Luke 2: 8 – 20
Some of us are so comfortable with the Christmas story it makes us a bit sleepy. Because our culture has sentimentalized this season, it’s easy to skim along on a superficial level, stressing about all the things to do, while neglecting the Nativity.
Little girl who misquoted John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only forgotten Son.”
Has Christmas become too predictable, too familiar, too forgotten? Have you heard the Christmas narrative so much it no longer astonishes you? Actually, this can be a dangerous time of the year for us. Our annual celebration of Christmas can immunize us to its reality. We hear just enough to inoculate us against the real thing, so we never really catch true Christmas fever.
I find it extremely interesting God chose to send the birth announcement about His Son in the middle of the night to some shepherds. They might have been sleepy but they were not asleep.
Shepherding was a noble profession. Abel was the first to have this job, followed by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David. God calls Himself a shepherd and we’re compared to sheep, which is anything but a compliment. When we come to the 1st century, shepherding has lost its status. Shepherds made up the lowest class of people, coming in just ahead of lepers.
To see how unusual it was to have the angels make an appearance to these simple shepherds, let’s learn about them: • Considered ceremonially unclean - they were unable to attend any religious services. • Isolated and forgotten - their flocks needed to move around to find new grass and fresh water, they never stayed in one place for long. • Treated with contempt and mistrust - often suspected of stealing from others. Their testimony was never allowed in court because they were so unreliable. • Known to be brash and bold - unappealing to most people. Most had foul mouths and were accustomed to fighting.
God entrusted the greatest message from heaven to a bunch of smelly shepherds. Actually, that isn’t so unusual, is it? God has always worked wonders for the little, the least and the lost. Jesus came for the marginalized, the poor, the forgotten and the outcasts.
Last week we said: God moves us through a specific process so we can make spiritual progress. We unpacked the specific process Mary went through which led her to make spiritual progress. The shepherds also went through a process. I see 5 steps they took –
1. They Worked Faithfully v. 8
They were attentive to their jobs. They were so committed to their career. Isn’t it intriguing the “Lamb of God” was born in the area set aside for sheep to be sacrificed? I find it fascinating that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of King David, fulfilling a 700-year-old prophecy from Micah 5: 2 “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”
The King in the Cradle is the sacrificial substitute for our sins. Jesus is the Good Shepherd - John 10: 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John the Baptist - John 1: 29 “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” Even at His birth, Jesus is seen as Sovereign and Sacrifice.
Don’t miss this. God came to those who were attentive to the jobs they were given to do. They weren’t sleepy slackers. The top 2 qualities companies look for in employees are the ability to work hard and dependability.
Are you working hard? Can others depend on you? Are you keeping watch where you work? Listen. Whatever God has called you to do, be attentive to it and do it with excellence. Colossians 3: 23, 24 “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
Friend, no matter what kind of job you have, you are not insignificant to Immanuel. He will meet you right where you are as you work faithfully at what He’s called you to do. You don’t have to clean yourself up on your own or act like someone you’re not. If you smell like a shepherd, let Jesus wash you up. If your sins are wiping you out, allow Jesus to put you back together.
2. They Wondered Fearfully v. 9
While they were working faithfully at the responsibilities they were given, the shepherds were suddenly awed by the angelic announcement. God meets us where we are but then He brings us to our knees.
God’s Shekinah glory lights up the sky and they shake in their sandals. “Appeared” impresses on us the sudden and unexpected arrival of the angel on this silent night. For the first time in centuries, the glory of God has returned to earth! The cry expressed in Isaiah 64: 1 is being answered: “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down!”
Maybe the shepherds were terrified because they didn’t know if this was an angel of judgment or not. Perhaps they were worried their sins were catching up with them and they were about to be vapourized.
Whenever we come face-to-face with God’s holiness, how can we not but fall apart because of our sinfulness? Peter had a similar response in Luke 5: 8 when he said to Jesus: “Get away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.”
I wonder, when’s the last time you wondered fearfully? Do you marvel at the Messiah? Has it been awhile since you hit your knees before Him? God moves us through a specific process so we can make spiritual progress.
3. They Welcomed Favourably v. 10
After the faithful shepherds were filled with fear, they favourably welcomed the message of good news of great joy.
Isn’t it interesting how fear is the normal human reaction to angelic encounters? • Zechariah – “… was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.” • Mary – “But she was greatly troubled…” • Joseph – “Joseph, son of David do not fear…”
“Behold” means, “Look now!” “Christianity’s first call is not ‘Behave!’ but ‘Behold!’” “Christianity is not simply moralism. Once we behold, we will believe...and then we’ll behave.”
