The Joy of His PresenceWe read about it in a familiar passage from Luke 2:8-21. It's the passage where the angel appeared to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night. The angel announced the good news of Christ's birth in Bethlehem. The angel did not bring any presents wrapped in pretty bows and colorful paper but the angel came to announce a presence. The presence of the long awaited Messiah. When we awake to see those presents under the Christmas tree we are filled with excitement. On the other hand the shepherds were terrified. So much so that the angel had to tell them not to be afraid. After sharing with the shepherds the details of where they would find this presence of God, a host of angelic beings joined in a song of praise, their version of a heavenly Christmas carol. When the angels left, the shepherds were motivated to go and see with their own eyes what the angel had declared. In Luke 2:15 the shepherds state, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." (NIV)
The Promise of His PresenceThere were no flashing lights pointing the way, no neon signs, no Santa in his sleigh being pulled by Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer encouraging them to follow him. All they had was a promise from the angel of what the shepherds called "this thing," an event, a presence, a Messiah they had perhaps heard about in stories told as they moved their flocks from place to place. For you see as outcasts in that society, the shepherds would have no other way of learning about the foretold coming of the Messiah except through stories told by others as the shepherds would not have been allowed to keep company with the religious Jews nor have access to the temple and the teachings of the Rabbis. When the shepherds arrived at the manger there were no Christmas trees, tinsel, or decorations. Mary and Joseph did not offer them a gift with shouts of "Merry Christmas!" However we are told that when they had seen Him, they began to spread the word about Jesus. Jesus was only a newborn and He did not say or do anything, yet His presence was so powerful that the shepherds had to tell the story and as a result people were amazed and their hearts were stirred to believe. The shepherds didn't have any smartphones or tangible objects to show others. What they had was His presence carried along in their hearts.
The Presence of God In Our MidstAs a result of the shepherds having been in the presence of God, there was an out pouring of praise for the gift they had received, not a gift wrapped in bows and colorful paper but the gift of the presence of God in their midst. Jesus grew into a man and by the power of His presence went on to deliver and save many people from their bondages. So, as we complete another Christmas and stand on the threshold of a New Year, people once again have spent hundreds of dollars filling their lives with presents--material things. There is a sense of contentment and self-satisfaction that they have purchased everything they need. However, just like the newness of Christmas toys fades for children as time goes on, we too grow tired and weary of our "toys" and seek something new and different. Think about how many people line up every year to purchase the newest iPhone! I am not implying that the giving and receiving of gifts is a bad thing but it is easy to get caught up in the presents and miss His "presence" which is at the heart of Christmas. All our material presents will only be enjoyed for a season but the presence of Jesus Christ in a life committed to following after Him is a gift that will not tarnish or fade for it is eternal. The good news is that His followers will dwell in His presence after their life on earth is finished. That is the message of Christmas and the true joy we are to celebrate and ponder in our hearts just like Mary did that first Christmas night. So have a Merry Christmas and enjoy your presents! The question that remains is will you accept the gift of His presence in your life? If so, you will experience the overwhelming joy those shepherds felt that first Christmas night. The overwhelming joy of kneeling in the presence of God Almighty and that is the best gift one could ever receive at Christmas!
Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!