Leaving the Manger: Go Back!

Luke 2:20 And the shepherds went back…

Matthew 2:12 The magi…departed for their own country by another way.

How nice to stand in the presence of God, yet we come in order to go. It’s life-changing to come to the manger, but the world awaits our return.

The shepherds were the first outsiders to witness the holy birth. How kind of God to invite these common hard-working folks to stand in the Savior’s birthplace and take in the shocking scene. There they stood in the presence of God. Their wildest imaginations could have never conceived such a moment. But here they were, chosen by God to come and stand in the presence of the Creator in a cradle.

And then…it was time to go back. Yes—the sheep were still in the pasture. The reality of life goes on. Animals needed to be protected, lambs cared for, the flock must be fed. Responsibility calls. So—as scripture clarifies, “the shepherds went back.”

It may seem like a silly question, but why couldn’t they stay? If God invited them…and God could watch the sheep—or find someone else to herd them…or keep the wolves away…or bring the sheep to them…or if God could do something completely new and different that God had never done with sheep before, why couldn’t the shepherds just stay in the presence of Jesus?

Because we come in order to go.

How about the magi? They traveled thousands of miles and gave months of their lives to arrive in this place to worship Jesus. They gave so much…why couldn’t they just stay here in the presence of God-With-Us? That’s the least God could do, right? Just imagine how exhilarating it must have been for these travelers to see the star over Bethlehem. They scurried into the village to find this Promised One–the object of the heavenly sign. In fact, the Bible tells us that even before these magi saw Jesus, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10) when the star stationed itself over the place where Jesus rested. Imagine the spiritual high of breathing in this Divine Presence! Try to comprehend the awe and wonder of these men who found what they had looked for and sacrificed for and longed for all these months! Consider the pure pleasure of worshiping the God-child as they embraced the truth that this was God in the flesh just as Yahweh had promised in the scrolls of scripture! What was so important that these visitors needed to return to place of their origin? Why couldn’t the magi stay in the presence of Jesus?

Because we come in order to go.

Sort of like the shepherds and the magi, we too are invited to meet with God. No—it’s not quite as unique, mind-boggling and gripping as that first Christmas, but it is just as real. The invitation is open to every one of us every day at every moment. God wants us to have these God-encounters that change us forever. This is not a nice-sounding theoretical dream based on wishful thinking. God longs to intersect his righteousness with our reality. He awaits our arrival of readiness in order to receive His fullness of blessing. He wants to pour His presence into our souls and then…send us out.

Because we come in order to go.

Sundays are generally the time when Christians gather together. But Saturdays or any other day of the week is perfectly acceptable too. The important thing is that we come. And that we come to give our worship. That we come with a realness to our arrival rather than a routine to wrap-up. The New Testament declares the value of our togetherness:

Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25

The admonition? Get together on a regular basis as fellow believers. And we could say, “To meet God!” After all, if we don’t meet God when we offer our worship together, we have missed the Object of it all.

Why get together? To encourage one another to go out and do “love and good deeds.” We are to be the presence of Jesus in our world. Incarnate Christ. Bring the presence of God.

Because we come in order to go.

Don’t fall back into some carnal rut of “worshiping” just for yourself. Don’t return to the cursed place of self-infatuation…simply getting what you want for your own benefit. Don’t “do church” because you’re looking for whatever it is you want out of it. This is completely sinful. We are never invited to come only to get. We’re invited to come and get so we can go and give.

And let’s be clear–corporate worship is not the only place–nor even the primary place–that God wants to meet us. He longs to engage us anywhere–even under the stars or on a grassy hillside littered with sheep.

Here’s the truth of the matter: If we don’t meet God, we don’t have much to give. If we meet God, we cannot keep it for ourselves.

Are you ready to turn around and go back into your place of influence? Are you ready to infect others with the reality of God? Do you really understand that you come in order to go?

ACTION: Write down your thoughts about being a vehicle of God’s presence in our world every day in this coming year.

Now–ask God for His Holy Spirit power to help you be just that.