By Mary Wenzl
“Psst . . . Psst”
“Come closer, I have a secret to tell you.”
“Today in Bethlehem, a child was born who will be the King of the world.”
“Wow, that is astounding!”
“Yes! Now, tell no one. It is a secret. Keep the secret to yourself.”
“Okay, I won’t tell a soul.”
Our human nature likes to hear secrets, but it is hard to keep them. The Christ’s birth was foretold in many different verses throughout the Old Testament. Sometimes it was referred to as a secret that was hidden from men but would be revealed in the future.
Fortunately, this is not the conversation that took place between the angel and the shepherds on a hillside near Bethlehem around 2,000 years ago. The story of Christ’s birth is familiar to most Christians, and even many non-Christians. God had been promising for many generations to send a savior to the Jewish people. Prophets hinted at Christ’s birth over and over in the books of the Old Testament. Two weeks ago, Renee Meyer wrote about “waiting” as part of the advent season. The Jewish people waited for many generations for the savior to be born. Last week, Sheryl wrote about “preparing” being part of the advent season. This week, I want to talk briefly about another aspect of the advent season, “witnessing.”
Picture yourself as one of the shepherds on a hill outside Bethlehem. It is dark, maybe cold, and very quiet except for the sound of the sheep. Suddenly, a bright light interrupts the darkness. You see a glowing figure, an angel, and hear a message from that angel. How do you react? Do you keep quiet, not wanting to share this secret? If the shepherds were Jewish, they would remember the prophesies set forth in the Torah about the Messiah, a Savior to be born. In the second chapter of Luke, the shepherd’s story is set forth:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So, they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”Luke 2: 8-20
The shepherds did not react to what the angel had told them by thinking, that’s nice news, and then kept the information to themselves. They went to investigate, to verify the truthfulness of the angel’s statement. Imagine the scene. The shepherds have left their sheep on the hillside and traveled as quickly as they could to Bethlehem to look for a newborn baby. They probably told part of their story to anyone they encountered along the way as they were searching for the location of this baby. They finally find Mary, Joseph, and the Christ child in a manger, just as the angel had foretold. The information is true. They have verified it with their own eyes. Now, what do they do with this information? Keep it to themselves? No, they tell everyone they see after this on their way back to the fields. This is called “witnessing.”
The act of “witnessing” is very important in the process of verifying a truth. In our legal system, truth-finding relies upon there being at least one witness to an event before a judge or jury will determine it actually happened. A witness to some event provides proof. And without proof, there is no legal way to determine an event happened. So, witnessing serves one purpose, to establish the truthfulness of an event or statement. What people see with their own eyes is very important to believing that something actually happened.
The angel did not instruct the shepherds to go verify the truthfulness of its statement. The angel was speaking for God, and God does not lie. So, I do not believe the angel came to the shepherds just to give them information about the event of the Savior’s birth. I believe the purpose of the angel’s appearance was to inspire the shepherds to engage in another purpose—witnessing sharing with other people what they had seen or heard. Witnessing is very important to human nature. We will believe what others tell us, if they say that they personally saw or heard something.
I have been active in CR, Celebrate Recovery, for many years. This is a Christ based recovery program for people who have hurts, hang-ups, or addictions. My personal demon was an addiction to food. Witnessing, or telling others our personal story, is a foundational concept of recovery. It helps people heal when they find out others have experienced the same temptation and hurts that they have been going through. Telling our stories also helps get rid of any shame we might be feeling over our “secrets.” Many, many people have found recovery through CR, in large part because they have heard the stories told by other participants in the program. This is referred to as “giving your testimony.” It is akin to “witnessing,” as the person is telling another what they have seen or experienced.
We, as Christians, are charged with spreading the good news to other people. Christ’s final command to his disciples was “go into the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” [Mark 16:14] We can do that more easily by witnessing to people about how God has impacted us or our lives. Witnessing means just talking about your personal experiences with God; how you were and acted as an unbeliever, and how believing in Christ’s birth, accepting Him as Savior, has changed your life for the better.
Like the shepherds this Christmas season, let’s spread the news to all we see.