“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

December, 2008

On a recent Sunday, our church set aside some time at the end of the worship service to dedicate our new sign. The sign is the result of long hours, days and weeks of work by a number of dedicated people, both within and outside our church. It will stand for years to come, a testament to their hard work, faith and dedication.

As the dedication ceremony proceeded, our church received a last-minute “visitor:” a man who was riding by on a bicycle. He apparently saw us gathered on the church lawn and became curious about what was happening. He stopped and joined our celebration, sitting by the curb, just beyond the edge of the crowd, smiling and applauding when we applauded.

After a few moments, Tom went over to the newcomer and explained what we were doing. The man stayed until the end of the ceremony and then went on his way. I’d like to think that he’ll come back but even if he doesn’t I know we touched his life in some small way, even if it was only to bring him a momentary smile. Our sign was intended to help make us a presence in the neighborhood and I’d say it’s already begun.

On a night many years ago near the town of Bethlehem, there was another kind of sign. The normally-quiet town of Bethlehem was crowded, almost bustling. Something was happening—the census. But something else, something far more significant, more life-changing than the census was also taking place. That night, an angel appeared to some shepherds in the fields outside of town and said, “‘And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’” (Luke 2:12 ESV). The shepherds knew something was happening in Bethlehem, in the stable behind a certain inn, and they wanted to find out what it was. They wanted to know about this proclamation of “‘. . . good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.’” (Luke 2:10b ESV). They couldn’t wait. Luke’s gospel says “And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” (2:16 ESV). They were in a hurry. They had a sense of urgency. They knew that whatever was happening was important, perhaps life-changing.

Our church is like Bethlehem in some ways: On the outside, it’s quiet, peaceful, unassuming. But on the inside it’s bustling, lively, filled with excitement. Our new sign is only the first indication that something is going on inside: praising and preaching, singing and seeking, mission and ministry. Once people are drawn in, like the man on the bicycle, they realize that exciting things are happening. We can help draw them in. We can tell the story of what our church has done for and meant to us. The man on the bicycle wouldn’t have stopped if it hadn’t been apparent that something was happening. And he wouldn’t have stayed if it weren’t true.

Today’s “shepherds” are people on bicycles and buses, who are wandering and wondering, standing just beyond the edge of the crowd. The “good news” is meant for them and for “all the people.” And God’s “signs” are mainly us. That Sunday, the real “sign” was all of us, gathered on the church lawn. A sign points to something. It lets people know there’s something to see, something worth knowing. The “sign” of a child lying in a manger pointed to salvation. Our lives can also point to something; we can point the way. When he began his ministry, Jesus told the people, “‘No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.’” (Luke 8:16 ESV). Our words and actions every day can point to Christ and to the message of salvation.

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:8-14 ESV.)

Copyright © 2008 by David Phelps