Nothing really exciting ever happens around here," is how the cartoon reads.  The scene depicted is one shepherd sitting on a rock bored while the others are beginning to see the bright light of angels.  As we approach another Christmas Day, I wonder if some of us are saying the same thing.  When we look at the face of a little child, we see the wonder, the amazement at the beauty of Christmas in their eyes.  But as we get older, do we lose that excitement?  Does Christmas magic get replaced with apathy, or even a dread Ė of the work, the commotion, the expense, and the fuss? Is the whirling dervish that Christmas has now become got our heads spinning?

Who among us cannot identify with the little boy, exhausted from a hard day of Christmas shopping and all its rush, noise and shoving?  When it came time to say his prayers before crawling into bed he used the Lord's Prayer with one small change:  "Forgive us our Christmases as we forgive those who Christmas against us," he prayed.  I believe things can become just as exciting as they were so many years ago for the shepherds.

See the wonder of the heavenly spectacle.  God has become man.  Some religions make their gods look like men.  They give them human form and weaknesses.  But they canít relate.  They canít substitute.  Some religions make men their gods.  But they canít control. They canít save.  Only the true God became a true human being.  See the wonder of it all. The divine majesty was wrapped up in human humility.  The almighty, eternal, present everywhere God became a weak, temporal and singular human being.  The immense divinity is contained in that baby.  The divine glory is veiled by his humanity.  God made himself subject to our weaknesses.  The God who never knew hunger would hunger and thirst.  The God who never knew loneliness would be deserted by his friends.  The God who never knew the guilt and vileness of sin, would have every vile, degenerate thought, word and action or every human being of all times laid on him.  Can anything more amazing be imagined?  Can anything more wonderful be seen?

Look in wonder at the mystery, the magic of Christmas.  We have a God who knows our every weakness.  And because He was tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin, He can help us overcome.  If we were Buddhists, listening to the Dali Lama he would lay out a path for us to take to strive for the enlightenment he claims.  But as Christians we have an enlightened God who came down to our level.  He walked in our shoes; and conquered our existence.  He gives us the victory He won.  Thatís wonderful!  There is no way we can gaze at the baby and not be amazed.

Next, notice what the heavens did Ė they rejoiced at the wonder of Christmas.  The heavenly choir praised the God of all grace who would become a human being.  As scripture says, You made him who was higher than the angels to be lower than the angels. And the angels rejoiced at Godís willingness to do what it took to save us sinful, weak, human beings.  We too need to lift our voices in praising the God of all glory.  Some of the most beautiful Christian music was written as the author gazed with wonder at the baby filled manger or the empty tomb.  The magic, the spectacle, the wonder of those events moves us to praise God for his indescribable gift.

We certainly praise God with our voices.  We also need to praise God with our lives.  We are to live lives worthy of our calling, as living sacrifices, glorifying our God whether we eat or drink and in whatever else we do.  This Christmas how much of ourselves are we willingly and joyfully giving to others?  On our Main Streets and in our malls, the "Christmas spirit" seems without the "Christmas magic."  Bookstores are filled with stocking-stuffer "self-help" books that show us how to be good to ourselves, excuse ourselves, save ourselves, pamper ourselves.  The Christmas market is flooded with products designed to help us achieve self-centered fulfillment.  Infomercials hawk abs enhancement machines, facials, even cooking knives, because you deserve to pamper yourself with the best.  So why do so many still feel that something is wrong with the way we are living?  It's because a self-absorbed life ends up absorbing life.  In order to experience life, we must get outside ourselves and our own concerns.

The shepherds could have been self-absorbed Ė"If we leave the sheep theyíll scatter or a wolf will get them and weíll be bankrupt."  Or maybe "Itís late, if we go storming into town, weíll arrested."  They could have come up with many reasons to not be involved, to not go, and to not give of themselves.  But then where would their Christmas have been? Nowhere Ö just empty and with no magic.  To keep the magic of Christmas we need to give ourselves as God gave Himself to us.

Now letís look at the shepherds.  The first people to see Jesus were simple, smelly, uneducated men who were occupied with daily tasks, but were not preoccupied with temporal things.  Unlike the Magi, who came with regal gifts, the shepherds probably came empty-handed.  Their hands were empty, but their hearts were full of awe.  They brought to the Christ child a very precious present -- the gift of wonder.

The shepherds needed the message of the angels.  The shepherds were loners.  They lived away from people most of their lives because they were out in fields tending the sheep. They knew what it meant to be lonely, to be outcasts, to not fit in.  So when the angels sang to them about the Savior, that was a message that touched their hearts.  Does it touch ours?

In Lutherís questions for the preparation for the Lordís Supper, the question is asked, "What if you donít feel the need to commune."  The answer is just touch yourself.  Do you have flesh and blood?  Look into the deep corners of your mind.  What vile things lurk there?  Look at what you say in your mind, what you feel in your heart, how you react to people in hidden attitudes and words.  Look at what you have done and left undone. Remember the times you havenít defended those who were being hurt, and the times you hurt someone who needed to be defended.  We are sinful through and through.  We are sinful in thought, word and deed.  We are totally corrupt in heart and mind.  If your knees shake and you quiver in fear of what you are really like, then the message these angels sang about will fill you with new excitement every time you hear it.  We needed a Savior who would die for all the sins we commit, who would be punished because we separated ourselves from God, and would be separated for eternity.  We have a Savior!

A Savior!  If we were drowning and were rescued, wouldnít we be overjoyed?  If we were lost and someone found us, wouldnít we be excited?  If we had been separated from a loved in a large crowd, or a foreign city, wouldnít we be overjoyed when we were reunited with them?  If we had been kidnapped, would we be thankful when our loved one paid the ransom price and we were reunited with our family?  We have been all of those things, and even more.  We were drowning in sin, lost in the delusions of Satan, separated from God in a temporary world, shouldnít we be overjoyed at having been restored.

The shepherds came with wonder, and they left with a message.  They told everyone they met what they had seen and heard.  Notice how the theme of telling is continues through all the Christmas characters?  John the Baptist told the people to prepare because the Savior was coming.  he angels told the shepherds that the Savior was born.  The shepherds told those they met.  Anna and Simeon told those around them when they saw the Savior.  Telling is a part of Christmas.  We have a message of utmost and eternal importance.  It is good news of great joy for all people.

Donít leave the magic of Christmas only at Christmas time.  The message of Christmas last all year.  Jesus isnít just the reason for the Christmas season.  He is the reason for every season.  He is the reason we grow quiet in Lent.  He is the reason we rejoice at Easter.  He is the reason we grow introspective during the Trinity season.  He is the hope of the end times, and the foundation of the reformation.  Forgiveness of sins, God with us, the joy and peace of great news, is for every day of our lives.  Itís for every season.

How can we put the magic back into Christmas?  Remember who was born for you. Proclaim his praise loudly.  Give this Christmas.  Give yourself.  Give to others proclaiming, "Jesus is Lord!"  Now, don't stop at Christmas.  Continually praise and proclaim our Savior throughout the year.

Pastor John Eich
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Alma, Michigan

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