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LUKE 2:16

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 23, 2007

This morning I’d like to have us focus on one verse of Scripture - Luke 2:16 - which says, So they - the shepherds - So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.

The carols we’ve been singing this morning have helped us to visualize th
at familiar scene - helped us capture the mystery - the beauty - the emotion of Christmas - the incarnation - to recreate in our imaginations the scenes of the first Christmas.  The crowded inn.  The sleeping city.  The lonely shepherds in the fields.  The blazing, sudden glory of the heavenly hosts breaking through the darkness - praising God.  Then the contrast of the stable with the sleeping baby and the wondering hearts that come to worship and kneel before Him - Immanuel - God with us.

One carol
- which we’re going to sing together in just a few minutes - one carol asks the question:

What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

When the Shepherds came to the stable - on that first Christmas - they came with the same question, “What Child is this?  What will His birth mean for our lives?”  Gazing at the Child their answer was incomplete. 

We read in Luke 2:19 that even
Mary "treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.  She didn’t know what the answer was.

Even today - do you ever get the sense that there’s some confusion as to the answer to the question?

On this morning while we’re celebrating and worshipping together - answering the question - considering the implications - its important for us to be clear on the answer to the question.  
Who is this Child and what significance does His coming have for our lives?”

Chuck Swindol, in his sermon,
“Since Christ Has Come…What’s Happening” shares the poem:  “’Twas The Day After Christmas”.  Some of you have heard this before.  But, its worth hearing again.  It hits where most of us end up about this time of year.

’Twas the day after Christmas,
When all through the place
There were arguments and depression -
Even Mom had a long face.

The stockings hung empty,
And the house was a mess;
The new clothes didn’t fit…
And Dad was under stress.

The family was irritable,
And the children - no one could please;
Because the instructions for the swing set
Were written in Chinese!

The bells no longer jingled,
And no carolers came around;
The sink was stacked with dishes,
And the tree was turning brown.

The stores were full of people
Returning things that fizzled and failed,
And shoppers were discouraged
Because everything they’d bought was now on half-price sale!

’Twas the day after Christmas -
The spirit of joy had disappeared;
The only hope on the horizon
Was twelve bowl games the first day of the New Year! (1)

(cartoon) A really really really bad answer:  “Don’t you just hate the stress of the holidays?”  “What stress?”

Today the celebration of Deity Incarnate has become “X”mas.  X is the Greek letter “chi” - the first letter in “Christos” - Christ.  But - X in math is what? an unknown.

We celebrate the holiday season - Christmas has become a religious tradition among others - Kwanzaa - Hanukkah.  The “Christmas Story” is placed alongside other Christmas Stories - Rudolph and Frosty - “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  We’re told that,
“The magic of Christmas lies in your heart.”

Richard Dawkins - this man - who’s a British evolutionist, antireligionist, atheist, secular humanist, skeptic - who among other things has written this book - “The God Delusion” - you get the idea of where he’s coming from?  Right?

Richard Dawkins told the New York Times that he celebrates Christmas.  Quote: 
“I detest Jingle Bells, White Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and the obscene spending bonanza that nowadays seems to occupy not just December, but November and much of October, too…  So divorced has Christmas become from religion that I find no necessity to bother with euphemisms such as, ‘Happy holiday season.’” (2)

The true account of Nicholas - Bishop of Myra - defender of our faith - is lost in the economic engine that’s Santa Clause.

We celebrate at family gatherings - celebrating God’s love by stuffing ourselves with food that could feed starving countries.

We send cards to people who may or may not send us cards just in case they do.  We try to keep up with buying gifts for people who give us gifts - spending huge sums of money for stuff nobody wants or needs - money that could reach thousands with the news of Jesus’ salvation.

We get so wrapped up in all this.  So many Christians are just going along with the routine.  Like shepherds out in a dark and lonely field - in the midst of everything that we’re suppose to joyously take part in - is anyone thinking that X is Jesus - God Incarnate?

There’s value to our traditions.  But, we may be missing something profound that God may want to show us - or do in us - or through us - if we fail to answer the question
“What Child is this?”  “What significance does this Child born in a manger have for me?”

Googling through the internet searching Christmas I ran across this.  What would Jesus do?  Probably not the politically correct happy holidays version of Christmas.

