When I was a little girl, I went through a stage of wanting to be famous. I wanted to be a TV presenter. I wanted to be noticed. I don’t know where this ambition came from. It’s clearly not a dream that came true.
I was asked to read a story in our Church family’s Christmas service all the way back in December 2017, ‘The Light of the Whole World’, from the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones. It is a re-telling of Luke’s account of the Shepherds and the angels. I practiced it many times over as I was reading along to some animated pictures on the screen. The timing had to be spot on for it to work well. I could almost recite the whole thing by the night of the service.
The story talks about God pulling out ‘all the stops’ to announce the birth of Jesus. He put a star as a spotlight in the sky, and sent a choir of angels to announce his birth. One line rolls around in my mind. ‘Where would you send your splendid choir? A palace? Or a concert hall?’ As we know God sent his to a bunch of shepherds in a field.
I like palaces. I like concert halls. Sweeping staircases, ballrooms, beautiful architecture, stages, thousands of people sitting in plush seats, orchestras, applause. I’ve peered in a backstage door of The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. I’ve been to concerts in football stadiums with thousands of people. I’ve been to symphonies and West End musicals. Impressive venues. Yes, if I had a choir of angels at my disposal to herald good news, I think I would want them to appear to as many people as possible in somewhere like this.
In His wisdom God has a different approach.
Shepherds were outcasts, one of a number of categories of people regarded at the bottom rung of society at the time of Jesus’ birth. They were the ones who encountered this spectacular event. The best outdoor concert ever. They heard good news proclaimed to them.
‘I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’ (Luke 2:10)
All the people. From the least to the greatest. The hope of the world. He started with the least, and throughout His ministry made a point of going to the marginalized in society; women; the sinners; lepers; the sick in need of a doctor. Of course we all fall into at least one of these categories. We’re all sinners. Jesus wasn’t afraid of obscurity, or of hanging out with obscure people.
Maybe it speaks of the whole way Jesus came into the world, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:6-7 ESV) Jesus life on the earth was humble from start to finish. He was marginalised and persecuted himself. He emptied himself for us. Paul encourages us to have the same attitude as this as we serve others (Phil. 2:1-5).
God doesn’t send choirs of angels to proclaim his good news so much these days. Instead He commissions us, His people, His church to go and tell his good news, to be living examples of Jesus’ love and grace, empowered by His Spirit. If God saw fit to send a ‘multitude of the heavenly host’ to tell the good news to some shepherds, I find that a challenge for the quality of our service to the outcasts in our society! Do we pull out all the stops? There’s lots to learn.
My heroes in the faith are often those who just serve without fanfare, who get on with what God has given them to do with diligence, love and faithfulness. For my part, whoever my ‘field’ contains, I’m called to serve them with love and excellence as every person is loved by Him, as even I find I love them. After all I’m just as insignificant, just as unworthy, yet by God’s grace I’ve experienced His love and forgiveness. The humble shepherds received the message, and once they’d seen and worshipped Jesus became good news tellers themselves. Because Jesus gave up His life for me, I can give up my life – even my ambitions – to serve others, to live the good news. It’s an upside down kingdom to be a part of, but one with eternal rewards.
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
Matthew 16:24-26 ESV
He sees. He notices. He knows.