Luke 2: 8 - 20
There was a lady who was in a hurry. It was in the good old days of Christmas Cards. She bought 50 of them in a packet without looking at the message inside. Hurriedly she signed and addressed all but one out of the packet of cards. She dropped them into the post-box with a sigh of relief: “Job done for the season!”
You can imagine the dismay she had later when she had the time to glance the inside of the card that remained on the table. This was what she read: “This card is just to say a little gift is on the way.” Surely, there must have been 49 people waiting and wondering what happened to their presents. She had made a promise she could not deliver!
God acted in quite a different way concerning his promise. He was not in haste neither was he slow. The Lord sent a message through the prophet Isaiah many years before the Saviour was born. He said, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and will call Him Immanuel (Isa.7:14).” Then later he sent another, “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given (Isa.9:6).” God kept His word to the dot. At the most appropriate time the Saviour was born. So we read in Galatians 4:4, “But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son.”
As we commemorate the coming of the Saviour this Christmas, we remember two things: God promised and God delivered. “God so loved the world that He gave His One and only Son.” Be thankful that God never disappoints. He meant what he said. This thought is to be shared at Christmas and always: “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15).”
The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ was recounted by four apostles. Apostle Luke presents the Saviour’s birth with a glorious display of light and song before a group of shepherds. These country bumpkins were literally awe-struck and frightened.
1. Angels Amazed; Shepherds Afraid (v8-14)
One night more than 2000 years ago, an angel appeared to some shepherds in the Judean hills. The aura of the angel’s appearance was so awesome it was frightening to the simple shepherds. That angel came with a message that what God had promised so long ago had now been fulfilled. To simple shepherds that happy message of fulfilment was given!
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be to all people. Today in the city of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
Then a great choir of angels surrounded the angel and together they burst out in praise to God, singing:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”
I am sure that the shepherds did not expect to be visited by angels. That was one of the reasons they were frightened. The dazzling angelic light took their breath away. If brave shepherds could be frightened would we not, should angels visit us?
As to the message, they were expecting but not knowing when. The rest of Judah and Israel were also waiting. Yes, they had been waiting for the Messiah for a long time. The timing of the event was beyond their expectation. Are you waiting for something, expecting something from God? He chooses his time. You just have to wait. He keeps his promise to the dot.
Try to understand why they were afraid. Do you think it is reasonable to be afraid? Afraid they were, uncouth and dirty! They had to be calmed and pacified. God knew before hand that the shepherds would be frightened.
The chief angel gave words of assurance to the shepherds. He was saying that they should not be afraid. Instead they should be happy. For the angel had come with good news for those who had been waiting for the Messiah! The waiting was over. It was time to rejoice, not be afraid.
We may think of ourselves as modern. We fear nothing. It is not true. We all have our private, secret fears: fear of snakes, worms; fear of the dark and creepy noise; fear of the uncertain future, fear of the hospital and fear of death. It is reassuring to know that God knows our fears and he cares for us as he cared for the shepherds. The same words of assurance and comfort come to us: “Do not be afraid.”
On the other hand the angels were amazed at the event. They came to declare a great fact of history. They knew before hand and were sent to make the announcement. They saw how God the Creator had been born as a creature in the world he created. The Word that is God had become a speechless baby.
The King from heaven’s glory had come to earth helpless in a manger among animals. He would become the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd. But the angel made a profound statement: The One born is the Saviour, he is Christ and he is the Lord!
What did the angel mean by announcing his titles? The Saviour is none other than Jesus. He was named specifically and it means to be the saviour of shepherds and the deliverer of all the people of the world from their sin. Christ is the Greek word for the Hebrew Messiah. He was called the Christ because he was the promised and anointed one of God.
And finally he is called the Lord. He is Jehovah, the Lord God Almighty. The good news to calm the souls of the frightened shepherds was that God had come to live among them. He is Immanuel, God the Creator, who had come to live with the people he created.
2. Shepherds were Special to God
We may wonder why God would choose to announce the birth of the Messiah to some unknown shepherds! Why not to the learned Scribes and Pharisees who were known to be the Shepherds of Israel? Why not to kings and nobles? God looked down with favour on the anonymous. It is good not to think too highly of one self.
For the uncelebrated to be favoured is a rare tribute. Some of us do feel small and wondered when we would ever be recognized and acknowledged? You think you are numbered among the anonymous shepherds, do you? If you do, you are favoured at Christmas by God and you did not know it.
The simple sheep keepers were a despised class of people. They were outcasts from the respectable Jewish society. Shepherds were ceremonially unclean because of the dirty work they do among animals. Moreover their work kept them away from the temple for a long time and they could not be spiritually clean. Their language and behaviour could be rough. The integrity and honesty of shepherds were in doubt. Their testimony was not acceptable in the court of law in those days. But God saw them differently.
God chose to reveal the meaning of the Messiah’s birth to the outcast of Israel. He bypassed the pious Jews, the rich, the cultured and the royals in their gilded homes and guarded palaces. The animal keepers were among the outcast of Israel! They carried the stench of animals where ever they went. They were dirty physically and spiritually.
Shepherds were always exposed to dangers. They were vulnerable to the changing weather and at the mercy of wild beasts in the open fields, not to say of thieves and robbers. They were poor and lowly. They were unimpressive and unkempt. From afar, approaching people would not want to cross their path. It was virtually impossible for them to move up the social ladder.
