"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields ... And the angel of the Lord came upon them ... and the glory of the Lord shone round about them ... And the angel said to them: 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For to you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign to you: You shall find the babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.'"
A baby in a manger. And the story can end for us right there - or it can begin for us right there. I'm afraid that for many the story ends in the manger.
For many years I thought of Christmastime as the end of the year. But recently I have begun to realize that Christmas is really the beginning. In the church calendar, the season of Advent is the beginning of the church year. And this is right, because the coming of Jesus Christ does mark a beginning point for us all. The birth of Christ actually marks a pivot point in all history, even as the coming of Christ into each life marks a pivot point in each person's life. Our calendar changes there, at the point of Christ's birth, designating all that happened before that as B.C. Many people who have barely a nodding acquaintance with the Christian church celebrate this point in history - and many who are integrally a part of the Christian church and Christian faith have really not much better concept than non-Christians, of the meaning of this event for their own lives, for the lives of everybody in the whole world.
Because we forget to remember that - the baby grew up.
The baby grew up. And we, who have committed ourselves to worshipping him in the manger, must consider also what we are going to do with him as an adult.
Most of us may prefer to have our Christmas experience end in the manger - with worship and adoration, instead of facing the challenge that Jesus Christ was born to show us a new way of living, to show us a God of love, to challenge us to follow his teachings and example. And we can't do that with the baby.
It is interesting to note that Jesus seems to have made no effort to lead or to teach until he was 30 years old. And when he did begin to lead and teach, it is obvious that he had taken time during his growing-up years to study, to learn the fundamentals of the historic faith of his people, to learn about human motives and behavior, to understand the natural and human world around him.
His teachings show a genuine sympathy with and compassion for the people in the world in which he lived. And because of his great understanding of God and his fellow people, he was able to work quite effectively into becoming a leader of the people.
The baby grew up - to become a leader among his people. It would be valuable to us to try to understand what it was that made Jesus so effective a leader that millions of people today are following him, even though imperfectly, 2,000 years after his birth.
The baby grew up - and spent his life on earth trying to lead us to find the best way in which we might serve God and our neighbors - in order that the angel's song which was sung at his birth might become the song of the whole earth: "Glory to God in the highest! And on earth - Peace ..."
Bea Shepard is a certified lay speaker in the United Methodist Church and member of Douglas Community UM Church.
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