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Back to the Series The Characters of Christmas
WHILE SHEPHERDS WASHED THEIR SOCKS BY NIGHT
Series: The Characters of Christmas
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 12, 2004
Please turn with me to Luke 2 - starting at verse 8. Because the scene we’re looking at this morning is extremely familiar I’d like for us to read it together in a slightly different way. Bear with me on this. There are three parts here that we’re going to need help with. First there’s the Angel of the Lord. Maybe Kermit, can you can take that part? Then there’s the multitude of the heavenly host - the angelic armies of heaven - that’s going to be everyone here. Then the shepherds - we’ll give that part the first four rows here. As I read through the narration - when it comes to your part - the words in quotations - stand up and let’s hear it!
Luke 2 - starting at verse 8: In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flocks by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.
But the angel said to
not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which
will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has
been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
This will be a sign for you; you will find a baby wrapped
in cloths and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.”
So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.
That was good. Maybe we could take that on the road?
There are essentially three parts to this account. Someone might be able to divide it up into four or five. But, three points makes good preaching. So there are essentially three parts here.
The first part focuses on the shepherds out in the fields.
The setting is impressive. How you have ever been in a place like this - at night in the fields? The lights of Bethlehem are off a ways. Jerusalem is five miles away. It’s dark except for the brilliance of stars. Maybe a cool breeze stirs the grass.
Shepherds out in the field - late at night - doing what they’d done the night before that and the night before that. Doing what for generations was what their family did. Doing what they’ll be doing tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. Shepherds - surrounded by the stench of sheep - sitting around a fire - telling sheep jokes.
“What do you call a sheep with no legs?” “A cloud.”
“How do you clean a sheep?” “You give it a baaath.”
It’s hard to imagine anything more routine. Maybe laundry. While shepherds washed their socks by night.
Shepherds were on the low end of the social register of the day. They were despised by the orthodox Jews because the couldn’t keep the requirements of the ceremonial laws - the feasts - the washing of hands - and so on. Probably the last thing on their minds - in the routine of the average lowly shepherd - probably the last thing they we’re thinking about was the coming of the Messiah.
The second part of this account focuses on the declaration coming from heaven - the angel and the armies of heaven.
The angel of the Lord suddenly is standing in front of the shepherds - standing with the glory of the Lord all around them - a trillion candles of pure heavenly light. A terrifying experience - coming face to face with the glory of heaven.
The angel tells them, “Don’t be afraid.” The news is good! Not fearful.
In Bethlehem - fulfilling the prophecy given to Micah (Micah 5:2ff) is born the long awaited Savior - who is the Christ - the Messiah - the One anointed by God - to deliver His people. He’s the Lord - the potentate of all creation - God Himself - born in the flesh - incarnate - so that each of us who is in bondage to Satan and the power of sin - with no hope of saving ourselves - God has come to set us free. That’s good news. Amen?!!?
The baby - the Savior - is wrapped in cloths - lying in a manger. Have you ever thought about the importance of that description?
There may have been other babies born in Bethlehem that night. The place was crowded. If Jesus had been born in an Inn - these shepherds would have had to search room by room. Even if they found a baby how would they know it was the right one? “He’s wrapped in cloths lying in a manger.” Pretty easy to find and identify. Not just any baby. God in the flesh.
In the early days of Jesus’ ministry He came to Nazareth - the town where He’d grown up. As was His custom on the Sabbath - He went to the local synagogue for services.
In those days - in the synagogue - there would first be a time of prayer - then a Scripture reading - then a time of teaching and discussion about the reading. On this day - after the prayer - Jesus stood up to read the passage of the day. He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah.
He read this: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18,19)
These verses are a prophetic passage - which speak of the coming Messiah. Then - after He read - Jesus sat down to teach. He began with these words: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
In the midst of everything - we need to remember who Jesus us. Time accelerates and there’s never enough. We’re rushing constantly - often feeling trapped by our schedule and obligations. We run. But we don’t know where. Our minds are filled with endless details. We go to sleep exhausted and wake up tired.
Worse is when we feel trapped morally and spiritually. Past sins and failures come back to haunt us. We see no way out from our present struggles.
Many lack direction and purpose and hope for their lives. Empty inside they ask, “Is this all there is?”
Jesus said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are ill.” (Matthew 9:12)
The baby wrapped in cloths in a manger came for us - the poor, the captives, the blind, the downtrodden. This is our favorable year! Good news of great joy for all the people. For us!
Suddenly the tapestry of the night sky is ripped apart - the glory of heaven bursts through into human life - an uncountable number of angels - the armies of heaven - are praising God - saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
It’s a statement of adoration - worship - praise. God has become flesh. God has come to save His people. He has brought His peace to His people. Only the God worthy of worship is able and would do such a thing. Glory to God in the highest.
And then they’re gone. The shepherds are left in the field listening to the sound of sheep.
The third part of this account focuses on the response to this good news.
The angels never told the shepherds what to do. What to look for - yes. What to do - no. The shepherds made a choice - to go to Bethlehem - to seek Jesus. That’s a response - to seek Jesus. To seek understanding of who He is and what He means for us. To come face to face with Jesus and to know Him more deeply.
The shepherds rush into Bethlehem. They find the stable - Mary - Joseph - and Jesus laying in the manger. The shepherds tell them what happened out in the field.
That’s a response - telling others about Jesus.
