That’s what we must do. Whenever we go
through things in life, we must ask: “God, what are you trying to say
to me through this experience?” and “What are you trying to accomplish
in me?” This needs to become a reflex (second nature) for us!
4 — Let God transform you
Transformation – metamorphosis
The shepherds returned to their fields. In some ways their lives would
return to normal, but they would never be the same again; they would
never be “normal” again!
“The shepherds went back to their fields and flocks, glorifying and
praising God for what the angels had told them, and because they had
seen the child, just as the angel had said.”
“Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new.” (2 Corinthians 5.17)
The call to follow Christ is a call to radical discipleship! Some
people think of Christianity as “fire insurance” – if I believe in
Jesus, I will avoid hell. While that’s true, that’s not really what
it’s all about – it’s about radical discipleship!
Some of us are always struggling with what to call people who do not follow Christ …
- Lost people – (not crazy about this one)
- Spiritually confused – (it’s okay, but still not crazy about it)
- Unbelievers – no, I don’t like using “believer” for Christ-follower
- Unchurched – not good enough
- Missing – good, in some cases
But I the latest word that may be the best … Normal! So, what does that make those of us who follow Christ? Abnormal!
Recently, I read Leonard Sweet’s book, “Jesus Drives Me Crazy.”
“Once you encounter Jesus, you can never ‘return to normal.’ Authentic
discipleship is an all-of-life spirituality that interrupts all of life
and interprets life on its terms.” (Leonard Sweet)
“Those who dance appear insane to those who cannot hear the music.” (Mark Kleiman)
Following Jesus is not for the faint of heart!
“In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody
who thinks he can follow Jesus without being a little crazy too is
laboring less under a cross than a delusion.” (Frederick Buechner)
Don’t live according to the wisdom of the world!
If you do, you will never find True Love. The angel said, “You will
find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!” IOW,
“You’ll find this baby born in a barn, surrounded by animals, to a
poverty-stricken couple, wrapped in rags, laid in a feed trough.” God
sent Jesus, not according to the wisdom of the world, so that we could
find True Love!