"When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, 'Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.' So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger." Luke 2: 15-16
What is missing in this picture? Where is the star? Where are the wise men? Where are the Christmas presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh? Did Luke fail to do his homework, or did the eyewitnesses just not recall all the events of when he interviewed them. In his introduction, Luke said, "Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught." Luke 1:1-4
The witness is challenged in the court of law to place their hand on the Bible and swear to "Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So help me God." Bearing false witness to the Christmas Story is done by well meaning Christians all the time. It is most often done in their live nativity scenes.
Several years ago, I was meeting with a pastor and he told me he was looking for a camel, and wondered if I could help. I told him I could offer him a light, but that I had stopped smoking "Camels" a long time ago. He wasn't amused. He had a real dilemma. His church had advertised that they were hosting a live nativity scene for the week preceding Christmas. People were going to be coming from all over the county and drive by the stable they had built next to the church. He needed a camel to stand next to the wise men at the manger scene. Like a moth to the flame, I ventured into a debate with him on the need for accuracy in bearing witness to the Christmas story. He seemed genuinely surprised that the Bible does not place the wise men at the scene, on the night of the birth of Jesus. When Jesus was born at the stable, and placed in manger, the shepherds came running, but the wise men were still two years away from arriving to pay their respects.
This may not be a huge deal, but is it too much to ask that Christians tell the story just the way it happened? Hollywood takes alot of heat from the Christian community for doctoring or tinkering with biblical accuracy of a Bible story any time they produce a homogenized version of the milk of The Word. We always need wise men. However, if they show up at the stable, they are scene crashers who do not belong in the picture. The shepherds' costumes can't hold a candle to the multicolored robes worn by the three kings bearing gifts. They always get overshadowed at any nativity scene. They also look a little cheap for not stopping at "BETHMART" to pick up a little something for the baby. Let's get it right people.
Vance Havner was fond of saying, "It doesn't matter how high you jump when you are in church. It matters how straight you walk when you leave it." Dr. Havner would have loved the shepherds. After the angels left them, they proved to be quick learners. They had not just heard the message, they received it.
The shepherds ran straight to Jesus. They didn't get detoured by any distracting celebration. They set the pace for future generations. Anyone interested in putting Christ back into Christmas must be willing to admit that the celebration has collected quite a bit of baggage over the years. The focus on Christmas presents, cards, lights, parties, cantatas, pageants, nativity scenes and a host of other seasonal activities should not detour a Christ follower from being a true witness. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by Me." (John 14:6) No camel is needed to get people to Jesus. Get the picture?
The shepherds ran to Jesus. The account in Scripture says, "So they came in a hurry." Running to Jesus is a great way to live. The shepherds set the pace for any Christ follower who desires to underscore that Jesus is the reason for the season. People are watching Christians all the time. They will not follow people running around in circles. They are already dizzy, all by themselves. If they look at a Christian's life, they should not have any trouble finding Jesus. Too often our lives do not offer much hope. When people are looking for The Light, we dont' need to offer them a camel.
One night I was sharing Christ with one of my neighbors, and I received a wake up call that had a powerful impact on my life. Dana and I had invited a couple to dinner in our home, and later that evening I had a chance to talk to the husband about Jesus. He listened to what I had to say, and he was appreciative of it. He admitted he needed a new sense of direction, and was so glad I had taken the time to explain to him how God loved him so much that He sent Jesus to save him. Then he said, "You know, I have been without work for a while. Because I am restless, I can't sleep. It leaves me awake late at night and up early in the morning. I have been watching you since you moved into the neighborhood. You are up and out the door before daylight, and often you are out of the house and gone for hours in the evening. I told my wife, that I needed a job, but I sure don't want the one that guy has. I didn't know what you did for a living. All I knew was it looked to me like a terrible way to live." These were sobering words for a pastor. He had seen me absorbed in keeping a church running, and it didn't impress him a bit. It wasn't until I pulled out of the "religious rut" that I had any success at pointing him to the Prince of Peace.
Could it be possible that people are really interested in meeting Jesus during this season? Have we covered up His Presence with all of our Christmas baggage? Take a look at your calendar, and your check book this week. Are you celebrating His birthday or throwing a party for yourself? When Jesus came the first time, there was no room for Him in the inn. The greater tragedy would be that 2,000 years later there would be no room for him in His church. Let's make sure that people who follow our lead will be able to find their way to Jesus.