By Rev. David A. Moffat
The Christmas story poses a very special challenge to each one of us. As we read of the Lord’s coming into the world, and as we celebrate that event today, I would like you to bear one question in mind – Of all the characters in the Christmas story, who are you most like?
Are you like the SHEPHERDS?
They were simple folk, attending to their duties, as they would have every night. Their religion would not have been particularly complicated, or learned, consisting largely in the fulfilment of their allotted task in life. They were active in the practical care of others, through simple actions, humbly and faithfully carried out.
And yet, on this night, they are blessed with a spectacular, awesome revelation of the Lord’s birth! Gladly, they heard the news, and rushed to see the new born Saviour. They are reminiscent on those, who through simple charity and obedience to the Lord’s command, can see the need for the Lord’s coming. They are suddenly blessed with an insight and understanding which is unavailable to more sophisticated thinkers. The Lord flows into their hearts and minds through the carrying out of simple duties. This is the nature of their call to the Lord.
Or are you like the WISE MEN?
These men were quite different from the shepherds. They were men of intelligence, something akin to ancient scientists. Living in a far off land, they studied the skies. And despite their learning, they were open to the possibility of things beyond their understanding. They were aware of spiritual truths in an indirect way only – they were not a part of the spiritual community of the Jews. Theirs was an ancient knowledge, handed down, which was preserved to some extent in the practice of their science, although it was hazy, and not clearly seen.
They remind us that science points to spiritual truths, and although it cannot define or quantify the spiritual realm, it can point us in the right direction. We might look to the mounting evidence for life after death, or the research done supporting the real existence of the star of Bethlehem. The Psalmist writes, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1) Nature itself, and many aspects of our natural lives point to the Lord, if only we will look for them. We may well hope that growing numbers of people might find themsevles in the wide men’s shoes – after all, there are many who now live outside the direct influence of the Christian churches.
These men received no startling revelation. It was through their learning that they were able to “read the signs”. And although their knowledge was uncertain, what they witnessed was enough to send them on a long journey of discovery which would bring them to the Lord Himself.
But there were others involved in this story, and they too were called to the Lord’s crib. Take the SCRIBES, for example.
Once again, we meet men of intelligence. Scholars, not of worldly things, but of Scripture. It is strange that these men were not among the first to seek the Lord. Because, of all the people in this story, they have the biggest clue to the Lord’s birth – the Word itself. Indeed, they tell the Wise men where they will find the new born King. The thing which separates them from the wise men, is motivation. They do not wish to find the Lord – the Lord is really nothing to them. They are religious in only a professional sense. It has no effect upon their lives, nor are they excited by the possibility of the Lord’s coming.
It is not that these men don’t receive a call from the Lord – they choose not to hear it. Do we have all the opportunity in the world and simply fail to grasp it? As Christians, this is a danger we face. We become so used to our way of life, our religiosity, that we ignore or fail to recognise the potential newness within them. Fooled by our external religion, we fail to truly follow the Lord.
Or are we more like HEROD? He was a man of great power, at least in his own eyes. Yet, he was strangely insecure. He was all too aware of the political powder keg which he has ruled so harshly for so long. And he too heard the call. He had all the signs – access to the Word, the startling new discovery of the Wise men. But his reaction is not one of love. It is not even the professional disinterest of the scribes. His reaction is hatred, born of insecurity and fear.
Herod reminds us of those times when we run from the Lord in fear that we will lose what little control we have over our lives. Sometimes we feel that power to be great, and we are threatened by the prospect of losing that power. Sometimes, we are so fearful of that power that the only solution seems to be the destruction of the threat. Of course, in reading the gospels, we realise that the power of the Lord was not really a challenge to the political power of the king. The Lord wants my heart, not my wealth or my worldly power. But its difficult for us to see that distinction when we’re in the state of Herod.
The essence of the message is this. We all hear the call at one time or another. What separates us is how we react to it. In the Christmas story we see that it is the humble and the foreigners who typically follow that call. The “religious” and the powerful fail to do so, through complacency or fear, despite having all the signs.
The Word calls us to a truly spiritual life. How will you respond?