OK, so what now?
Well, Christmas is over. For some that may be a sad statement, for others a relief. If you work in retail you probably feel at least some relief; or at least you will when the after-Christmas sales are finished.
The chances are that we Christians have, at least some of the time in the Christmas season, reflected on the wonder of the child in the manger with a sense of awe and gratitude. Perhaps too we used the season just ending as an opportunity to reach out and bless some unbelieving friend or relative. If so, great! But Christmas is over so now what should we do in a world that is moving on to the next thing or getting back to the routine? Well, as it turns out, we have an example of “what to do” right out of Scripture.
Luke 2:20 records the shepherds who had visited the manger as they go back to their lives. “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen. Which were just as they had been told.” It seems as if they had become witness experts doesn’t it? Does this mean that we too should be eager to tell the story of the incarnate Jesus even after Christmas? Well, probably it does. But that point, besides being obvious, is not what I wanted to talk about. The question on my mind is what happens after we tell the story?
It is interesting that Luke chooses not to record what responses the shepherds received except for the fact that he says the hearers were “amazed” back in verse 18, but that was the immediate “in the season” reaction. What do you suppose happened as they go on telling the story? Since Scripture doesn’t say, let’s speculate a little and see if there are any principles we can ponder.
Just imagine for a second those shepherds getting back to their friends, family and co-workers and excitedly telling them what they experienced. What do you suppose the reaction will be? It would be natural to expect, once everyone gets past the “amazed” stage, that reactions will vary. Some, we hope, may have been interested and wanted to know more. However if people then are anything like people now, this would be a distinct minority. More common reactions might be ridicule, indifference and even outright rejection. How do you suppose the shepherds would react?
Well, we can assume that the shepherds were not the cute “little shepherd boys” of contemporary pop culture. They were big, burly, rough-edged men. I can imagine that the first reaction they had to someone ridiculing them was a desire to flatten a nose with a big shepherd’s fist. To indifference? Maybe frustration. To outright rejection? Perhaps a temptation to write that person off?
The point is that “glorifying and praising God” to unbelievers is no sure thing. If we approach it as a task with a “results-oriented” mindset common from our culture we will find the effort discouraging and tiring. But I think the key is right there in the Luke passage, or rather not right there. Luke does not record the reactions of the people because that is not the point.
20th century evangelism introduced to our continuation of the shepherd’s effort, with good intentions, concepts and terms such as “soul-winning” and “leading people to Christ.” In this new century we still consider that the goal. But the truth is that this is not, and never was, our job. Only the Holy Spirit can do those things. The shepherds would only have those negative reactions I mentioned above if they viewed their task as making their hearers believe. But when you look at the passage you see no evidence whatsoever that they did. It seems rather that their joy simply flowed out of them and they let the chips fall where they may. It sounds like a pretty good “method” of evangelism, doesn’t it?