By Res Spears
Message delivered December 24, 2018 at Liberty Spring Christian Church
1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.Luke 2:1-20
2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,
5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.
6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.
7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;
11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is bChrist the Lord.
12 “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there appeared 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 men bwith whom He is pleased.”
15 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.”
16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.
17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.
18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.
20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.
I cannot imagine how awe-inspiring the sight of those angels must have been for the shepherds that night on a hillside outside of Bethlehem.
Shepherding is not easy work. Sheep are stubborn and smelly. They tend to get themselves stuck in places they shouldn’t have gone in the first place. They are pretty much defenseless against the predators that would have existed around Bethlehem at this time. And they’re not always good at paying attention to their surroundings.
So the shepherds would have been on their guard.
And then, bursting forth into the cool night air, “the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them!”
When we see God revealing His glory to mankind in other places in Scripture, people are terrified. Moses spent time NEAR the glory of God, and his face shone so bright after the encounter that he had to wear a veil so the people would not be frightened.
So it’s not surprising that the angel’s first words were “Don’t be afraid.” But the next words were the ones that must have really set the shepherds’ hearts racing.
“I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all the people.”
Now, I used to be a newspaper editor, and I can tell you that I can never recall bringing news that brought joy to everyone. Even with the nicest story, there was always some cranky old goat who just couldn’t be happy about it.
And the truth is that this news didn’t bring great joy to every person everywhere. King Herod was upset by it, and some of the religious leaders were less than thrilled by what the birth of Jesus revealed about God’s plan to redeem mankind.
What the angel’s words mean here is that all PEOPLES — all the people groups of the world — would be blessed by this news.
Jesus Christ — the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord — had been born in Bethlehem, and God had revealed in Him His plan to save fallen mankind.
We only sing the most well-known verses of the Christmas carols we’ve chosen for tonight, but there’s a verse in one of my favorite carols — “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” — that I want to share with you.
“Yet with the woes of sin and strife,
The world has suffered long
Beneath the angel strain have rolled,
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing!”
From that first sin in the Garden of Eden — that first act of disobedience, that first demonstration of mankind’s desire to elevate himself to the level of God — this place where we live has been broken. And we are all broken along with it.
Anger and wars and all manner of wrongs against one another and against God have characterized the lives of men and women since the time of Adam and Eve.
The shepherds knew that. In fact, they knew it even better than most folks in Bethlehem, because their job put them at the very bottom of the social class there. They wouldn’t even have been allowed to worship God in their temple because of what they did.
But then the angels appeared and told them this wonderful news. They didn’t tell the religious leaders or the city officials or the shopkeepers or any of the so-called important people of the city. They told the shepherds.
“The Savior — yes, the Messiah, the Lord — has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David.”
And they would find him wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. He would be asleep in a feeding trough in a smelly stable or lean-to that was made for the animals.
This was THEIR savior.
And this is OUR savior. Born that men no more may die.
This Lamb of God was born to pay the debt for our sins. He was born to sacrifice His life on a cross on Calvary so that we might be reconciled to His Father.
Will we be the shepherds tonight? Will we be humble and receive this Good News? Or will we be like the important people in town, the ones who were too busy or too smart or too wealthy or too prideful to know that we even need a savior?
“All ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!”