The angel tells them to chill out because he is bringing good news of “great joy.” The word is “mega” which means large, loud and mighty. “May your steps jingle with delight and anticipation this time of year!”
v. 11 - the heart of the birth announcement - 3 words used to describe this baby born in Bethlehem:
• Saviour - He came to save us from our sins. The name Jesus means the one who saves.
• Christ - “The anointed one” or “Messiah” in Hebrew.
• Lord - Hebrew word Adonai -speaks of His total possession and my absolute submission. As we learned last week from the model of Mary, we must demonstrate submissive servanthood and unconditional obedience.
The shepherds are told what to look for in v. 12 - This sign actually has 2 parts…
• Baby wrapped in swaddling cloths. Strips of cloth were wrapped around newborns to hold their arms and legs still so they could sleep. Let’s admire the cradle but be quick to move to the cross and get ready for His return when He’s wearing a crown!
• Lying in a manger. While it was common to see babies swaddled in cloths it would have been very unusual to find a newborn in a manger. After a heavenly explosion of God’s glory, a wrapped-up baby in a feeding trough would definitely get their attention.
Suddenly a whole regiment of rejoicing warrior angels fills the sky, praising God in a thunderous chorus – v. 14.
Our earth is sure in need of peace, isn’t it? “We agree that the nation is divided. Beyond that, they don’t agree on much.” Angels praised God at creation and now they are praising Him for the creation of the incarnation. The angels also burst into praise when a sinner becomes a new creation.
We know the shepherds welcomed the message favourably – v. 15. Have you favourably welcomed the message and allowed the word of God to work in you? God’s good news is a gift that must be received if you want it to be activated in your life. It’s one thing to say you accept it; it’s another to actually act on it. Knowing must lead to growing. God moves us through a specific process so we can make spiritual progress. After working faithfully, the shepherds wondered fearfully and then they welcomed favourably.
4. They Witnessed Frequently v. 16
The shepherds went to see so they could witness what had taken place. “Come on, hurry up, let’s go!” This is the first Christmas rush! This is pretty amazing because normally shepherds were slow and patient men to keep from scaring the sheep.
The Bible is clear that faith must lead to action - James 2: 17 “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” They could have doubted or delayed but instead they decided to mobilize and then they moved.
• They went and witnessed. The first thing they did was bounce to Bethlehem so they could see the baby with their own eyes. A baby born in a smelly stable would not have been a problem to men who were used to the scent of sheep.
Check out these ironies - unclean shepherds came to a stable to see the Holy of Holies lying on a bed of hay - shepherds leave their sheep behind to visit the Lamb of God - a 1000 years earlier, David kept watch over his father’s sheep in this same pasture and now these shepherds see the Son of David born in the City of David - the shepherds are captivated by the Creator born as a creature. All this makes me think of 1 Timothy 3: 16 “Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh.”
• They left as witnesses v. 17 - We’re here today because they couldn’t keep quiet! They didn’t hang around the manger because they knew they were now managers of the message.
v. 18 - describes how the people responded - means “to be astonished.” Are you astonishingly amazed when you consider what Christ has done?
Notice the message they shared had nothing to do with adoring the amazing angels. There’s no reference to Mary’s magnificence or of them worshipping her. My guess is Joseph was barely noticed. They came to see the Saviour and now they head out to herald the good news about Him.
In what ways is God calling you to witness frequently? It’s not enough just to say you have faith, or to feel good about something; there comes a time after seeing, that we must be involved in sharing. God moves us through a specific process so we can make spiritual progress. One more step in the process…
5. They Worshipped Fondly v. 20
The shepherds went back to their same jobs but they weren’t the same on the inside. They returned to where they started and worked faithfully but now they are worshipping fondly. Their extraordinary experience does not make them withdraw from the work God gave them to do.
They don’t just wonder about what they saw, they worship Him whom they saw. In one sense, they’re taking the place of the angels as they now glorify and praise God. It’s quite possible the shepherds break into song as they recount what they just experienced.
A clear evidence of conversion is always adoration. Unfortunately many of us worship our work, work at our play and play at our worship. When a person is genuinely saved he or she will seek to bring glory to God and praise Him for who He is and what He has done. This Christmas allow yourself to adore Immanuel as you glorify and praise Him for all you have seen and heard. You can return to the same place after Christmas…but not as the same person.
Christmas is real history but it must become your story. Luke loved to celebrate that Jesus came to save sinners.
Luke 19: 10 “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Listen one more time: “For unto you [personal] is born this day [respond today, right now] in the city of David a Saviour, [one who forgives sin] who is Christ [the anointed one] the Lord. [Master]”
I love what Corrie Ten Boom once said: “If Jesus were born one thousand times in Bethlehem and not in me, then I would still be lost.” It’s time to make sure Jesus is born in you.