Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, December 25, 2016
God Comes to the Shepherds - December 24, 2016 - Christmas Eve - Text: Luke 2:1-20
Do you know what it is like to be an outcast? The shepherds knew, first hand. By no means am I hear to speak unkindly of the shepherds, but I can assure you that even in our politically correct world today we would be hard pressed to accept the shepherds as they were. For you see, shepherds spent most of their time out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks. They probably had an outdoorsy aroma to them, an odor of smoke from the camp fire, mixed with the odor of the sheep, mixed with the odor of whatever they may have come in contact. Let us just say, shepherds were not normally invited to the big social gatherings of their day.
As we did with Abram, as we did with Zechariah and Elizabeth, as we did with Mary and as we did with Joseph, so we do with the shepherds, we ask, What is it that is so special about these shepherds, we ask, what is it that makes them the first ones to be blessed with the Christmas news? Well, to answer that question, let us look at what we know about the shepherds, “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” (v. 8). We know that they cared for sheep. They often risked their own lives for the life of a sheep, chasing away wolves, lions, bears and whatever that might try to kill the sheep. We know that they were keeping watch over their flock by night.
We know that they spent most of their lives outdoors through winter, rain, or storm. And as I said earlier, they were not the most welcomed of people. Even so, it is interesting that Jesus uses the example of the shepherd to compare Himself and how He cares for us, His sheep. Well, let us “cut to the chase.” There was nothing about the shepherds that would make them worthy of being the first to hear the good news of Christ’s birth. Just like there was nothing in and of Abram to be the one from whom the Messiah would be born, just as there was nothing in and of Zechariah and Elizabeth to be the parents of the way preparer for the Messiah, John the Baptist, just as there was nothing in and of Mary to be the mother of Jesus, and just as there was nothing in and of Joseph to be the adopted father of Jesus, so there is nothing in and of these shepherds which would make them worthy to be the first one’s to hear the message that the Savior is born. So, again, we acknowledge and confess that it was purely by God’s grace that He chose to first take the good news to the shepherds. Having said that we might reason that certainly, among the reasons God had for doing so was to show that Jesus came to earth to save all people, from the lowliest shepherd to the greatest king. Jesus came to save all.
So, what happened on that Christmas Eve night in the field? “9And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10And 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. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’ 15When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’” (v. 9-14). Let me try to paint you a picture. Imagine if you will, a calm winter evening. It was clear and the stars were shining brightly in the sky. The sheep had all laid down for the evening rest. The camp fire was burning down. Dinner was over, the dishes were put away. It was just a perfect night. The shepherds were enjoying the rest, even to the point of almost falling asleep.
Suddenly and unexpectedly an angel appears in heavenly glory. I wish I could make some sort of comparison for you to help you visualize the scene, but there is nothing that would do justice to this scene. To be resting peacefully, watching the stars on a calm winter evening and then to have that peacefulness interrupted by the appearance of a bright heavenly angel would startle almost everyone. And what on earth would an angel be doing there we might ask. Well, when we understand that God is being born in human flesh as a baby, certainly the angels were there to defend this Child from whatever attacks the devil might think of bringing.
But even more startling than the sight of the angel was the announcement that angel came to make. The announcement of the good news of the birth of the Savior of the world. Certainly these shepherds knew of the promise of a Savior, but they were not expecting it during their life time and especially not on this particular night. They were very much like we are: We know that Jesus will come again to take us to heaven. We do not know when. And I would suggest that most of us really do not believe that it will be during our lifetime, so for it to come would very much startle us.
To show that the angels message was true, the angel announced the sign that the child would be in a manger. I do not know about you, but about this time I would have to say, “Right!?” The Savior of the world was born tonight and you are trying to tell us that He is laying in a manger, a feeding trough for animals.
Then the angel punctuates the message as he is joined by a great heavenly host praising God and saying, “14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Now, notice that this scene is described as a host of angels. A host is a description of an army of angels. Getting back to our earlier comment about God as a baby, indeed God is protecting Himself as a human child with an army of angels. Now usually we have our little girl children play the part of angels at our children’s program. I would suggest we have all the children dress in camo and wield swords. Anyway, then the angels leave. I could see people today standing around looking at each other and denying that they had seen anything for fear of being thought, “they are not in their right mind.”
The shepherds, however, did believe. They talked it over and they left their sheep and went to Bethlehem. They went to confirm what was told them by the angel. They went to see the new born King, the Savior of the world.
And when the shepherds got to Bethlehem it was just as the angel had said. They found the place as described by the angel. They saw Mary and Joseph sitting near the feed trough, the manger. And in the manger they saw the new born King.
The shepherds went away from that place filled with great joy. They could not contain the great joy that was in their hearts as they left telling everyone who would listen the good news of what they had seen and heard. The shepherds were uninhibited by what people might have thought of them as shepherds, or of the seeming unbelievable message they proclaimed. They simply told everyone the great good news that was in their heart.
Does this same excitement fill us today? We have taken the time over the last four weeks to prepare ourselves for this moment, for the celebration of the birth of our new born King. God comes to us today to tell us of the birth of His Son. He does not tell us by angels, but He does tell us through His Holy Precious Word. He does not tell us by, what we might imagine as, some great and grand demonstration as He did the shepherds, but He tells us nonetheless through His Word.
And, as the people of Jesus’ day were looking forward to His first coming, we too continue to look forward to the coming again of the Savior, when He will come to take us to be with Himself in heaven for eternity or our passing on from this world and going to be with Him in heaven. Until that time our own passing or the Lord’s return, God continues to show us the Christ child in His Word. And it is that same Word which reminds us, yes, in the middle of our joyous celebration of birth and new life, that same Word reminds us that this baby was born for one purpose, to die, to suffer the pangs of hell on the cross, for your sins and for mine. That announcement, that the baby was born to die, may seem to put a damper on our celebration, but it makes it all the more a grand celebration, because, since that baby was born to die and since we know that baby did die, we also know that baby did not stay dead, but rose on the third day. That death and resurrection means we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life, indeed, we will never die. Our God lives.
As we come again this evening, to see the Christ Child in the manger through God’s Word, we know that very much like the shepherds who responded by telling everyone what they had seen and heard, so God stirs in our hearts to share that wonderful Word with others.
As you go home and begin and continue your Christmas celebration, as you open gifts and presents tonight or early in the morning, let those presents remind you of the greatest gift of all, the greatest gift of love, God in human flesh, that baby born in Bethlehem. “14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Amen.