Why do we start this story after the angels have left? (Luke 2:15-21). It might seem we are missing the point, but perhaps there is a point to make this way, too.
For the shepherds, it was one thing to be told; quite another to go and see for themselves. There’s effort and risk involved, but it makes the whole experience their own. The walk into Bethlehem may have been less fun than the angel choir, but doing it made it part of their own experience, not just an “entertainment”, however heavenly.
The shepherds prove what was said – they find a baby in a manger, and are able to tell what has happened to them, before they go home “singing praises to God for all they had heard and seen; it had been just as the angel had told them” verse 20
For Joseph and Mary, the shepherds visit may have been a shock, but their story provided confirmation that God was at work. We might wonder how they could forget, but it had been a long time since the angel’s appearance to Mary, and Joseph’s dream. We all need reassurance, and this is a confirmation they share, to make them more sure – and ready for the next difficulty.
So, if the end of the story, the shepherds visit to the Bethlehem babe, was important for them and for Joseph and Mary, what about us? We continue the celebration of Christmas, while many have finished with it for another year. Like the shepherds, we need not only to hear about it, but to see it, and make it our own. It needs trying out, as well as hearing. When we have made sense of it, we then need to share it as well, passing it on, whatever reception it gets. (Nobody recorded the impact of the shepherds on Bethlehem. I like to think they may have made quite a stir!).
We may worship with many people vaguely aware of God, but with no idea that he might be involved in their lives. That was the temptation for Joseph and Mary; but they were reminded of how God was using them, and it strengthened and prepared them for the next steps.
It’s no use just sitting back and enjoying it – even if “it” is a choir of angels. We have to take action on what we are told, and when we have found out for ourselves, we need to share that, and to build on our experience of God at work, so that we know we have a place in his work, and are ready to take on the next challenge.