Those of us who are ignored and usually avoided by some people, we should not feel bad. It is all right you know if people do not acknowledge our presence. God takes notice of us. God knows and He cares for us as he cared for the shepherds. The birth of Jesus Christ should be very special to those who identify with the status of the shepherds, ignored and neglected.
It may dawn on you today that the good news of the angel was not really for all people. The upper class of society did not need God to save them. They could take care of themselves. Those who had plenty had no need of help. The priestly class would think they were safe because they were ritually clean and they walked on holy ground.
Actually the phrase “all people” in this passage refers to the ordinary people, the laity and not the clergy. The Messiah had come for the commoner not the upper class Jewry. It is reassuring this Christmas for the poor and lower class, the despised and anonymous people, to know that they are special to God. It is alright to be without a title or an honorific attached to your name. God knows who you are and you have a place in his heart.
The Scribes and Pharisees, office holders of any religious order, the wealthy and powerful should reflect and humble themselves before the Saviour, the Christ and the Lord. Shepherds were humbled by the visitation of angels. In fact we should all humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. Our Saviour is ultimately the Judge and King!
The wealthy wise men from the east set the example of humility for us. They approached the manger on bended knees with gifts. It was at Christmas that our Lord Jesus stooped down from being God to become Man. He took the position of a servant and died a criminal on the cross. He set us an example to be humble, in word and deed.
3. Shepherds spread the Good News (v15-20)
The shepherds were frightened by the appearance of the angel. But the angel calmed their fears with good news. He said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in teh town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." A choir of angels calmed them further by saying: "on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests."
As it was in days long ago, it is still the same today: frightened people
in a troubled world need a Saviour! The good news was that this Saviour is no ordinary person. He is the Lord God Almighty himself. He is the Creator and he has come to live with his creatures.
How comforting it was to the frightened shepherds that God was among them. What they knew before was that God was out of this world. God was distant, far from dirty shepherds! At Christmas God in Christ broke through the barrier that separated him from his creation.
Two things the shepherds learned from the angel. The angel announced good news and joyful news to take away their fears. Then the angel explained what the good and joyful news was.
We learn from the shepherds and the angel to be bearers of good news and joyful news. We should also learn to explain what the news was really about. The Christmas story has been told and retold for centuries. People are not tired of hearing it. We should not be tired of preaching and teaching it. This is evangelism, spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The phrase “I bring you good news of great joy," should be “I preach to you good news of great joy." The angel was the pioneer evangelist to talk about the Saviour, his mission to save and the peace he gave. If we want to understand and practice evangelism, spreading the Gospel, we should take it from here. The shepherds picked this up very quickly and efficiently.
As soon as the angels left they said to each other: Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about (v15)." Right away they decided that they had to leave their comfort zone. Have they ever left the hills of Judea and visited Bethlehem? We do not know. Few people of long ago ever left their hills and valleys. These shepherds said, “Let us go to Bethelehem...” We must also leave our comfort zones.
It is said that they found Mary and Joseph and the baby. They must have searched. They searched until they found. We must search and we must find. Scripture says: "Ask, Seek and Knock." To share the good news we must be sure and confident of our subject and our material. Search the Scriptures. We must discover and know the truth for ourselves. The shepherds did just that. What was the outcome of their searching effort?
“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them concerning the child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them (v17-18).” Imitating the angels, the simple shepherds “spread the word...concerning the child.”
They moved from tending sheep to spreading God’s message. The story of Jesus, his birth and the message that he is Saviour, is an amazing story. As ordinary people go about talking about Jesus, the Gospel is spread. We only have to say it as it is. Just do it as we know.
Last but not the least important thing the shepherds did was to return to where they came from. They returned to the common, the meadows, the sheep and their fellow shepherds. "The shepherds returned, glorifying and praise God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told."
This meant that the shepherds returned to their village, their home, their working environment. Evidently they were bubbling with joy in their hearts and praises in their mouth. Their lives had changed forever. They were exuberant and expressive.
The subject of their investigation had become the subject of their worship. Instead of bragging about their exploits around the camp fire, they talked about Jesus. Common folk songs changed to songs of praise to God. How has the birth of Jesus Christ, the Incarnation of God, changed the lives we lead in our home, our work place and our place of amusement today?
At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the entry of the Creator into human history. Christmas is also God’s fulfilment of his promise to save the world and all of mankind.
The profound message was entrusted to shepherds. They received it from the angel and they passed it on. The message was not complex nor was it complicated. The simple shepherds spread the word successfully. Could we do just that by passing it on?
The message “peace on earth, good will to men,” had spread for many centuries by more amateurs than professionals. Jesus first called and sent out twelve disciples. Then at Pentecost there were 120 and then 3000 more were added. Since then the Gospel spread in organized and unorganized ways.
It was the merchants, the traders, the sailors, the travellers and inn-keepers who kept the story alive in their daily conversation. The most powerful and effective way the Gospel had spread was by word of mouth and the testimony of lives transformed. It began with the shepherds. They started a chain reaction of evangelism.
Let us take on this work of evangelism in simple response like the angels and shepherds of the first Christmas. May we be humble in spirit but proud to talk about our Saviour Jesus Christ, where ever God may place or send us! We should not be afraid to do what is good and right because Jesus Christ is Immanuel: God with us!
Good people of the Church, “Go, tell it on the mountains, over the hills and everywhere ... that Jesus Christ is born!"