A Good News of Great Joy for All People
‘And an angel of the Lord appeared to them [the shepherds], and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”’ (Luke 2:9-14, ESV)
When I was younger, my church always put on these big, elaborate Christmas plays that always required all hands on deck– or maybe more appropriately, all hands on altar. The Christmas cantata took many forms over the years, telling the same Christmas story through so many different perspectives: from the fictional viewpoint of the Little Drummer Boy or a modern-day family to the real, relatable accounts of those core roles we know and love.
The year that always seems to come to my mind, however, is the year that I had to learn a little bit of
humility. I don’t remember how old I was, but I could not have been older than six. The children’s ministry took the reigns and was telling the story of the birth of Christ the traditional way, complete with a plastic baby Jesus and sung-to-CD musical numbers. I remember, like all little girls, I wanted to be Mary with all my heart. I knew I could rock that blue tunic and white shmata like I was born in it. In my head, I had mastered the stoic, dewy, mother-of-the-living-God look, and I was sure that if there were any kind of Tony awards for this kind of thing, I would be a lock for ‘Best Mary in a local Christmas Play.’
So imagine my devastation when the part of Mary went to one of the older girls, and for my big stage debut, I would be playing the part of little lamb number two. I was indignant. Instead of wearing Mary’s beautiful costume and getting to play what my young mind considered the pinnacle role of Biblical theater, I donned a hot, cotton ball getup, painted my nose black, and crawled around the church on my hands and knees for weeks.
I wish I could say that I graciously accepted my role as little lamb number two. Instead, I bitterly trudged around, silently steaming that I didn’t have a speaking role, a musical solo, or a dance number to learn. It wasn’t until I had years of maturity, personal growth, and perspective under my belt that I realized I had been focusing on all the fickle details that fateful Christmas. Now, I look back on that year, and I know that Jesus wasn’t born so that I could shine and bring the house down in my world-class portrayal of Mary. Jesus was born so that I could live, and live more abundantly, no matter where I found myself in my expectation. He came to live amongst men so that everyone could be saved from the sin that disqualified us from going to the Father and getting to know Him. Not just me, not just you, not just the rich, not just the beautiful, not just the popular. When that angel came to visit the shepherds who were watching their flocks by night, he was sure to say that he had good news for all people.
And after the year we’ve all had full of crazy headlines and polarizing conversation, I find this fact uplifting: Jesus was born in a stable to die on a cross so that all our sins could be covered and we could be invited into a relationship with God the Father. That’s the beauty of God’s love for us: from the beginning of time, it always endeavored to be inclusive. It always purposed itself to be available for all who wanted to reach out and take hold of it.
And not only is it inclusive, but it’s accessible. God, the creator of your heart and the conductor of time, chose to reveal His heavenly host in a secluded field, to a handful of lowly shepherds and their multitude of sheep. He could have sent those angels to a beautiful, crowded city or a lavish celebration at a palace somewhere. Heaven knows that in our minds, His splendor would seem best displayed in some elaborate setting and in the presence of kings or high-society. Instead, He revealed His glory and the wonder of His Son to the most unseemingly of the working class, and in the quietest of places.
I can’t blame myself for not seeing these beautiful facets of the story when I was in kindergarten, but if I could speak to my younger self, I would tell her that the little lamb I was chosen to be was still greatly valued by the Lord. That little lamb got to see the full splendor of heaven on the night that Jesus was born. And despite the scratchy, cumbersome costume I had to wear, and the greasy, cartoonish makeup I had to put on, life is not theater. There are no main characters, supporting roles, or ensemble parts. In the same token, God does not love us all equally. He loves us all uniquely. He speaks the words we need to hear individually, the love we need to feel separately, and the values us all the way we desire.
So today, whether you feel like you’re center-stage or stuck in the shadows, take solace in the fact that God chooses to show up in the most unexpected of places, to the most unassuming of people. If you feel excluded from the Christmas cheer around you, take comfort in the knowledge that no matter what, you are still beckoned to take part in the precious and wonderful reason for the season. In fact, God sent His angels to a forgotten field of sheep over two millennia ago just to make sure you got your invitation. And whether you feel like Mary, Joseph, or little lamb number two, take courage in the fact that when Jesus came to earth, he came for all people– you included.
Merry Christmas, friends. You haven’t missed the RSVP yet.
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