12/24/2015 – Christmas Eve message

Mark Wheeler

Luke 2:1-20

“Shepherds Celebrate the Savior”

Christmas Eve, December 24, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

We so deeply need what only You can offer, dear God. Fill us with faith and faithfulness. Conquer our fears and heal our hurts. Comfort us with Your Holy Spirit, that we might recognize Your light in our darkest moments. On this eve of the celebration of Your birth, we praise You with the conviction that You were born for us and for our salvation. Amen. The Christmas Eve Candlelight service had new meaning for Martha. She was standing near the baptistry waiting for her turn to be baptized as a confession of her faith in Jesus. She thought back to the previous Christmas season when her primary interest focused on preparing for Santa Claus’s visit to her children, shopping for gifts, and the stress of the usual holiday festivities. This year was different. Martha’s neighbor had invited her to assist with VBS [that Summer]. And later she began attending Sunday School, where she understood the Gospel for the first time. And now she was ready to take her first step of obedience as a follower of Jesus. What a change in the significance of this season as Martha joined other believers in celebrating God’s gift of eternal life through His Son! In the secular worldview, Jesus’ birth is unimportant. If it actually occurred at all, it was nothing more than the birth of another figure of history. Last Wednesday I watched the Bill Murray special called A Very Murray Christmas. In one sketch a very scantily clad Miley Cyrus sang “Silent Night”, followed by Bill Murray and George Clooney and a dozen women in ballet tights singing about how “Santa Claus wants some Lovin’”.  Secular-minded people celebrate the holiday season – but not the birth of the Savior of the world. Christmas is God’s priceless gift of Himself.

 

 

Hear the Word of God from the New Testament Gospel according to Luke, 2:1-20 …. —-

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

 

After four weeks of anticipation and waiting, Christmas is finally here. The air is so thick with excitement that we can almost taste it. And this passage is probably one of the most familiar of all Christmas accounts. Every time I read it, I’m reminded of Linus Van Pelt explaining the meaning of Christmas to Charlie Brown – not quite as high-class as Handel’s Messiah, but powerful none-the-less.

 

This passage contains three narratives around the birth of Jesus: The setting of Jesus’ birth itself (2:1-7), the angelic announcement of Good News of Jesus’ birth (2:8-14), and the celebration of the shepherds and the angels (2:15-20). In putting Jesus’ birth first in an historic context, Luke not only links Jesus to a real world political setting but also references back to the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus was a descendant of King David (cf. Micah 5:2), a very important link for the early church. As if he wants to contrast the political powers of Rome’s ruling eliteCaesar Augustus and Governor QuiriniusLuke then immediately transitions to a manger near a small inn in the tiny inconsequential village of Bethlehem: by giving a simple, straightforward account of Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and, once in Bethlehem, how Jesus was born, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and lying in a manger in the most humble setting possible.

 

In your own life experience, where do you mostly find Jesus? Do you look for Jesus in all the familiar places and circumstances, or do you look for him in the least likely ones?

 

Luke then shifts his focus to the countryside where shepherds were tending flocks by underscoring the extraordinary nature of Jesus’ birth, in depicting the angel’s announcement of it to the shepherds, and the glorifying praise by the heavenly host (2:8-14). The announcement of the angel specifically mentions three astounding titles for this humble baby to carrySavior, Messiah, and Lord — encompassing the highest honorifics known at that time, both human and divine. This is significant because it foretells that Jesus was sent by the Father to become one of us, in order to embody for us this “good news of great joy”— to redeem us from our sins and show us the way to the Father.

 

In response to this “good news of great joy,” the shepherds then hurry off to see for themselves this newborn babe. They find him just as the angel has described. And after they share with everyone there what they have been told, they return “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (2:20).

 

But, of course, the Christmas story is only half of the story: because Jesus, who was sent by God — just as the herald angel was — has also sent us into the world to share this “good news of great joy” with all people. Just as Martha was invited by a neighbor to help with VBS and to attend Sunday School, we’re called to make an impact in other people’s lives with the love of God by telling them who Jesus is: the Son of God, who was not only born to be one of us, but suffered and died to redeem us from our sins, was raised from the dead, now sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and will one day come back to take us to be with Him forever!

 

As we celebrate Christmas with our loved ones this year, take a moment to reflect who Jesus is to you — Is He Savior, Messiah, and Lord of your life? If He is, are you celebrating His birth, His incarnation, and are you then willing to be His messenger in sharing this “good news of great joy” with others who have never heard or experienced God’s love and forgiveness?

 

Resources:

Family Bible Study; “Advanced Bible Study Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 33-40.

 

Family Bible Study; “The Herschel Hobbs Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 37-45.

 

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