“Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them” (Lk. 2:20).
We typically focus on our approach to Christmas. We want to prepare for Christmas like Christians, and we want to celebrate Christmas like Christians. But I want to press us one further step and charge you to celebrate with an eye toward returning to your work after Christmas like Christians. Or in other words, we want to celebrate Christmas in such a way as to imitate the shepherds who returned to their flocks and fields, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told to them. We want to return to our desks and dishes and books and businesses and sinks and studies and tables and tools, glorifying and praising God like the shepherds. So how do we do that?
There are any number of ways to get tripped up on your way back to work. You can get snagged comparing your Christmas to someone else’s. You can get tangled up in grumpiness about how messy the house is, the kids being boisterous, getting sick, not having your perfect Christmas expectations met, or simply a bad attitude about having to go back to work, back to school, back to routine.
But at the heart of these different reactions to Christmas, these different responses, is a different politics. The shepherds embody a Christian politics, and our temptations to squabble and complain and bite are an entirely different politics. The difference is found in who is King, who is Lord, who is Master of all. All our petty disputes, bad attitudes, and fussing are basically the protests of a rival kingdom. The throne of that kingdom resides in your chest, in your heart. The great god Me – the great Emperor Ego has reigned long, demanding absolute fealty and obedience. This is my life, my marriage, my family, my house, my money, my reputation, my Christmas, my vacation, my sleep, my food, my health, my time. Fill in the blank. Those are the demands and instincts of the rival kingdom, the kingdom you were born with in your chest.
That is the kingdom of darkness. The kingdom of self. The kingdom of sadness. And into that dark night, the angel of the Lord comes, and the glory of the Lord interrupts. The glory of the Lord shakes the stoutest heart. The glory of the Lord doesn’t care about your holiday plans. The glory of the Lord doesn’t care about your expectations for Christmas break. The glory of the Lord doesn’t care about your petty kingdom of preferences. And the glory of the Lord doesn’t care about those things because the kingdom of self, the kingdom of ego, the kingdom of pride, the kingdom of darkness is a sad and hopeless place full of eternal festering and gnawing. Serving that false kingdom, that empty politics always results in less joy, less peace, less contentment, and the result of that is always the demand for more. The reason you didn’t find happiness the last time you served yourself is because there were other people getting in the way of your plans. The politics of self insists that the reason it didn’t work out last time is because you didn’t give yourself everything you needed to succeed. But into that rat’s nest of lies, the Angel of the Lord says, Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
What is the good tidings of great joy for all people? The king is born. The savior is born. The Lord has come. And this announcement collides with all other claims to authority. Herod knew this and would seek to kill the child. The wise men knew it and travelled far, bringing their extravagant gifts. The shepherds knew it and left their flocks untended that night. The Lordship of Christ trumps all authority. And most importantly, it topples the pride-idol in every human heart. It throws down the mighty ego off of every chest-throne. Who do you think you are? You are like the billions of creatures that have walked this earth with breath in your nostrils, with lavish, golden heartbeats given to you every second. Every son or daughter of Adam is driving a stolen vehicle. That body you have was given to you. This life you are living was a completely unasked-for gift. And you are walking around in it like you own it, like it belongs to you, like you are the lord of it, the master of it. And that is the root cause of all sadness, all heartbreak, all conflict, all violence because living like you are a god means that everyone else is in your way, is a potential threat to your sovereignty, possibly plotting against you. But you are a terrible god. You can’t create anything out of nothing. Your magic tricks are lame. You can barely keep yourself alive for seventy or eighty years, much less raise the dead. You can’t even live up to your own moral standards, much less get many other people to obey you.
And the Angel of Lord comes into that sadness and sorrow and darkness and conflict, and the glory of the Lord interrupts it all. Christ is born! The Savior is born. Jesus Christ is Lord. So the answer to our original question is what will you do with that? What will you do with that claim, that announcement? Everything rides on that. Or to put it differently, the only way to return like the shepherds, rejoicing and praising God, is to first go to Him and surrender everything to Him. If Christ is Lord then your life is His life, His marriage, His family, His house, His money, His reputation, His Christmas, His vacation, His sleep, His food, His health, His time. This isn’t your body, this isn’t your life – it all belongs to Him. And this is the foundation of all Christian joy. This is what enables Christians to rejoice in all things, to give thanks in all things, to return to whatever it is they are called to, rejoicing and praising God.
What we are celebrating tonight and tomorrow is the birth of the King of the Universe. And it makes no sense at all to celebrate that while taking all your cues from another king, from a different lord, from your expectations, from Hallmark, from your lusts, from CNN or Fox or Gap or Old Navy or Pinterest or Facebook. This can be no mere intellectual change of mind, though it must include that. It is not enough to acknowledge the existence of Christ the King because the angels say, For unto you is born this day. Unto you. Christ interrupts you, and He interrupts your everything. And therefore He requires a response from you. And the only fitting response is the same as the shepherds: go and see Him.
Plenty of people gather every Christmas for a nice family time, singing carols, and hearing the story, but they are like shepherds having heard the message of the angels, who stay right where they were out in the fields with their sheep. They get a warm feeling from the angels, but it does not actually change them. And this is why the message from the beginning has been that you must be born again. The kingdom of self that you were born with in your chest will not die unless you die. The kingdom of pride in your chest is a tumor that has dug its way into your spine, and all of your vital organs. The only way that tumor will die is if you die.
So this is the only way to return glorifying and praising God for all the things you have seen and heard, as it was told. You must see and hear these things for yourself. You must go see Christ. You must see Him for yourself. You must know Him for yourself. And how can you know Him if you do not speak to Him? How can you know Him, if you do not call out to Him. Ask Him to show himself to you. Ask Him to meet with you. Ask Him to be present in all of the festivities. Ask Him to come be with you, wherever you are, whatever is going on in your life. And these is the good news: He is Immanuel, God with us. And so, to say that you must go to Him is to say that He is here. He is already here. He is already with us. He was born. He was crucified for sinners. He was buried. And He is risen. So stop making excuses. Stop putting it off. Go to Him and die in Him. Come to Him and live in Him. He was born so that you might be born again.
Our desks and dishes do not belong to us; they belong to Jesus. Our books and businesses do not belong to us; they belong to Christ. Our sinks and studies are not ours; they are His. Our tables and tools serve the King who was born in Bethlehem. We are not our own. We were bought with a price. And now we belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. And now we are free. And now we rejoice.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.