The Third Character
It happens in movies all the time.
Two characters are engaged in some surprising conversation or activity when a third character reacts incredulously. That third character can’t believe what they’re seeing or hearing. And in so doing, they model for us - the viewer - how to respond. Sometimes they even look at the camera, seemingly inviting us into the action.
That’s kind of how I read Luke chapter 2. While Joseph and Mary are en route from Nazareth to Bethlehem, they are forced to stop and welcome baby Jesus in a manger. Then, out of nowhere, Luke mentions shepherds who were in the middle of nowhere (you know the ones, living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks at night). And what’s more, an angel appears, inviting these humble, rough-and-tumble guys to join in celebrating the birth of a baby.
I imagine they didn’t know how to respond (shepherds aren’t the usual guests at an impromptu baby shower)! Then, the plot thickens: “a great company of heavenly host” join the angel, “praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’”
As I read it, those rough-and-tumble shepherds were like that third character watching these angels react to the good news of Jesus’ birth. It was immediately apparent that this was no ordinary baby. And because they carefully watched the angels, they responded appropriately: “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Imagine for a moment those shepherds turning to you, looking at you through the TV screen. How do you respond to Jesus’ birth? What is your reaction this Christmas?
Is it dull: “Yeah, yeah. Christmas again. Just like last year.”? Or can you again rejoice (literally return to your joy) in this greatest story ever told!?
C.S. Lewis once wrote,
Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.
So may we, too, take our cue from that host of heavenly beings, and joyfully join them in song: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” May our joy be seen by other “third characters” we interact with, that they might join in too!
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