In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night…
As we enter into Advent, we bring to mind the birth of Christ and the mystery of the Incarnation. It’s a time when we become a little more awe-filled with the chaotic, gracious business that is Emmanuel – God-with-us.
When I read over the nativity account from Luke’s Gospel, I’m struck by the proclamation of good news of great joy for all the people. A messenger of God brings the good news of Jesus’ birth to a group of socially-outcast “public sinners”: shepherds. Those folks who were seen as unclean because their duties precluded them from keeping the Sabbath and other customs of religious purity. That’s right, the Good News was first preached to the religious outsiders. And it truly was for them. What a way to evangelize!
Evangelism, though, can be a four-letter word in The United Church of Canada – and rightly so. Evangelism has looked like the horrors of residential schools, Crusades, and the violence of colonial oppression. Unfortunately, there are few large-scale examples of evangelism gone right. Yet, it remains that none of us (unless descended from his original followers) would know Jesus without evangelism. So as we, the Body of Christ, repent of our sins of imperialism, let us do so deeply enough that we crack open enough space for the Good News to enter again into the world through our lives.
But… what does evangelism look like, then? We can use the angel’s words as a model for our evangelism. Note that the first thing out of the angel’s mouth (do angels have mouths?) is “Do not be afraid!” If we use fear and control to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, we’ve already got it wrong.
Why? Because we are bearing good news of great joy for all the people: the news of a Saviour, a Messiah, a Lord. Not a Saviour to be feared. Not a Lord to dominate us. A messy, messianic Infant; a Teacher who ate with tax collectors and hookers; a Son who let himself be killed rather than kill; a God who gives us hope through a shroud left in an otherwise empty tomb.
No, fear and superiority are not the way to bear this Good News. The angel tells these shepherds, this will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. They invite this motley crew of outcasts into the mystery of faith. Come and see! With love, respect, and goodwill, the angel bids the shepherds onto the endless journey which is a life in Christ.
The shepherds, curious and gobsmacked, took the invitation. When they saw this fresh little baby, his beleaguered mother, and her relieved fiancé, they made known what had been told to them about this child. They came to know the Living God not through coercion, but through invitation and experience. God was responding to their experiences – as must we evangelists – and their deeply-felt needs were met. Filled with joy, they returned glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Hopeful proclamation. Peaceful invitation. Joyful participation. Loving jubilation.
While we prepare to rejoice in the birth of Jesus once again, let us treasure those words and ponder them in our hearts along with Mary, and invite all the people for whom this good news of great joy is given to come and see.
You never know, they just might.
Morgan Bell is a member of Mount Horeb United Church and lives in Omemee, Ontario. He studies at Trent University and is a candidate for ministry in Bay of Quinte Conference.