A silent night bears witness to our coming journey
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When I sat down to write a Christmas column, I scribbled some blather about the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem. Then, I thought, Oy vey. Everyone writes about the shepherds in the fields this time of year.
Writers and theologians, of which I am least or not at all, have reflected on those first-century herdsmen for two millennia. What could I add with my teaspoonful of blather? And so, after pressing delete, delete, delete, I turned to my favorite commentator, the Welsh Presbyterian minister Matthew Henry, to see what he had to say.
“Angels were heralds of the new-born Saviour,” Henry wrote from Chester, England, as he worked on his Commentary on the Whole Bible in the early 18th century, “but they were only sent to some poor, humble, pious, industrious shepherds, who were in the business of their calling, keeping watch over their flock. We are not out of the way of Divine visits, when we are employed in an honest calling, and abide with God in it.”
Our meetings at WORLD begin with prayer and, almost always, whoever is praying remembers to thank God for giving us this calling, this work to do. Over the past year, we have witnessed many visits of the type Henry mentions. Not—to paraphrase Paul—that we have already obtained some type of holiness or piety or perfection. But as we try to rightly handle the Word of Truth and apply it to the unfolding narrative of the segment of history in which God has placed us, we press forward toward God’s upward call. And God this year has blessed us with many Divine appointments, with miraculous provision, and with the precious oil of fellowship, believers living and working in unity.
I want to personally thank each of you for supporting our calling. We are humbled to do the work of watching and listening, of telling of God’s great works, of His power, love, mercy, sovereignty, and providence weaving itself into the fabric of time. God chose the medium of storytelling to communicate with mankind throughout the ages.
It is a fearsome thing to traffic in the medium of the Creator, but how blessed we are to have been called to try!
Reverend Henry had more to say about the shepherds’ blessed night: “The fulness of time was now come, when God would send forth his Son. … The circumstances of his birth were very mean. Christ was born at an inn; he came into the world to sojourn here for a while, as at an inn, and to teach us to do likewise.”
For me, Christmas makes the concept of sojourn real. Heaven broke through the Veil that night, with witnesses who ever after testified that this is not all there is. The stunning reality of the heavenly host reminds me to reflect on my earthly walk. Am I doing all I can to serve Christ? Am I giving as I should, serving as I should, worshipping as I should, loving as I should? Am I serious about numbering my days that I might present to God a heart of wisdom?
Alas, it is said that wisdom is born of fiery trials, in which case, 2022 should make me very wise indeed. Our bodies and souls labor under the weight of Eve’s price, but our Potter has made us thus: that it is easier to remember to weep with those who weep when we are weeping ourselves.
And so, in a season of joy, it is good to remember those enduring a season of pain. A time when, like Mary at the manger, we might ask, “What on earth is God doing?”
And yet, are not those times precisely when we most feel the Veil’s actual thinness? When, in the depths of prayer, it seems a heavenly host might appear to us, too?
For now, Christmas reminds me that we only sojourn here. And that like the shepherds, soon and very soon we are going to see the King.