All the excitement was three days ago. Today the activity and excitement has settled down, the work is done and all the guests have gone home. All the waiting and anticipation that has been leading up to this event is over and we are left asking, now what? I’m actually not talking about our celebration of Christmas; I’m talking about life for Mary, Joseph and the Shepherds. In their own way, each of them asked this question in the days following the birth of Jesus. Now what? While we don’t know the answer, it’s an interesting question to think about because we ask the same question now that the celebration of Christmas is over. Now what? What does this gift of Jesus mean for my heart? Has my heart become unfrozen? Am I any different today than I was three days ago? Will my life be any different? Will my future be any different? Maybe we can answer that question by thinking about Mary, Joseph and the shepherds three days after the birth of Jesus.
Let’s start with the shepherds. A heavenly host of angels were sent by God to tell them that a Savior had been born for them and when they found a baby laying in a manger – they knew what the angels said was true. A Savior had been born for them, them. Shepherds. The people no one wanted to spend time with because they were outcast and unclean. The people no one trusted to tell the truth. God loved them enough to send a savior and make sure they were the first ones to hear about.
Three days later I can hear the shepherds standing around the outside of the cave saying to one another, do you believe it, God so loved the world that he us a Messiah, but he loved us so much that on the night he was born, God only told us. Oh how loved we are by God Three days after the birth of Jesus the shepherds are seeing themselves and their world with Different Eyes.
That God chose these shepherds to be the first to hear about the birth of the Messiah means that they were people of value and sacred worth. Imagine how this made them feel? Accepted. Loved. These shepherds could now walk around with heads held high because they were loved and cared for my God. It changed how they saw themselves. Three days later they saw themselves differently and Christmas can change how we see ourselves because God sent Jesus to us. God didn’t send Jesus to an impersonal world and salvation and life weren’t decreed by God to the world, God came in human flesh and met real people and this tells us that God still comes to us, ordinary sinners who struggle to live the way God calls us to, but he comes to us personally because he loves us.
We need to see ourselves with different eyes. We need to see ourselves the way God does. We can be harsh on ourselves and those around us can be critical so it’s easy for us to find fault and think we always need to do more to earn God’s love and grace, but it’s all a free gift simply because God loves us and so we need to ourselves as people worthy of God’s love and grace. We need to look at ourselves with different eyes and sees potential not just problems, saints, and not just sinners. The birth of Jesus for the shepherds meant that they were walking those hillsides of Bethlehem with a sense of value. They saw themselves differently which means they saw the world differently.
We not only need to see ourselves differently but we need to the see the world differently as well. When God looks at the world he sees all the strife and conflict but he doesn’t just see problems, he sees the greater potential – potential for healing and unity and peace. God still sees what the Prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 11:6-9.
We need to see the world the way God does because if we see the potential and value in all people and if we see the possibility for healing and peace in all places then we will work to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth. Christmas can’t be a one day celebration it needs to lead us to a fundamentally new way of looking at ourselves and our world. If God has really come in the person of Jesus for us – then we need to look at ourselves and our world with different eyes.
What can we learn from Mary? What was she thinking about three days after giving birth to the son of God? I have no idea! I can think spiritually and theologically about this, but I can’t put myself in Mary’s shoes, so I asked some people who I thought might. I reached out to four young mothers and asked them what they were thinking about three days after they gave birth and each one said very much the same thing. There comments were so wonderful I want share some of what they said:
Three days after I gave birth I was thinking…
When am I going to get some sleep? What are we doing? How are we going to do this? What did we get ourselves into? Am I doing everything right? This is very scary.
I knew that a mother had the majority of the responsibility with a newborn for feeding and overall care, but there was no way I fully understood what that actually felt like. There is a lot going on in your head (when was the last time she ate/when do I feed her again, is she getting enough to eat, when she cries like that is it because she needs something? Is it normal that my child never sleeps? Am I missing something? Does that diaper look right?), yet to everyone around you – including your spouse – it is a lot more low key because the child just sleeps/eats/diaper changes/repeat…which can be a bit frustrating because it is hard to express and share what you are feeling. On top of all of that you are healing yourself and you have no time to take care of yourself
I’m assuming you don’t want the physical details of what my body was dealing with because that did consume my thoughts! (and no, that is not what I was thinking about, but since every mother said something along those lines, it’s interesting to think about that with Mary as well) I worried if they would be okay. At only 3 days old, their lives were still quite fragile. I was also exhausted. The journey to get them to birth was difficult and I had no idea what the journey of life would be like. (Man…I just re-read that sentence and thought about Mary!)
I felt some real panic. Three days is a pretty significant time these days because the first two days of your baby’s life you are in a hospital, surrounded by knowledgeable people making sure your baby if safe and taken care of. But day three you are at home. Just you, your husband, and your baby. And then you start to think, oh no! This is such a monumental task, you want to do everything right for your baby. But somehow, two college educated adults, took an hour trying to give a tiny baby a bath and couldn’t figure out how the monitor worked, and went through 10 wipes and two diapers trying to change one messy diaper. You kind of keep waiting for someone from the hospital to call and say, “Sorry we made a mistake, there are some “real” grown ups here that are going to come take care of your baby, you two are clearly not cut out for this task!” You really wonder how in the world you were chosen for such an important job, when you are so clearly not qualified.
