Christmas means that the altar (i.e. the presence of God) becomes our address.

Christmas means that it is now possible to become friends with God.

And this week, before the big day arrives, we see that Christmas means we have a Savior to make known

 

The outcast evangelists 

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas narrative is that immediately after the birth of Jesus, an angel appeared to shepherds announcing the birth of the Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 

Luke 2:15-17

There are two reasons why I find this part of the story particularly fascinating. Firstly, God chose to announce the birth of the Christ child to the most unlikely candidates: shepherds. A lot of times in our Christmas pageants or in an animated version of the Christmas story, the shepherds are portrayed as nice, well-groomed animal lovers who are diligently working at the honest profession of shepherding. Nothing could be further from the truth. In general, shepherds had a rather dishonest reputation and were known for being a rough lot. Also, the rabbis considered them unclean, because their profession did not allow them to adhere to Jewish custom and law. They were, to put it bluntly, outcasts.

So here is the picture: the outcasts, on the outskirts of the city, guarding the sheep that were to be used for temple sacrifices in Jerusalem, were the first to get the inside scoop on Christ’s birth. The shepherds represent us all, the sinners, the lost, and those of us who have stared off into the abyss of a star-filled sky wondering the purpose of it all.

Secondly, these shepherds ‘made known’ the good news shared with them by the angel. In other words, the outcasts became the first evangelists. Have you ever thought about where the shepherds made known the birth of a Savior? The answer may be tied to their profession. Being in charge of flocks devoted to sacrifice, they would have sold their sheep to those going to temple to worship and to sacrifice.[1]

Could it be that the shepherds spent their days announcing Jesus, the one who would sacrifice himself for the sins of mankind, to those who were presently purchasing animals to be sacrificed? What a picture! Soon temple sacrifices would be made obsolete, because the Child they saw that night so long ago was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

 

[1] Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 1, p. 271). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

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