If an angel came in here right now and gave us this message, would you believe it? The message is this: Jesus has come back to the earth. He is in the Old West End of Toledo right now, at the corner of Delaware and Robinwood, in a small park. There is a gazebo there and he’s there, wearing a white robe and holding a walking stick. He’s sitting on one of the benches telling stories.
Would you believe an angel with that message today? Would you jump in your car and go right over there? And if you saw him, would you believe then? Because you know, it’s one thing to hear such a story. But seeing really is believing.
Now, one part of this story that makes it really hard for us to relate is the angel part. All through December we have been hearing stories from scripture about angel visitors. First they came to Zechariah to tell him that his very old wife would give birth to John the Baptist. Then the angel came to Mary, and then another to Joseph in a dream. Today we get angels in the fields with the shepherds.
It’s really hard for us in the 21st century to read these stories and wrap our minds around angels. The words angel means messenger from God. Now we can just decide to believe that they were in the collective imaginations of the people – some sort of apparition. Or you can believe that there was a physical manifestation of some other worldly creature sent from God to give a message. God can do anything after all.
Maybe you don’t believe in angels at all. You just can’t bring yourself to swallow that part of scripture. You have been trained in logic and science and you just can’t go there. Even if you don’t believe in how the people say they got the message, or how scripture records that they got a message – they each still seem to have gotten a message from somewhere.
They each got a message and something about that message came true. Zechariah got a message and he and Elizabeth, at a very old age, had a baby. Mary and Joseph had a baby and raised him as their Son.
And the Shepherds (from Luke 2:8-20 for those following along on the web), in a field outside Bethlehem, got a message to go into town, to a place outside an inn, to see a baby lying in a manger. And they went.
Why did they go? If I told you Jesus was in the Old West End right now, sitting in a gazebo telling stories, why would you go?
The shepherds went because they needed hope. They needed hope. In fact, as the story tells us, they didn’t just go to the manger they RAN to Bethlehem, ran to the manger. You see, the people of Israel were living in misery. Their country was occupied by the Roman army. They were paying high taxes to Rome. They were not free. This was not the land flowing with milk and honey and peace that God had promised to them. And, in fact, they had wandered far from God.
The people were walking in darkness and they were longing for a Messiah. They were longing for a Savior would who bring them hope. There were prophecies of a Messiah who would feed the poor and send the rich away empty handed. That is what they people were waiting for.
When the angel came and said: “The Messiah has come.” The Shepherds ran right over to see this baby and the scripture says, “Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.”
Did you catch that last part? The Shepherds were the first evangelists. They told everyone, and everyone was impressed.
Can you imagine, being so taken with a baby, that a baby would give you hope for the future?
That baby had not done a thing. You’ve been around babies, they don’t realy do anything. But somehow they knew that this baby was the hope of the world. Shepherds! Now let’s remember these were not religious scholars. These were not experts on theology. Being a shepherd was a stinky dirty job. They were the bottom (they would have appeared on Dirty Jobs if that show was around then). But these guys came running in from the fields, took one look at Jesus, and said, “Yes, he is the one we have been waiting for.” They went and told their friends and everyone was impressed.
Friends, this is a really simple formula for evangelism (for drawing other people to Jesus): 1) we see Jesus, 2) we believe, 3) we tell other people, 4) they believe. It’s just that simple.
Now, let me ask you: where did you see Jesus this week? OK, so you did not drive over to the Old West End at the corner of Delaware and Robinwood and see Jesus in a white tunic, holding a walking stick, looking like he stepped right out of the first century. Fair enough.
But, did you see his followers living in his way? Did you see these things this week: compassion, forgiveness, generosity, reconciliation, patience, honesty, self-control and even accountability?
You see, when those shepherds ran to the Bethlehem to the manger to see Jesus that is what they were looking for. They were looking for a Messiah who would bring all those things to a broken world. They were looking for someone who would turn their world around. They were looking for a leader who would lead them to be people of compassion, forgiveness, generosity, reconciliation, patience, honesty, self-control and even lead them to accountability.
And the scripture says, when they found they baby, they “let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!” Jesus was everything the angels said he would be. He was just an infant, but the shepherds knew. They just knew in their hearts that he was the one. That is the kind of effect Jesus has on our world.
But this is the thing. Right now, we Jesus followers, we have kind of a bad brand. You know what a brand is right? There is the brand, the perception, that the owner wants the public to have of itself. We Jesus followers have one idea of what our brand perception should be. But then there is the image brand. That is what our image IS in the public.
Right now we have a brand problem. People think that Jesus followers are hypocritical, judgmental and homophobic. That is the top three things people see us as. But this is what we want our brand to be. When people hear the term Jesus follower, we want them to think: compassion, forgiveness, generosity, reconciliation, patience, honesty, self-control and accountability (in a good way).
So here is what I think we need to do: when we see those actions in the world, we need to say: “Hey, you’re being like Jesus and that’s great.”
When someone forgives you, I could say to them, “I know I don’t deserve to be forgiven, but I’m a follower of Jesus and he forgave people all the time, so I thank you for giving me another chance.”
What about when you see a child showing compassion or kindness? Why not say something like this? “I saw how you were just kind. You were being like Jesus. He was kind too. Thank you for being like Jesus.” What do you suppose it would mean to a child to get that sort of positive affirmation?
I want to thank all of you who were generous in giving to our Christmas offering. We raised $4172 this year for the children here in Toledo and in Zimbabwe. You honored Jesus’ birthday by being generous. I believe that was a wonderful way to celebrate his birth and I want to thank you for being like Jesus in your generosity.
What about this? What if your partner is honest with you and tells you when you do something that bugs him or her. What if rather than getting defensive, you said, “It is hard for me to hear this, because I don’t like criticism. But I thank you for being honest, because honesty is crucial to us having a good relationship. I know you want to be like Jesus and so do I so I’m going to try to work through this with you.” Wouldn’t that be a much more productive way to handle someone being honest with us, than the way many of us handle such conversations?
You see, I think the shepherds give us an invitation. They give us an invitation to believe in Jesus and to believe that living like him can really make a difference in our lives. All of these qualities: compassion, forgiveness, generosity, reconciliation, patience, honesty, self-control and accountability, are qualities that Jesus embodied every day of his life.
He came to change us. The shepherds ran to see him because they really wanted to be changed. The believed that he could change them and in so doing he could change the whole world. Jesus can change us too, and change our world through us.
So this week I urge you to look for Jesus. Look for acts of compassion, forgiveness, generosity, reconciliation, patience, honesty, self-control and even accountability. And when you see them, believe in the power of Jesus. Name the power of Jesus and give thanks. And then be inspired to go and do likewise. This is how the movement of Jesus will grow in our world. When we believe and then live as his followers. Amen.
Oh, and if you want the link to that great rendition of The Little Drummer Boy Pastor Cheri told you about in worship, here’s the link - http://youtu.be/qJ_MGWio-vc