Well, Christmas day is over. The presents are gone from under the tree. It was a wonderful time, no doubt, of giving and receiving gifts. To see the faces of those we love opening packages with eager anticipation is very gratifying. It brings out the child in us, even if we are many years past childhood. All kinds of joyous emotions well up inside of us. Anticipation, enthusiasm, surprise, delight even joy overtakes us. What a wonderful time it can be.
After the thrill is over, however, the danger is that a let-down can occur. Even if you received all that you could want at Christmas, you can fall under the grip of the post-Christmas blues. What we want is to experience an after-glow which will warm our hearts for some time to come, not the blues. I hope that you had an encouraging, inspiring, and uplifting Christmas to remember.
Just what should the after-Christmas spirit be? How should we be feeling and acting just after this significant holiday is past? As Christians, we have not only participated in the gift-giving celebration of the holiday, but we have focused beyond that on the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We have worshipped at Christmas. We have knelt before our God and given thanks. How should we be feeling and acting at this time of year? Is there an after-Christmas spirit for us?
The shepherds who visited Jesus were given a wonderful surprise. The angels announced the coming of the Messiah of God, the Saviour of the world. These men were given the privilege to behold a miracle that would change the course of history. I am sure that they were full of holy awe as they saw the infant Jesus on that incredible night. Who really knows, besides God, what emotions they felt? Their eyes had seen the Lord of glory.
But they could not stay forever in that divine encounter. They had to leave the stable and the baby Jesus to go back to work. There were sheep to tend and a living to earn. How would they return, however? Would they go back to business as usual? Or would this Christmas encounter change them --- the way they felt and the way they would act? These shepherds did indeed exhibit the effects of their Christmas encounter. They are good examples of the true after-Christmas spirit. What they did, we should not only consider, but do ourselves. It will make Christmas live on long after others have forgotten it even happened.
1. Proclamation v. 17
The shepherds had seen a great sight. It was not something which they took lightly. They knew the significance of what they had seen. All Jews had been taught something concerning the Messiah. Every Passover they celebrated God's deliverance from the bondage of Egypt and anticipated the coming of the One who would bring true deliverance to Israel. A place was set at the table for Elijah, the prophet who would return to prepare the way for the Messiah. It was virtually impossible to grow up in a Jewish home and be ignorant of the awaited Messiah. These shepherds understood that they had witnessed a miraculous and historical event.
What they witnessed with their eyes and ears, they witnessed to with their lips. Our text says they made known what they had witnessed. The statement which had been told them about this Child was too marvellous to keep to themselves. They had to proclaim that message to all who would listen.
The proclamation of the shepherds is the proclamation of the church and of all Christian believers today. It is the same message that we share with the world at Christmas.
Christ has come. God is with us. The Messiah has indeed been born. The Saviour has arrived.
He is here now to deliver us. He is with us to forgive us. This is the message of Christmas. It was the message of the shepherds and it still is the message of believers everywhere.
Today we see a lot of lip service paid to Christ at Christmas. As the time for the holiday approaches, people from all walks of life begin to gear up by having Christmas parties, singing Christmas carols, and celebrating in the name of Christmas. Entertainers, who would not be caught breathing the name of Christ most of the year proudly proclaim His name in songs and specials on prime time. After the holiday is over, however, they act as if it never happened. This is not the after-Christmas spirit exhibited by the shepherds.
What makes the difference? The difference in someone who only sings about Christ at Christmas and someone who proclaims and lives for Christ all year round is whether or not that person has experienced a true life-changing encounter with Jesus. The shepherds did. Many do not. They celebrate Christmas as a traditional event of historical significance. They have not taken Christ out of Christmas, at least ostensibly. But in terms of the real message of Christmas, Christ is rendered as merely an example of a good person full of Christmas cheer and the spirit of giving. He is certainly not portrayed as the Lord of the universe, who will one day be the Judge of all humankind, and before whom we will all stand one day to give an account of every word we have uttered, every thought we have thought, and every act we have ever done. This is the truth concerning the babe in the manger. It escapes some. It should be proclaimed by others.
The after-Christmas spirit is one that moves us to proclamation of the message of Christmas.
2. Penetration v. 18
The message borne by the shepherds was not only heard but had an impact on those who heard it. They wondered at the message they had heard. This indicates that the people took the shepherds seriously, although they did not know exactly what to make of the events described.
The message of the shepherds had an impact, a penetration among the people. What made it have this penetration? Sometimes you wonder if the message you are sharing really is getting through to the people you are sharing with. Are they really hearing you? Do they understand that the only hope they have is Jesus Christ. Sometimes I preach the message and wonder whether the people are really hearing what I have to say. Are their lives going to be any different because they have heard the truth? Are there sins which they are going to confess and renounce? Will their attitudes change because of the Word? Is it simply an intellectual exercise they undertake on Sundays? Many times this is the plight of the preacher. You can preach your heart out to people and often they do just sit there and look at you, and you're not really sure if they have heard the truth. But you want them to hear the truth.
What made the truth that the shepherds told so penetrating? Well, one thing might have been the enthusiasm with which the shepherds told the story. They, after all, had been the beneficiaries of a fantastic encounter with angelic beings. They had entered the realm of the supernatural and that had to be exciting. The encounter with the Christ-child was unforgettable. Something spiritual had to have occurred. Perhaps their enthusiasm was much like ours was when we first received Christ. The glow of the Spirit is fresh upon us and we are feeling that first love for Jesus. Do you remember that?
When you are enthusiastic it shows. It also tells people that Jesus is important to you. So many people make the Gospel sound like bad news by the way they tell the story. Gospel, however, means "good news" by definition and it should be told like it is good news. We should be saying, "Do you want to hear something great . . . ?!" Enthusiasm makes the message penetrating.
Another key to their effectiveness was credibility - they were credible witnesses. They had actually had a first-hand experience. It wasn't that they had heard a rumour. They had been there. They had experienced it. They were credible. Someone once said, "God has no grandchildren." What they meant by that was that each of us must have our own personal experience with Jesus. We each must be born again by experiencing Christ for ourselves. We do not become a Christian because our parents were Christians. All of us must come individually. None of us inherit faith automatically.
Our witness will be credible when we share our personal experience with Christ. People don't want or respond to second-hand faith. They want to know that we have tried it ourselves and found it to be real. That message will penetrate a heart.
3. Praise v.20
The last characteristic of the after-Christmas spirit that the shepherds exhibited was an attitude of praise and worship. After their encounter with Jesus, and after they had told everyone who would listen to them, they went back, glorifying and praising God. They were excited about all that they had heard and seen. Before the encounter, who knows what problems they were contemplating, or what circumstances they were facing? Now they had a reason to be thankful. Now they had a reason to worship. Now they could begin glorifying and praising God because a change had taken place in their hearts.
This is the real after-Christmas spirit. It is an attitude of gratitude, not for the material presents we received, but for the best spiritual gift that anyone could ever hope to receive, eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Besides that, we can be grateful and full of praise for all God has done for us. Has He done good things for you? Then praise His name. Has He blessed you? Then give Him thanks. Have an attitude of gratitude within yourselves and be thankful to Him. Be a worshipper this Christmas and the Christmas light will shine through you.