There are only 2 shopping days ’til Christmas.  Its like a finish line that we have to get to.  Along the way we’re suppose to be enjoying ourselves - eating a lot - having warm fuzzy feelings - taking time to celebrate Jesus’ birth and doing all the church stuff. 
So many of us feel that - like outside were supposed to be one way - and inside we’re tired - rushed - empty - and trying to keep our feelings in check.  We keep telling ourselves, “You can get through this.”

Joseph Bayly has written a poem
“A Psalm in a Hotel Room.”  Listen to these words and see if you can relate to where Joseph’s at.

I’m alone Lord
a thousand miles from home.
There’s no one here who knows my name
except the clerk
and he spelled it wrong
no one to eat dinner with
laugh at my jokes
listen to my gripes
be happy with me about what happened today
and say that’s great.
No one cares.
There’s just this lousy bed
and slush in the street outside
between the buildings.
I feel sorry for myself
and I’ve plenty of reason to.
Maybe I ought to say
I’m on top of it
praise the Lord
things are great
but they’re not.
it’s all
gray slush (3)

Ever feel that way?  Know someone who does?  “What Child is this?  What significance does He hold for my life?”

Its impossible to answer the question until we see the full record of Jesus’ life unfolded in the gospel - accounts of Jesus’ early years and His coming of age - His baptism by John - the trudging up and down the hills of Galilee and Judea with his disciples - His teaching - the miracles - and finally, the last crowded dramatic week in Jerusalem that culminated in His crucifixion - and then His resurrection.

hen the moment in Jerusalem when the Spirit was poured out upon the waiting disciples - the sound of a rushing wind in the wonder of Pentecost.  Its only then - after seeing these events - that we begin to get a full answer to this question, "What Child is this?"

In 1646, the great Dutch painter, Rembrandt completed his work,
The Adoration of The ShepherdsHave you seen this?  It's Rembrandt's interpretation of the visit of the shepherds to the Child in Bethlehem.    Its kind of hard to see this but walk with me through the painting.

It's a simple scene in a stable
.  In the foreground are Mary and Jesus.  Joseph is slightly behind.  Peering over into the manger where the Child Jesus is laying are the shepherds.

Behind the manger Rembrandt has painted a ladder - leaning against a beam
.  In the shadows it casts theres the form of a cross.  On the beam against which the ladder rests - over by what looks like a loft - is a rooster - the symbol of betrayal.

he light illuminating the whole scene is not coming from outside - or a nearby lantern - but from the manger.  The faces of those looking in are put into sharp relief as they look down.  The light is coming from the Child Himself.

Rembrandt's way of saying that the story of Christmas is the story of salvation.  By means of the crushing inner agony of betrayal and the outer agony of crucifixion - that the Child in the manger would become the world's Deliverer and Redeemer.  This Child is not just a baby lying in a manger.  Hes the hope of mankind.

The prophet Isaiah 
said, “The people who walk in darkness shall see a great Light - a light that will shine on all those who live in the land of the shadow of death… For unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder.  These will be His royal titles:  “Wonderful Counselor,” “The Mighty God,” “The Everlasting Father,” “The Prince of Peace.”  His ever-expanding, peaceful government will never end.  He will rule with perfect fairness and justice from the throne of His father David.  He will bring true justice and peace to all the nations of the world.  This is going to happen because the Lord of heaven’s armies has determined to do all this.”  (Isaiah 9:2,6,7 NASB, TLB, GNB)

We ask,
 "Why this emptiness?  Where is there hope?  What's wrong with humanity?  What's wrong with life?  Why is the world in a continual mess?  Why is the news always of murder and violence and hate and corruption and darkness?  What relevancy does this Child have for my life?" 

The Bible
gives the answer:  "sin."  We’re hopelessly bound by our sin.  That’s what lies at the root of it all.  The terrible taint that all of us possess that can never be washed away by our own efforts.  Jesus is the light that shines in this darkness.  In Jesus, God has solved the deepest problem in human life - the problem of our sin.  (Romans 3:10-18,23; 5:6)

This child lying in the manger in Bethlehem is the answer to
our greatest need Hes our Savior - the one true hope of mankind.  The good news of Christmas is that every one of us who has found Jesus - who has come to Him and who follows Him - who is trusting in Him as our Savior - we find again and again that He has the power to cleanse us - to put away the guilt of the past - whether the last 50 years or the last 5 minutes - to set us free with a clean slate - to heal us - to renew us - to restore us - to do the work in our lives that each of us is so desperate for.  And to empower us to live life in the power and grace of the living God.

