And 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.
From my favorite sermon from the renown Gardner C. Taylor, I know the value and challenge of going down into one’s own Gethsemane and climbing one’s own Calvary. In the words of this dean of African-American preachers, it is only when we have experienced the wound that only God can heal that we can truly know his power. Because of the bitterness, stress, and anguish associated with these places; not too many Christians are in a rush to go to a Gethsemane or Calvary. But, thank God, many of us come to our senses, deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow our Lord Jesus Christ and obey God the Father unto death. Even death on a cross knowing that behind the cross, there is a crown. Where there is a test, there is a testimony, and where there is a crucifixion, there is a resurrection.
In light of this, to call the believer to go to one’s own Bethlehem doesn’t seem quite as critical nor difficult. After all, the angel of the Lord said, “fear not.” Seeing and hearing an angelic chorus must have been an awesome experience. And even if this had not been such a heavenly calling, who does not mind seeing a new-born baby. After staying up all night, looking at sheep, guarding against wild animals and thieves; seeing a harmless, innocent, infant seems to be a welcome change of pace.
I give to you this morning, my brothers and sisters, that it is indeed just as critical and sometimes as difficult for us to fully embrace the Nativity of our Lord and Savior just as it is the betrayal and crucifixion. Like the shepherds, we are in a world of darkness. The lights of civilized human behavior are in our sights. But, we are away from civilized behavior. School kids, teachers, and now firefighters get shot at in this nation, women are horribly assaulted in India. And Christianity is threatened in the very lands that formed its theology and practice. We humans know what a right world should look like. Men and women should be safe on their job. Women and children should be protected. Religions should be honored, at least, where they originated. And yet, we are only in the region, somewhere on the outskirts where it is cold and dark.
The danger is that we develop, what I will call, an outskirt mentality. Where we give into the cynicism and despair believing that our world is hopeless. It is this outskirt mentality that generates too many of us to embrace “end of the world” doctrines and take up scornful attitudes as we sit and wait for Jesus to take us away in the “Rapture.” Instead of shining the great light of the Gospel of hope and redemption, we hide it under a bushel basket somewhere in the outskirts where people need it the most and wind up burning ourselves in self-righteousness.
The Lord has called us to something different from letting the outskirts remain in darkness. An angel brought forth good tidings of great joy which will come to all the people. In our world of sorrow, fear, worry, death, and destruction; like the shepherds, we have received good tidings of great joy. Christ the Lord is Born! Hope, renewal, and restoration has come into the world. And God the Father has given us the invitation to see his Son in a way that we can accept, adore, and love. And if we cannot accept Him in swaddling cloth, how can we deal with the nails that would be in his hands? If we cannot love him in a manger, how can we go with him to the olive press? If we Christians cannot embrace the joyous light of the Gospel and return to our outskirts glorifying and praising God, If we cannot go to our Bethlehem, Gethsemane will be impossible and Calvary will be unthinkable. To paraphrase the ancient Father Tertullian of Alexandria, if we cannot believe in the Nativity of Jesus Christ, we may as well be dead.
We are called to have life and have it abundantly. We may live in the dark outskirts of a better world. But we are called to have and lead others to a more joyful expectation of what God has made possible and will bring into fullness. And what can give more joyful expectation than the birth of a son who will bear the father’s name and legacy? And what name and legacy can be greater than that of God himself? We do not serve a God who would have us dwell in a cold and dark world with no hope. We worship the One who gives us the promise of an infant. And with that promise, we are able to endure the tears and wounds of humanity, and rejoice in the victorious divinity! We cannot see this promise in the outskirts with an outskirt mentality. We can only see this promise when we go to Bethlehem.
Go to Bethlehem when a teacher has to snatch a 5-year-old under her desk to avoid being shot. Go to Bethlehem when a fireman has to avoid bullets as well as flash-overs. Go to Bethlehem when a young lady has to worry about her honor anytime she is surrounded by men. Go to Bethlehem when The Street Called Straight in Damascus where Paul’s eyes were opened is under threat of a civil war. Whenever darkness dims our peace in mind and coldness threatens our calmness, go to Bethlehem in prayer. See the redemption of man in the form of the pure and innocent child. And go back to your region telling everyone that God has something better for us all!
CHRIST IS BORN! PRAISE HIM!