This morning I invite us to reflect on the baby who was born in Bethlehem, Jesus, the Son of God, who brings great joy.
Some people are familiar with Christmas story; however today, I invite you to listen afresh and seek the treasure embedded in the narrative, for it is more than a story from long ago. This story is a personal story for us – for our life. It is God’s fulfilment of his promise: the promise of the Messiah – Jesus our Lord, our Saviour, our Redeemer – for it is the Jesus who will reconcile us once again to God, restore us to life and joy in the Lord.
Throughout the history of Israel, shepherding was a noble profession. Moses (and of course David) were shepherds. By the time we come to the first century however, shepherding had lost its prestige. Shepherds were made up the lowest class of people, coming in just ahead of the lepers. In the Talmud, which is a collection of interpretations and insight from the rabbis, we read these words: “No help is to be given to heathen or shepherds.”
In order to understand how unusual it was to have the angels appear to these lowly shepherds, let’s learn a bit about them:
Considered ceremonially unclean. Because of the nature of their work they were unable to attend any religious services.
Isolated and forgotten. Because their flocks needed to move around to find new grass and fresh water, they never stayed in one place for long.
Treated with contempt and mistrust. They were suspected of stealing from others. Their testimony was never allowed in court because they were so unreliable.
Known to be rude, noisy. Living out in the fields away from society made them unappealing to most people. Most of them had foul mouths and were eager to engage in a fight.
Taking all that into consideration, the only announcement of Christ’s birth goes out to people such as these. “At night the shepherds were the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep.”
The Lord choose to come to what society would say were the lowly, the most undeserving, the neglected and marginalized – yet God appoints the angles to celebrate the news to the shepherds first – why? – simply it is about restoration. Everyone matters to God!
As we briefly look at the shepherds’ response, we’ll see some lessons that we can apply to our lives so that we don’t forget the Son this season.
The shepherds were outside the village at night….
Perhaps like the shepherds on the hillside in the dark of night
- You feel like you are on the peripheral or outside – you feel excluded – you feel you don’t belong
Perhaps you are/have experienced a dark time in your life?
Perhaps have you felt that God doesn’t even know you exist or
Perhaps God has abandoned you
YOU are not insignificant to God our Emmanuel. God will meet you right where you are – just like the shepherds. You don’t have to clean yourself up on your own or act like someone you’re not. If you smell like a shepherd, let Jesus wash you up. If your sins are weighing you down, allow Jesus to lift you up. Keep watch for Jesus presence.
Luke 2:9: “Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared amoung them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. [The angel of the Lord stood beside them, and the clearness of God shone about them – Wycliff] They were terribly frightened but the angels reassured them. Don’t be afraid! he said I bring you good news of great joy for everyone! [Wycliffe translates it this way: “I evangelize to you a great joy.”] The Savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David! And this is how you will recognize him: You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!”
Notice the shepherds are terribly frighted…… but angels reassured them!
Imagine the shepherds out on the hillside – I wonder what their vocabulary was like? Was their conversation appropriate?
How is you mouth or behaviour as you gather with colleagues or friends?
What would be your response if an angel suddenly appeared at your side?
I wonder if they were terrified because they thought God has sent angels to strike them down! What is your image of God?
The angel calms the shepherds down, telling them not to be afraid that he is bringing good news of great joy. The angel proceeds – the Messiah, their Messiah has been born. The promised Saviour – God had broken his silence – God had fulfilled his promise.
Imagine being one of the shepherds hearing the message in person!
And the message is affirmed as “the angel was joined by a vast host of others – the armies of heaven – praising God: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all whom God favours.”
3) Seeking Jesus
These shepherds didn’t just accept and enjoy the message they received, they acted upon it. Luke 2:16: “”When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Come on, let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
This message is for “everyone.” However it requires action/response – it must be accepted/received – otherwise it is just information.
Have you responded to God’s good news? It is a gift that must be received if you want it to be activated in your life.
How have you allowed the announcement of promised Messiah to shape/change/transform you? That of joy…Celebrate that and offer thanks to God in praise.
4) Finding Jesus
“They ran to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. Then the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” The word “hurried off” means they left in haste.
The idea is “come on, hurry up, let’s go!” This is pretty amazing in itself because shepherds normally did nothing quickly. They were used to moving slowly through the fields.
The Bible is clear that acceptance must lead to action, or as James 2:17 says: “…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” They could have doubted or delayed but instead they decided to act and they moved.
They went and saw. The first thing they did when they arrived in Bethlehem… they went to see the baby with their own eyes. Unclean shepherds came to a smelly stable to see the Holy of Holies lying on a bed of hay!
