Faith Is Not a Spectator Sport

[audio] The shepherds are on the move…

On the outskirts of Bethlehem is a town named Beit Sahour. And in that town there’s a hillside that is littered with caves. In Arabic, Beit Sahour means “the town of staying up all night.” The hill is known by the name “The Shepherds’ Fields”, and for centuries this has been revered as the site where the Biblical shepherds were keeping their flocks, sheltering them from the potential ravages of weather.

Standing there, you can almost imagine the scene that unfolded that night so long ago. The sky stretches to expand forever, an empty canvas on which you could paint a million angels all giving glory to God in the highest.

It’s a vision that captures the imagination, a frame that we freeze in time, a momentary Christmas anchor, if you will, in a world that is so unsure.

And yet, the scene doesn’t stay frozen. The first angel sends the shepherds, terrified though they might be, to Bethlehem to see this thing for themselves. And within moments, they are on the move.

Faith is not a spectator sport. Faith is a living, breathing, identity-bending reality. And how disconnected we can get by that in our culture. Several large Atlanta area churches have canceled their services this Sunday.

Their reasoning is straightforward: it takes hundreds of volunteers working behind the scenes, and they want to give them a chance to spend the day with family.

I may not ultimately agree with that choice, but I can sympathize with some of that thought process. And yet, I can’t help but think of the gulf in our world when Iraqi Christians have cancelled all Christmas celebrations not because they have the luxury to do so, but because their lives are in danger. This Christmas in particular, it seems we would do well to stay up and take notice of what is being painted across the sky for us.

If you are anything like me, one of the reasons you are here tonight is because Christmas Eve is a time to re-connect with memories: the sound of hymns, the glow of candles, the warmth of family and friends. And yet, those wondrous thoughts, those Christmas anchors, should serve as much, much more. They should be our caution against “sitting this one out”, against receiving faith passively. Instead, we ought to engage it passionately!

What is it that this Christmas season is trying to teach you? Have you seen the sign of God’s promise? What is the angel telling you? Where is the angel sending you?

Tonight, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” And friends, that God is on the move! Will we follow?