Imagine that you are so poor that you live in a tent or a small hut made of branches. The country that you live in is occupied by a nation more powerful than your own. It imposes a high tax on you and your countrymen. The job that you have pays minimum wage. You have a family to support. Your type of work causes people to look down on you. They insist that “your kind” cannot be trusted. There never were any other opportunities for you, nor will there be for your sons and daughters.
That was the situation of the shepherds on the night before Christmas.Dirt poor, hopeless, “low-lifes.” And yet in the space of a few hours their lives had changed so dramatically, that, although their circumstances were the same as always, they found cause to rejoice.
What happened? Christmas of course! No, Santa hadn’t paid them a visit. No, they didn’t have presents and a feast waiting for them. They heard “good news of great joy.” A Saviour, Jesus, had been born who would result in peace on earth. For the shepherds it was if a light had come on after so many years of dark blackness. They were beside themselves with joy.
Funny thing was, Jesus hadn’t done anything yet. He was just a baby, lying in a manger. They see him and go on their way rejoicing. Their whole outlook on life had changed. Why? They had faith in what this child would do for them. For the shepherds that baby was hope.
Hope for happiness, then, begins as we recognize our need for a Saviour. As long as we figure, “Hey, I’m all right. Sure I’m not perfect, but who is? I’m a good person and do my best,” then the event of Christmas really is not something that is going to change you or your outlook. It is a “season” to be jolly, nothing more. January is just around the corner. Back to the old grind, a dead end or stressful job; back to depression, debt, anxiety or boredom.
The question is: If we’re so good, why did God give a Saviour? Doesn’t that imply that we need saving? As a Christmas greeting card states: “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Saviour.” That baby grew up and died on a cross so that we could be forgiven and reconciled to God. To imagine that all you need for happiness is get a better job, find another spouse or lover, make more money, attend church more often, is like being aboard the Titanic thinking that all you need is a better mattress or a steak dinner.
You could say then that the shepherds had hope in their present situation because of a future certainty. Things looked the same, but in fact they were completely different. Same for us. A Saviour has been born, given by a God who knew we needed saving, and is committed to our happiness. When we put our trust in Him, everything changes.
“All we could ever imagine, could ever hope for, He is,” writes Michael Card, “He is the Prince of Peace whose first coming has already transformed society but whose second coming will forever establish justice and righteousness. All this, and infinitely more, alive in an impoverished baby in a barn. That is what Christmas means — to find in a place where you would least expect to find anything you want, everything you could ever want.”
Talk about a gift that keeps on giving!
Dave Bootsma is a pastor, professional counsellor and life coach in Vernon, B.C.