The shepherds left and shared. It’s striking that they don’t pull up a bale of hay and make themselves comfortable. They didn’t hang around the manger because they knew the importance of getting the message out to everyone.
Notice that the message they shared had nothing to do with seeing the amazing angels and there’s no reference to Mary or Joseph. They came to see Him (baby – Jesus/Messiah) and now they head out to share the good news.
Verse 17: “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.” The word “spread” means to “make known in such a way that people can understand.” We’re here today because they couldn’t keep quiet.
In what area is God calling you to some action? It’s not enough to just say you have faith, or to feel good about your relationship with the Lord; there comes a time that after seeing, we must be involved in sharing with others.
Notice the shepherds went back to their same jobs however they weren’t the same on the inside.
Look at Luke 2:20: “The shepherds went back to their fields and flocks, glorifying and praising God for what the angels had told them, and because they had seen the child, just as the angel had said.”
When did you last marvel at Jesus our Messiah…. Emmanuel God with us?
When did you last share the joy of the good news?
Like the shepherds we too will go back to the same routine after Christmas; will you be the same person on the inside upon or will you be joyful – living a life of praise for we have a way to be restored to the Lord, celebrating the joy of our Saviour our Redeemer.
Another passage of scripture that records the birth of Christ that I like to briefly reflect upon, is that of the Magi and their joy – the passage is found in Matthew 2: 1-12.
As we read in scripture, we find they “were from country to the east of Israel – yet it was the Magi noticed the Star in the night sky – signalling an invitation to come and follow! “We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” The Magi recognized the star as invitation to come and follow his star which would lead them to the Messiah – King of the Jews..
The Magi had probably heard about God through the time Israel was under captivity by Persia in the east. The Magi had obvious listened & been interested in the God of Israel. Now God invites them to come follow the star – come see the Messiah – King of the Jews.
What was your invitation to come see Jesus – can you recall?
The Magi followed the Star – we not sure how long the journey took however if we read their account further in Matthew 2:16 “the magi had told him [Herod] the star first appeared to them, about two years earlier”
Here are Magi I don’t think they had a personal faith in God – they had hear about God’s promise of a Messiah. Now they noticed the star and were willing give up to 2 years to follow it!
What is guiding your life currently? Money, career…?
Perhaps you are lost and wandering?
I wonder how patient are we as God leads us…. do we snatch back control as we become impatient? Do we give up on trusting God if our prayers are not answered quickly?
I was fascinated that the star shone brightly leading all the way from the Magi home town until Jerusalem…. For when the Magi arrived in Jerusalem they stopped to ask … “Where is the King of the Jews?”
Caught off guard, Herod scrabbled, calling all the “leading priests and teachers of the religious law. ‘Where did the prophets say the Messiah would be born?’”
Interestingly, the leading priests & teachers of the religious law knew what the prophets had written and directed the Magi to Bethlehem.
The leading priests and teachers – he very leaders who should have been waiting and watching for the birth of the promised Messiah/King of the Jews – knew the directions however were not interested in following. It was as if they could reference and recite the law – scripture was full of information/facts to them! They themselves had not internalized the scripture… living from a heart of worship.
Does Scripture breath life into you heart of worship?
9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Could you imagine the Magi’s joy – they had followed the moving star as it lead and guided them – now it stopped over the place where the child was – the very child that the Magi themselves referred to as King of the Jews!
How would you respond if you were in the Magi’s sandals!
Fascinating that they simply “entered the house and saw the child with his mother Mary and they bowed down and worshiped him”
They knew they were welcome in the presence of the Messiah – they could enter.
When did you fall on your knees to worship Jesus Messiah?
Do you know Jesus the Messiah’s presence in your life?
Are you aware that the Spirit of God has made a home in your heart/soul, the Spirit of God resides in those who believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God? How does that transform the way we live each moment of life?
Do you still celebrate the joy of meeting Jesus? Do you still celebrate the joy that Jesus is present in our lives today?
The shepherds found joy, the Magi found joy. Have you found joy?
Perhaps you are asking where is joy found? Joy is found in worshiping the Messiah – our Redeemer – who came from Heaven to Earth to restore our relationship with God. Joy is gift that comes from salvation – there is no salvation without joy and no joy without salvation.
Joy is the gift of living for Jesus – of sharing Jesus with others. The root word for JOY in Greek is cheerfulness – calm delight.
Joy is calm delight that flows as we worship the Lord – giving thanks, praising him
Word from Christina Rossetti Christmas Carol –
What can I give Him,
poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man,
I would do my part.
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.