There are 3 virtues, 3 characteristics that I have explored (or will explore) so far in these first 5 posts. These characteristics, I think, are qualities that we as Christians, should posses and exercise daily. They are simply humility, compassion, and joy. If you ever played a sport, you know the importance of muscle memory. The ability to replicate a skill consistently allows an athlete to perform at optimal levels and accomplish the task before them. The same is very true for Christians. If we are not exercising our spiritual gifts, if we are not engaged in the Word, if we are not surrounding ourselves by a cloud of witnesses, we will soon lose our spiritual conditioning and be susceptible to failings. If we fail to keep ourselves humble, we will replace God with idols. If we fail to show compassion and love, our words and deeds are empty. If we fail to understand the blessing that is true joy, we will never be happy with the blessings God has given us. I believe there was a group of people that embodied all three characteristics the night of Christ’s birth. I believe those people are a group that often gets overlooked in terms of their role in the nativity and the significance of what they represent. I am referring to the shepherds that were greeted that night (Luke 2:8-21).
The first characteristic of humility is easy to see on the surface. You see, the occupation of Shepherd had changed drastically by this time. Once, it was a time honored tradition and family business, like in the time of David. By this time, however, it was seen as a despised occupation and these men were often thought of as cheaters, liars, and thieves. Given this information, one could see how humility played a key role as these were not men of high standing. However, we need to look beyond the surface of the obvious. We are dealing with a King that is about to be born in, most likely, a cave. He will be born to a carpenter and a teenagers and placed in a feeding trough. The way for this King will be prepared by a baby given to an older couple. His birth will attract astronomers from an ancient Persian religion, and now, of all the people to invite to the birth, God summons shepherds of all people. The fact of the matter is, there is nothing “Kingly” about the coming of this savior. There is no throne that he born to. And this was EXACTLY how God intended it to happen. You see humility is a key attribute to living our faith out. I have a desire to be a good writer. I want to publish works and I want people to be able to say they know an author. That’s all well and good, but at the center of my writing, I want people to find my savior. Remember from John, “I must decrease, He must increase” (3:30). A boastful or prideful spirit will never keep Christ at the center- it will always fight Christ for center stage. If you imagine the nativity in your head, you could probably look on a table and literally see it this time of year, but if you look at the nativity, everything that was set into motion, was done so to keep the focal point right where it should be….on Jesus. God knew that the pious Jews or the stodgy pharisees would not allow this baby to take the forefront of the night. We often find that in life, the most humble people are also the least known or considered.
Compassion is an essential part of being about the Kingdom of God. We discussed in the first post the compassion that Joseph obviously had to assume the role given to him by God. Compassion is really a no brainer, I mean we are talking about the greatest love story every told. The story of the baby that led to the single greatest act of love ever known by man 33 years later. So, how does a group of dirty, dingy, rough, and often despised men fit the bill of compassion? That’s easy. Are you familiar with the life of a shepherd? These men were extremely compassionate toward the sheep they tended- tender even. They constantly counted their sheep. We find in Jeremiah 33:12-13 that shepherds were always making sure they had their entire flock and it was not odd for them to go looking for a single sheep. They cared for these sheep. They would put the weak sheep on their shoulders and carry it (Is.40:11). They would create small, makeshift pens for them to sleep (John 10:1). They worked day and night watching the sheep, making sure they didn’t wake an wander off. These men, for all of their lowly reputations, had an extremely tender side to their demeanor. Compassion is found in all that follow Christ, for if we lack compassion for others, how do we hope to understand the compassion that God has given us?
Joy! The most misunderstood state of mind in all of human history I am convinced. So many people characterize joy and happiness as the same thing. There are many things that make us happy. Some of them come from God’s blessings (my sons). Some of them come from more worldly sources (a good baseball game). Both of these things make me happy, but both have one thing in common, they are both temporary. Now, I certainly hope that my sons are far more permanent than a baseball game or a good Kit Kat (dark chocolate please), but none the less, even they are temporary. Happiness is a part of Joy, but Joy goes far beyond simple happiness. Joy is the happiness AND contentment in what God has given you that it elicits praise and rejoicing to God for what He has done. I believe that we struggle with contentment a lot, and we certainly do not allow the Joy to flow out of us in praise, rejoicing, and thanksgiving the way we should. The shepherds understood this, however. As usual, when the angel of the Lord appears, we must deal with the terror that it causes. After that, however, the shepherds are told the good news, good news that will rock their world and the rest of the world for ages to come. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Do you truly understand what has happened here? These shepherds were the very first people to hear the gospel message of Christ. To me, that is significant. It didn’t come to the pharisees, it didn’t come to the wealthy Romans, it didn’t come to the pious Jews that were skeptical, it came to lowly shepherds doing their job. And what came about this news? You guessed it, joy. Joy that God has provided a Savior. They were so joyful, that they did not hesitate to go and find the baby. I can only imagine.
As I put the finishing touches on this edition of the Mindful Minute- Christmas in 25 minutes, I think about my desire to be a writer. I think about my dream of being a small time author that people can one day point at a book and say, “I know him.” Humility, however, requires me to be submissive to God’s plan. I am called to be joyful in where my life is and where it is heading. You see it’s easy to be happy about my family, but true joy comes when I realize that I am happy even when they are gone, true contentment in God’s plan. Your will Father, not ours be done. When is the last time you experienced true joy? Paul gives us a reminder in Philippians Chapter 4, when he discusses the fact that he has learned to be content whether he has plenty or is in want. Who is at the center of you nativity this Christmas? Is it Christ and the joy His gospel brings, or is it our own desires and complaints? The one thing all of these nativity supporting characters have in common, is the center of the nativity has been and always will be Jesus.
In Christ Alone,
Rev. Bro. Coach