Christmas is really ‘good’ and ‘bad’ news!

For some of the protagonists in the Christmas story, the birth of Jesus had more to do with challenging religious beliefs and losing a family business than carols and presents.

2,000 plus years later and about 7,000 miles of separation from that first scene clutters our view of that first nativity. To get a better understanding we have to look at it from the reality of some of the main characters. Consider, for instance, the shepherds! Their significance is usually buried beneath tales of modern Christianity. But, their inclusion in the story is a reminder to us that when Jesus arrives in the scene He always creates a cosmic battle between conviction and convenience.

The Gospel story tells us that the shepherds were taking care of their sheep at night, somewhere around Bethlehem; in the vicinity of Jerusalem. The story takes place during the census decreed by King Caesar Augustus, which according to historians took place somewhere around the year 4 BC. Researchers of early Christianity also tell us that the birth actually happened during late spring or summer, which accounts for the traveling of people to the census, and for the presence of shepherds at nighttime. But those are mere facts, what concerns us is the meaning the announcement had to the shepherds and how that touches us today as we approach 2017.

The shepherd’s main function was to care for sheep, and the place and time of these shepherds indicate that they probably worked with ‘sacrificial’ sheep. These are sheep that got slaughtered at the temple of Jerusalem during feasts, or during those extraordinary events when thousands of Jews came from all over the world to the surrounded areas of Jerusalem; such as a census. Shepherding temple sheep was a family business and it passed from generation to generation. But what passed was not only financial stability. Although shepherds were considered dirty and unwanted as a societal cast, they were also at the epicenter of religion. You see, their occupation guarded the ‘sacred grail’ of the Jewish sacrificial system. Sheep in Israel were a constant reminder of the deliverance from Egypt, the need of a sacrifice for the atonement of sins, and the future appearance of the last sacrificial sheep provided by God Himself. The fathers passed the stories to their children. Their occupation pointed to the future coming of Messiah; and, when that happened, the family business would end. Or, it would at least take a big blow because the sacrificial system would end and the temple would not buy more sheep.

Here is where the conviction vs. convenience dilemma lies. The angelic announcement to these shepherds was a confrontation to their religious beliefs and a challenge to their business practices. Which, is no different than the announcement that accompanies the arrival of Jesus to our lives today. If they truly believed the announcement, then what sheep stood for as far as the sacrificial system was true: It pointed to the advent of the Messiah. Would they believe this and risk the repercussions of it with the religious leaders and directors of the temple? Would they believe that the final sacrificial lamb had been born and endanger a whole industry? Would they believe and risk the family business, their children’s future, and their own survival? Would they believe and endure the wrath of their business partners? Would they respond in conviction and give up their place in their community, their stability and their source of life? Would they response in conviction or continue living out of convenience?

The story tells us that they responded in conviction. The shepherds went to see the baby and then told everyone around about the Good News. It was good and bad news. They had just seen the Savior, but they had just lost their jobs!

How about you and I? Do we respond with conviction when the Son of God reveals himself to us? Or do we let religion and financial stability move us to responding in convenience?

Manuel Zarate is a Columbian-born evangelist, apologist, church planter, and director of Manuel Zarate Ministries.