So I’m thinking Mary was thinking many of these same things three days later. Now what? How do I take care of this child? How do I feed him, clean him, keep him safe and do it all away from home? And how do I do it when I am hurting and in pain and in need of sleep? I wonder if Mary asked God why he sent shepherds instead of nurse maids to visit on the night Jesus was born? Mary was clearly focused on the daily needs of her child and just trying to get the strength and power to get to the next day.
But the bible tells us there was something else going on with Mary that I also heard from every mother who shared with me. Look at Luke 2:19. Mary pondered in heart all that had taken place. The angel speaking to her and Joseph, the trip to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus in a stable, using a manger as a crib, the visit of the shepherds, somehow God was part of all this. In those moments when Mary was able to simply sit and look at Jesus in her arms, she was captivated by a love that held her heart and changed her life.
I remember an overwhelming amount of love for my baby. I honestly felt like my heart was going to burst. And it was a different kind of love than I have ever felt before. You just look at your sweet baby and think, this is it, me and you, I will love you so much, your whole life, I will do anything for you, sacrifice for whatever you need, protect you at all costs.
I remember feeling so overwhelmed with love, a love like I’ve never felt before. What gratitude to God I felt for having given me this child.
How is it possible to love this little human I only met three days ago.
I remember a surge of unconditional love that I didn’t even know was possible.
Not only was Mary consumed by thoughts of how to care for her child, she was also consumed by a love that she had never known before, a love for a child, and a love for the God who in very special ways chose her and gave her that child. Mary was caught up in daily living and daily devotion to God and Christmas needs to shape our daily living as well.
In the days leading up to Christmas we often hear and read a lot about God and Jesus. We read articles, books and devotions about Jesus. We watch programs and worship and we need to continue these practices in the days ahead. Daily devotions and prayers can’t come to an end when we take down the tree and put away the gifts. This gift – Jesus – needs to be part of our lives forever. Can we commit in the New Year to read God’s word daily, worship weekly, study with others and pray without ceasing? Can we commit to pondering in hearts just how much God loves us and that God has chosen us to bear Christ into this world. Christmas not only helps us see with different eyes it needs to guide our daily lives of faith not just be a moment of great worship and fun that we put away for another year.
And then there’s Joseph. Three days after Jesus was born what was he thinking? As the silent and often forgotten one in the story we might have a hard time thinking about this, but Joseph was a very human father who like most fathers saw his job as providing for and protecting his family far into the future. Perhaps Joseph was doing some divine planning. He had to plan their trip to Jerusalem to fulfill the law. He had to plan where to live, what to provide for his family and this special child. That Joseph’s task was divine planning is really made clear to us not three days later but maybe three months or more later when the Magi visited. After they left, God spoke to Joseph in a dream and said take your family and flee to Egypt to keep them safe. For Joseph, the birth of Jesus meant he had to do some divine planning. What was God’s plan for him and his family?
That’s a great question we should ask ourselves in the days after Christmas and before the New Year? How does God want us to live our lives with the gift of Jesus at the center? And three more days before the beginning of the New Year, What does God want from us in 2015? Can we take these days to do some divine planning? Beyond diet, exercise and the other traditional New Year’s Resolutions, what divine planning can we do? What new direction would God want us to go with our time, relationships, money, our faith? The Christmas message is not something we put away until next year – it needs to direct us in the new year. How can God’s love given to us in Jesus shape our plans in 2015?
My hope in the New Year is that as a congregation we can also spend some time doing some divine dreaming, visioning and planning. God has moved among us in some significant ways in the past 6 years and God has brought forth a wonderful and powerful body of believers and we need to ask ourselves and God – Now What?
We will need different eyes for this task and we will need some daily devotion and prayer to enter into a season of divine planning but what a blessing for us to be able to do this. It really is what Christmas is all about – the blessing of God’s gift of Jesus that brings us life, salvation, redemption and God’s kingdom into all the world. What a great way to begin the New Year, asking God, with hope, excitement and faith… Now What?
1. Different Eyes. The shepherds saw themselves and the world through different eyes.
• See yourself differently:
o Focus on how you have been created in the image of God
o Identify the gifts God has placed within you
o Look at your problems as potential for growth
o Don’t see yourself as a sinner, but a forgiven saint
• See the world differently:
o Identify people who need care not criticism
o Find ways to help others feel valued & loved by God
o What problem can you help solve in 2015
o Name one way you can bring about God’s potential
2. Daily Living. In the days after Jesus birth, Mary was consumed with daily living and devotion.
• This week begin a yearly Bible reading plan
• Find a daily devotion to guide your life in 2015
• Commit to worshiping God each week
• Join us next Sunday as we learn how to create some breathing room for those things that matter most
3. Divine Planning. Joseph led his family in the will of God.
This week make New Year’s resolutions that include God’s will for your:
• Relationship with your spouse, children, parents, coworkers and neighbors
• Use of money
• Setting of your schedule
• Service to God and others