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The concentric circles of Christmas

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Topic Scripture: Luke 2:15–20

Last week, Janet and I were setting out our Christmas decorations. Many of them. Boxes and boxes of them, in fact.

As we were doing so, she wondered what the Chinese workers who make our Christmas decorations think of the way we celebrate the Christmas holiday. It’s a great question.

I did some research. It turns out, nearly two-thirds of the world’s Christmas products are manufactured in a single place, a Chinese city of 1.2 million residents called Yiwu. It is home to six hundred factories that make everything from glowing fiber-optic trees to felt Santa hats.

In a country where two-thirds are atheists or non-religious and Christianity officially composes only 5 percent of the population, it’s easy to wonder what the people making commercial Christians decorations think of the Christian faith.

We can ask the same question here at home. I grew up in Houston, Texas, but did not hear the gospel in a way I understood until I was fifteen years old. I knew much more about Santa Claus than I did about Jesus Christ. I could have told you that he was born on Christmas day, but I had no idea why, or why his birth mattered to me.

Many of the people we’ll interact with this Christmas season are where I was and where the Chinese are today. This fact makes Christmas one of the most important seasons of the year for Christian witness and ministry.

Max Lucado notes that “God made you on purpose for a purpose.” There are people whose lives you can touch for eternity this Christmas season. But Christmas must be real in us before Jesus can be real through us.

How?

A shocking story

In Luke 2, we find “shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night” (v. 8). No one reading Luke’s Gospel in the first century would have expected them in the Christmas story.

Shepherds were a noble profession in the Old Testament—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their sons all engaged in this vocation. By the time of Christ, however, they were despised. The scholar Joachim Jeremias documents their rejection by their culture. The Mishnah, their written record of the oral law, calls them “incompetent”; another passage says no one should feel obligated to rescue a shepherd who fell into a pit.

Shepherds could not be admitted in court as witnesses. You could not buy wool, milk, or a goat from a shepherd, because it was assumed to be stolen property.

Philo, a first-century Jewish scholar, reported that their profession was “accounted inglorious and mean” by wealthier and more respectable people (On Husbandry 61).

It would have shocked the self-respecting religious authorities that shepherds rather than rabbis and priests were invited to the first Christmas.

Jesus was making this point: if they were included, so are we.

A surprising response

Their story begins: “In the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night” (Luke 2:8). “The same region” refers to Bethlehem, where Jesus has just been born. The “field” is traditionally identified with the town of Beit Sahur, an eastern suburb of Bethlehem. Three chapels stand there today, built by Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Protestants.

When an angel of the Lord appeared to them, “they were filled with great fear” (v. 9). This is a typical response to meeting an angel in the Bible, perhaps heightened by the shepherds’ religious class in their society. But the angel announced the astounding good news: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (v. 11).

The shepherds’ immediate response is fascinating.

First, they chose to come and see: “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us” (v. 15). And they did this “with haste,” finding “Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger” (v. 16).

Second, they chose to go and tell: “And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child” (v. 17). They met the Child of Christmas, then they told the good news that their Messiah had come.

How can we follow their example?

Come and see, then go and tell

Let’s begin with the first invitation: to “come and see” the Lord Jesus.

I’ve been thinking much over Thanksgiving about two biblical imperatives: “be still” and “be thankful.”

Psalm 46:10 calls us to “be still, and know that I am God.” We must do the first to do the second. Over the coming Christmas weeks, let’s make a time and place every day to be still with God, to be in his presence in Scripture, prayer, and worship, to experience him intimately and directly.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 calls us to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Over the Christmas holiday, let’s look for ways and times to give thanks in every circumstance we encounter. Let’s express our gratitude to God for the families and friends with whom we share the holidays; for those who serve us in the stores and restaurants; for the prosperity we enjoy and the joys of this season.

If we make the strategic decision to “be still’ and to “be thankful,” we will “come and see” Jesus wherever he is found this Christmas.

Now let’s consider the second invitation: to “go and tell” the world.

Dr. Oscar Thompson was a beloved evangelism professor when I taught on the faculty of Southwestern Seminary many years ago. He made famous a model he called “concentric circles of concern.”

He traced seven levels in our relational lives: from self to family, relatives, friends, neighbors and associates, acquaintances, and “person X” (someone unknown to us). He urged us to build bridges to each as appropriate to the nature of our relationship with them.

Using his model in our context, we would “go and tell” our family about Jesus in different ways than we might with neighbors or acquaintances. We must earn the right to be heard. But as we pray for those we know and ask the Lord to use us in sharing his love with them, we can know that the Father will lead us in ways that are best for them and for us.

Conclusion

This Christmas season, let’s come and see Jesus every day. Then let’s go and tell however the Lord leads us.

We can give our souls, and our friends, no greater gifts.

Janet received a very kind thank you card from a woman in one of her ladies’ Bible studies in Dallas. It contained these words from Max Lucado: “When you arrive in heaven, I wonder if Christ might say these words to you: ‘I’m so proud that you let me use you. Because of you, others are here today. Would you like to meet them?'”

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