Love Is Born This Day
Dr. Jim Denison
This is the Advent week of love. No subject is a greater mystery to us.
Children try to help. When asked why love happens between two people, Mae, age 9, replied, “No one is sure why it happens, but I heard it has something to do with how you smell. That’s why perfume and deodorant is so popular.”
On the role of beauty, Brian, age 7: “It isn’t always just how you look. Look at me, I’m handsome as anything and I haven’t got anybody to marry me yet.” And Christine, age 9, replied, “Beauty is skin deep. But how rich you are can last a lifetime.” She’s a smart woman.
We adults are no better with the subject.
Have you heard about The Sims Online? Thousands of people are paying $10 per month for the privilege of living in a virtual community on the Internet. They interact with each other via a computerized role-playing program. Over the next five years, people are expected to spend $1.4 billion on subscription fees to such community games.
ABC’s The Bachelor gave Mr. Aaron Buerge 25 women from whom to choose as his fiancé, while America watched. “The Osbournes” is the first family reality sitcom, debuting on MTV last March. Six million people watch each week as they go about their dysfunctional lives.
True love is a true mystery to our culture. Mother Teresa: “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference towards one’s neighbor who lives at the roadside assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease.”
And now we’re just ten days from Christmas. Are you lonely? Do you need to feel loved? To be loved? To know that you are wanted and important? You’ve come to the right text.
Who does God love?
“And there were shepherds living in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night” (v. 8). Nobody reading these words for the first time in the first century would expect to see them here. You see, people knew about shepherds.
They couldn’t keep the ceremonial laws of Judaism—kosher diet, hand washings before and after meals, and the rest. They couldn’t abstain from work on the Sabbath, since the sheep didn’t very well know what day it was. And so they weren’t allowed to attend worship in the synagogue or at the Temple. They were religiously unclean. But that was only the start of their problem.
Shepherds were unsupervised for months on end. So they were known to steal from the flocks they kept, and to graze them on land which was not theirs. They were known to lie about their crimes, so that they were not permitted to testify in court or hold office. You were not to buy a lamb, wool or milk from a shepherd.
They were classed with tax collectors and prostitutes. It is worth noting that this text is the only occurrence of real shepherds to be found in all the New Testament.
Here’s the shock: “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified” (v. 9). Of all classes in first-century Judaism, they were the least likely to see an angel. And especially to see the “glory of the Lord.”
I learned in study this week that the “glory of the Lord” is a specific biblical phrase, meant to denote the presence of God which was first made visible to humanity with Moses at the burning bush. The “glory of the Lord” was next revealed to the Israelites in the Exodus desert (Exodus 16:10); to Moses on the top of Mt. Sinai (24:15-17); in the Tabernacle (40.34-35); and in the Temple when it was dedicated to God (1 Kings 8:11).
The “glory of the Lord” was displayed in Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:29-32). It was shown to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 22:6-11). He later described it: “I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions” (Acts 26:13). And in heaven, “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light” (Revelation 21:23).
No wonder they were “terrified.” They literally “feared a mega fear.”
This “glory of the Lord” was not revealed to Mary with the angelic visitation. It was not revealed to Joseph in his dream. Or earlier to Zechariah in the temple, or Elizabeth his wife. Not to the Magi in their visit. Not to anyone else in the entire Christmas event. But to shepherds. To the lowest caste of ancient Jewish society. If to them, to us.
An Irish priest on a walking tour of a rural parish came upon an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road in prayer. Impressed, the priest said to the man, “You must be very close to God.” The peasant looked up from his prayers, smiled, and said, “Yes, he’s very fond of me.”
Dr. Fred Craddock was invited to lead a lecture series in Winnipeg, Ontario. He arrived on Saturday night, and a blizzard arrived soon after. The lecture was canceled, and Fred was told to walk down the block from the hotel to a bus depot diner for breakfast.
Fred said, “It was packed with everyone trying to find a warm place.” He found a seat. A moment later, a lady came in. A large man with a greasy apron asked her, “What do you want?”
“May I have some water, please?”
He brought her the water. “Now, what do you want?”
“Water is fine.”
“No, I mean, what do you want?”
“The water will be okay.”
“I mean, what do you want to order, lady? We’ve got paying customers. If you don’t order, you can’t stay.”