A number of years ago I had
lunch with a group of pastors that a friend of mine had brought together to meet this man - Pastor Hananiah Zoe - who had come from Liberia.  Pastor Zoe is an interesting man - on fire for God.  Years ago he founded DONE - Discipling Our Nations Effectively.  In 2005 he ran for the presidency of Liberia.  Didn’t win.  But, God is using him in that country.

From his tribe - Pastor Zoe’s parents were among the first
few believers in Jesus Christ.  When he was 5 years old a persecution arose and a tribal mob attacked the missionaries and native believers in his village - killing one Christian - burning their property - and imprisoning Pastor Zoe’s father.  Pastor Zoe was taken into the home of a missionary couple.  Through them he came to know Jesus as his Savior.

Something else you need to know. 
Pastor Zoe has been involved in church planting and discipleship in Liberia and west Africa - a ministry that’s been primarily among those who are Animists and Muslims.  As people turn to Jesus they bring them into their home and disciple them for 10 weeks - train them - ground them in the word - help them to understand their spiritual gift - and then send them out into the mission field. 

During that time - as thousands were coming to trust Jesus as their Savior - there was
also a tremendous amount of persecution - especially from the Muslims and animists - who were against anyone coming to Christ.  One of the persecutors was Commander Mohammed - a member of the Liberian Army - who had literally killed thousands of Christians - often by very cruel means.  Commander Mohammed had also killed Pastor Zoe’s brother.

One day Commander Mohammed - who
claimed to be a descendant of the Mohammed - and was a Muslim religious leader - went to a mosque to call the faithful Muslims to prayer.  He went up the minaret and began to call them to prayer.  As he was calling out - Mohammed’s own words - as he was calling out Jesus appeared to him and said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”  And this Commander Mohammed - who had killed so many Christians - came to believe and trust Jesus as his Savior.

When he
came down from the minaret - down to the Muslims who had gathered for prayer - he told them, “Jesus is real.  I’ve seen Him.  He’s alive.  He’s God.”

It's miraculous that they didn’t kill Mohammed.  They dragged him out of the mosque and striped him of all his military medals -
his uniform - and sent him off in disgrace.  Having no where to go he ended up at the church.  Where he’s brought into the house of Pastor Zoe - whose brother he murdered.  He’s brought into Pastor Zoe’s house for discipleship and training.  And now, all Mohammed wants to do tell people about Jesus!

I asked Pastor Zoe,
“There’s been so much persecution - do your people struggle with forgiveness?”  He told me that Mohammed came to his house with nothing.  He shared his clothes.  He slept in his house.  He shared everything for this time of discipleship.  This is something only Jesus can do - to bring this type of healing and love - in the lives of those who are surrendered to Him.  Today, these two are brothers in Jesus Christ.  Their love for each other is a testimony to others of what Jesus can do in our lives. 

This is the living reality of who this Child is
.  This is Jesus - our Savior - the light in our darkness - the Wonderful Counselor - Mighty God - Eternal Father - Prince of Peace.   

The Child we adore is not a religious idea - a pioneer of some kind of new type of religious life - not just some historical figure to search for - an example to follow - a teacher of righteousness.  This Child is the Divine answer to the deepest of our needs.

To adore the Child is to bow before the Savior.  Its to bow in simple reverence before a holiness which in comparison to the impurity of our lives is like white light piercing utter darkness.

Jesus came and died because - at the core of who we are apart from Jesus - we’re bound in sin and condemned before God.  Jesus came and died because each of us has a serious sin issue which separates us from the life God - according to His good pleasure - desires for us to live.

Bottom line:  The question is this:  
Who is Jesus in your life?  A baby lying in a manger?  Or, the Savior who has come to take away your sins and lead you in life with God.

1. Charles R. Swindol, from the sermon, Since Christ Has Come...What’s Happening
2. Quoted by Tom Krattenmaker, USA TODAY 12.17.07 - 11A
3. Joseph Bayly, Psalms of My Life - quoted from Charles R. Swindol, Swindol’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations and Quotes

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible
®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.