December 8, 2010

Have You Heard the Singing?

 IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY, IN THE NEXT FEW WEEKS YOU’LL LIKELY BE treated to some performance at which little kids dress up as angels, shepherds, and Wise Men. They’ll sing songs about glory, good news, and peace on earth. Then you’ll go have punch and cookies and congratulate the young performers, even though the barely adequate sound system made it all but impossible to catch a word of dialogue.
What you aren’t likely to see in these mini-spectaculars is any portrayal of the religious and political leaders of first-century Palestine (with the possible exception of Herod). That’s because these characters played an almost-nonexistent role in Christ’s first advent.
While the angels were appearing to uneducated, illiterate shepherds and non-Jewish, Gentile philosophers, the political and religious leaders were busy consolidating their authority and minimizing the competition from those who threatened it. Next to their participation in the trial and the execution of Christ, it was one of the sorriest episodes in Israel’s history.
If there was ever a cautionary tale about getting lost in programs and initiatives, this is it. As someone who spent almost two decades in pastoral ministry, I know how easy it is for the church, its leaders, and its members to be program-driven (if this is December, it must be Ingathering).
But the subtext of this story reminds us that Christ comes to each of us individually, often unexpectedly. It’s not enough for our leaders to tell us how glorious the angels sound; we must each hear the music for ourselves. And after hearing it, it’s our responsibility, as it was with the shepherds, to “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17).
Stephen Chavez is managing editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published December 9, 2010.