Dr. Chris White December 22, 2013
So, if you had really, really good news, who would you tell first? If you had really, really important news, who would you tell first? And if you had world-changing news, who would you tell first? If you’ve ever had personal success, got engaged, or had a baby, you know who you called with the good news. And if you ever watch movies based on end-of-the-world scenarios, then you know that generals and presidents get the call. If such good news and world-changing news were unfolding in the ancient world, all of the important people missing from the birth narrative of Jesus would have known the news had the spreading of news been up to us. As it turns out, it was not up to us. It was up to God. And so we learn that when God spread good news and world-changing news, he shared it with common people. In fact, they are so common that the gospels do not even bother to share their names. Read along with me if you would in Luke 2:8-20.
Let’s accept that there is no more common labor in the fields of Israel than that of a shepherd. It’s not that the job didn’t require skill, but it was a skill held by most men in the rural parts. It was common knowledge and common work, a bit like the tobacco field work around here. And that is an important part of angels appearing to shepherds. Were you to ask shepherds who might most benefit from an angel appearing with a message of a child in Bethlehem, they might have guided you to Jerusalem and the king or even to the learned priests. They probably knew a few rabbis, too. It made sense for God to start with kings, of which there was only one, not common shepherds, of which there were many.
But commonness is the point. An important point. They are common enough to feel terrified, not rewarded, when the angel of the Lord appeared. They are common enough to know a visit of God when they see it. They are common enough to head to Bethlehem when the angels leave, and common enough to search until they find the child and the parents. They are common enough to tell the details of the angelic visit to all who would listen. They are common enough to leave town “glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen” in Bethlehem. And they are common enough to return to the fields. They do not expect a promotion for seeing angels or seeing the child.
Maybe we need to change the word at this point. Maybe “common” doesn’t work. What if we spoke of God using the humble? That might work. Now we can understand God’s storytelling a little better. He tells the good news to the humble. And the humble share the news and go home. It is not about them, and it does not need to be about them. It is about something bigger and better. The humble understand that the story and the telling of the story carries a certain glory. The child’s glory was God’s glory, not their glory. They were spectators, not creators.
The Christmas stories remind us that God’s glory is glorious enough. We need not become glorious in the world’s eyes for God’s glory to be glorious enough. Any idea that we must be glorious in appearance or holdings or accomplishments to reveal God’s glory is not in the story of the shepherds.
When an angel appears to Mary, to Joseph, with a call to trust like no one has ever been called to trust, they need only be faithful, not a glorious married couple; God’s glory is glorious enough. When Moses faces the god-king Pharaoh with only a staff, Hebrews wander with God’s light guiding them in the night, or Elijah stands off before the prophets of Baal, none of them need be glorious in strength or strategy; God’s glory is glorious enough. When a demoniac sits in his right mind and told by Jesus to go home and tell all that God has done for him, he need not be glorious in stature or speech to share God’s glory; God’s glory is glorious enough. When Joseph of Arimathea goes to Pilate to claim the body of Jesus, the crucified criminal, he need not offer a glorious explanation; God’ glory is glorious enough. And when any of us look for reasons for why a crucified Christ is our hope for this life and the life to come, we need to not impress with a glorious argument; God’s glory is glorious enough.
All this is to say that God did and does His work through those who do not have any glory to offer the world. They are not standing by the Grand Canyon with a shovel and suggesting that they dug the hole. The common know that God’s glory is glorious enough. God’s glorious glory is intended to be His glory, not ours.