Apparently there were other people there at the stable besides Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Maybe people who had heard the baby crying - or who had helped with the birth. Maybe people who had come to offer congratulations. Maybe the guy who owned the stable and wanted to know what was going on. We don’t know.
But there were other people there. People who probably had never seen an angel. Not since the days of the prophet Malachi - 400 years earlier - nothing like this had happened. Now they’re listening to the words and excitement of these shepherds - the despised - “fresh” from the field - shepherds - and seeing this child in a very different way.
That’s a response. The Greek word is “ethaumasan.” They wondered at what they were hearing - marveled - were amazed.
A little farther down in this chapter - starting at Luke 2:25 - is the account of Simeon. Simeon lived in a right relationship with God. He lived filled with the Holy Spirit - listening to God - faithful to God. The name Simeon literally means, “one who hears and obeys.” The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah - God’s salvation - with own eyes.
Eight days after Jesus’ was born - when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to Jerusalem for circumcision and to offer sacrifices - starting at Luke 2:27 - we’re told that Simeon - came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he - Simeon - took Him - Jesus - into his arms, and blessed God, and said, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to your word - I can die now in peace - for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that Mary’s child was the One - the One through whom all peoples of the world were to be blessed. The child born in the manger - presented in the Temple - is the Savior of the world.
Luke 2:33: And His father and mother were amazed - same word “ethaumasan” - marveled - wondered - at the things which were being said about Him.
Ever have your computer freeze-up because there was just too much for it to handle? Sometimes that’s the only response we can have. The more we know about God and what He does and how He does it - what God can do in us and through us and what He allows us to be a part of - the more we’re amazed. Speechless before the awesomeness of God. The brain just freezes in wonder.
Verse 19: Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.
That’s a response. Setting our hearts to meditate on God and the things we see God doing.
Do you ever think Mary might of asked herself, “Why did God pick me? Praise God that He did. His will be done. But, I was just planning my wedding and this angel shows up. Since then I’m just trying to understand all of this.” (Luke 1:46-55)
How is a baby born to a virgin? How does God enter human flesh? How is Jesus at one time both fully God and yet fully man? Where is God going in all of this? What does He have for me? With amazement comes mediation. To think about the mind and working of God. To allow the Spirit to show us more of Him.
Then in verse 20 - the shepherds went back to their fields, “glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen.” That’s a response - worshipping the One true God - glorifying Him - praising Him.
We know this incredible truth - Jesus - God has come for us - broken into the routine - and maybe hopelessness - of our lives. How do we respond? Seeking Him. Telling others about Him. Wonder. Meditation. Worship.
I’d like to take this one step further by sharing a struggle - a deep and growing concern. Maybe if I share this with you then you can struggle with it too. There are times when I sincerely would like to simply not celebrate Christmas.
Before you start writing letters to Bruce asking for my resignation. Hear me out on this one.
No where in Scripture are we asked or instructed to celebrate the birth of Jesus. When He was born it was a time of worship and celebration - the angels for example. But the early church didn’t continue to celebrate His birth. Its just not in Scripture.
Jesus was not born on December 25th or January 6th or January 18th - dates that different branches of Christianity celebrate His birth. The Shepherds were out in the fields - not keeping their sheep in pens. Which means that the weather was warm enough to be out in the fields. It wasn’t winter. Bottom line - we have no idea when Jesus was born.
The point of the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus’ birth - where He was to be born and how - the point of the prophecies are to identify Jesus as the Messiah. To distinguish Him from all the other babies born since Cain. The date isn’t the important point. Who He is - is.
In contrast - the timing of Jesus’ death and resurrection - is much easier to identify because God tied it into the Hebrew sacrificial system and religious calendar. It has to be - because Jesus is the once-for-all sacrificial lamb offered in the acceptable way - with the shedding of blood - as the fulfillment of all that the Old Testament system of sacrificial atonement points to. The date and timing of His death and resurrection are important for us so that we can understand what we’re commemorating and celebrating.
Jesus Himself told us to commemorate His death - resurrection - and return. The Last Supper - Communion - is in obedience to that command.
Christmas - or literally the “Christ Mass” - first gets mentioned in 336 AD. when the Romans tied celebrating Jesus’ birth to pagan festivals honoring Saturn and Mithras. The Reformation Church looked at Christmas as a pagan celebration because of its non-Christian customs. In the 1600’s - in England and parts of the American colonies celebrating Christmas was illegal.
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 an unknown.
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 them gifts - spending huge sums of money for stuff nobody wants or needs - money that could reach thousands with the news of Jesus’ salvation.
As we celebrate the holiday season - Christmas as a religious tradition among others - Kwanzaa - Hanukah - and Ramadan. 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.”
The true account of Nicholas - Bishop of Myra - defender of our faith - is lost in the economic engine that is Santa Clause.
We celebrate at family gatherings - celebrating God’s love by stuffing ourselves with food that could feed starving countries.
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?
I understand that there is some value to our traditions. But, I struggle with Christmas. We may be missing something profound that God may want to show us - or do in us - or through us. I’d like to encourage you - in prayer - to ask God to show you if He would have you approach this celebration differently - a different emphasis at gatherings - a different approach to gift giving - card sending. Maybe personal meditation or a seeking after Jesus.
What response do we have to what we’ve heard about Jesus? If we are to make a difference in this world - to reach people with the true Gospel of Jesus Christ - then the Church must act counter-culture and declare the incarnation of God - who has come for us.