‘The Characters of Christmas’
Message: ‘Shepherds: Hope’ Text: Luke 2:8-20
Introduction: The story is told by Dwight Li of a young child who had to work really hard to keep up with the other students in his classroom. However, because of his unique challenges, he kept falling behind. As a result, his backpack was crammed full with homework every night.
- He no longer could play outside with his friends after school.
- By the time he got all his homework done, it was time for bed.
His parents consulted with the school guidance counselor and decided that their son needed to be placed with a class of slower learners. It quickly became apparent that they had made the right decision.
- The third grader got his childhood back, complete with after-school play; a more positive outlook, and much better grades.
Later, after several weeks of asking his dad if they could play together after dinner, he grew weary of the same response: “I’m sorry, buddy, I have a briefcase full of work I have to do.” One day the child simply said, “Well, Dad, can’t they just put you in a slower class too?”
Folks, I need to be put in a slower class this Christmas season.
- Last year I was ready for the ‘commercial’ aspect of Christmas as my family and friends filled their Amazon Wish List and Kathy and I quickly and w/o any stress, took many of the items off their Lists.
- This year, not so much.
Scheduling family get togethers and church activities…not the problem… actually attending them is a problem. Being joyful and energetic at those activities, is on my Wish List.
And hope? That’s the theme of the 1st Sunday in Advent, hope. I have hope, great hope that I won’t have a heart attack before Christmas Eve.
Background: And hovering over all of this, patiently waiting for us to notice, is Advent; with its awe and wonder.
But, even when we take the time to remember what Advent is all about, our minds kind of, repeat over and over again… been there, heard that, been there, heard that.
- We’re so familiar with the ‘Christmas Story,’ that it no longer tugs the same way at our hearts.
Instead of moving us to seek a closer encounter with Jesus, it lulls us into a comfortable, sentimentality.
So, my choice was to continue our journey through the Book of Luke or speak on a very familiar, sentimental… Advent.
- But, I didn’t want to settle for sentiment this Advent, like what at the heart of all the Hallmark made for TV movies.
- I want my heart, my life… to be one of constant awe and wonder as I seek to encounter the incarnate Jesus…
- Even in the midst of the familiarity and commercialism of the Christmas season.
How about you?
Transition: Open your Bibles to Luke 2:8.
Before we start, let’s take a moment to pray.
- Luke 2:8-14 Shepherds, angels, a message and worship
Read: Luke 8:8-14
This is perhaps one of the most familiar and beloved stories in all of Scripture. So much so that it’s even found its way into the plethora of movies and Christmas cards.
But, if we look beneath the familiar, we’ll find one of the most amazing events ever to take place in history.
- On that particular evening, the God of all creation, used angels and shepherds to reveal the glorious incarnation of His Son, Jesus.
- God would step into the human story and forever change what it means to have life.
Now, we can understand angels being the messengers of God’s purposes. That’s been the case throughout all of Scripture. But shepherds, as the first recipients of this glorious message was unexpected.
- What I mean by that, is no one at that time expected God to speak to shepherds, particularly since it had been over 400 years since He had actively spoken to the people of Israel.
- A huge, life altering event like the birth of Israel’s Messiah, would certainly first be revealed to the religious elite.
But, God’s decision to reveal the awe and wonder of the incarnation of Jesus to insignificant shepherds, is certainly keeping with how He chooses to act in human history.
Read: Matthew 11:25-26 At that time Jesus declared, I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will.
We’ve heard many times how shepherds at that time in Israel were on the low end of the social ladder. But…
- This is not just a story about how God feels about the lowly shepherds.
- This is not just a story about how God raises the status of the shepherds.
- This is not just a story about how God shows His great love for the shepherds.
This is a story about how God feels about you. How God raises you up. How God shows His great love… for you.
God’s desire to reveal Jesus to us so that we can enjoy an ongoing love relationship with Him, was not then, nor is it now, based on human distinctions, but solely on Almighty God’s good pleasure.
Folks, God sending the angels to reveal to the shepherds the birth of Israel’s Messiah, would have brought them such great hope…
- even the lowly, often despised shepherds can know and be known by God.
- And, can be used by God in mighty ways.
And that same hope is ours.
- We may not be particularly ‘religious.’
- We may not be anxiously expecting God to meet with us.
- We may feel our background or some of the things we’ve done in life, still doing for that matter, disqualify us from God reaching out to us with the Good News of salvation in Jesus.
But… that’s exactly the hope of Advent.
- God comes to the outcasts, to the doubters, to those who are Christian only by name, even to those who are … sinners.
He open their eyes, changes their hearts, and gives them hope, when He reveals Jesus to them as their Savior. And He can do that right now… for you.
- Is God speaking to your heart? Are you listening?
- How will you respond to His offer of hope?
Luke 2:15-16 Shepherds take a road trip
Read: Luke 2:15-16
The journey of the shepherds to the manger in Bethlehem, started with a single step… of faith. And that’s always the right way to respond to a call of God in your life.
- The angel gives the shepherds the Good News of the birth of Israel’s Messiah.
- The angel tells them that Salvation will be found in the Messiah.
- The angel even tells the shepherds how to find the infant Messiah.
So, how do the shepherds respond? They said… Road trip fellas! And the text says they went with haste…
- Scholars say this means they left the sheep in the fields unattended.
- That they didn’t discuss the pro and cons of whether they should go or not.
- That they all went… immediately after the angels left.
And understand something. The shepherds acted in faith, they believed what the angel told them.
- They didn’t go to Bethlehem to see, IF, what the angel said was true.
- They went to Bethlehem because they believed what the angel said, WAS, true.
They were motivated to see Jesus, because of their faith in God’s Word to them. And faith, always, brings hope…the confidant assurance that the object of our faith, Jesus, will never let us down.
- Listen, their faith, led to a renewed hope.
- Their renewed hope led to obey the call to go to Bethlehem and seek out the Messiah.
- And their obedience led to a real and very powerful encounter, with Jesus, the incarnate Son of God!
Christian, when was the last time you had a real and powerful encounter with the incarnate Son of God, Jesus?
ILL: Dr. Clovis Chappell imagines one of the shepherds who had been a youth on the first Christmas night and has now become old. His grandson sits on his knee as he tells him a story:
- A long, long time ago, when I was little more than a boy, I was out on the Judean hills with some other shepherds, keeping watch over the flock.
- And an angel of the Lord came upon us and the glory of the Lord shined around us. Yea, we were afraid, But the angel said, ‘Fear not, for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. You shall find the babe in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
- The old man’s lips cease to move, and there was silence. Then the lad turns and looks with wide, puzzled eyes into his grandfather’s face and says: But, granddaddy, is that all? What did you do when you heard the good news? Was what the angel said really true? Was the Christ Child ever really born?
- The old shepherd sadly shakes his white head and answers: I never knew. I never went to see. Some say that it’s all a myth. Others say they found in Him the light of God, the power for life. But, I could never be quite sure because… I never went to see. (adapted from Dwight Gunte Li)
Well, from what our text says, it seems all of the shepherds went to Bethlehem to see the birth of Israel’s Messiah.
- But the story, although not real, is played out all too often today in the lives of good people who come to ‘church’ on Sunday but fail to act, they fail to obey God’s call on their life.
- And when that happens, they leave the same way they came, uncertain about their place in life, and w/o hope.
But these shepherds, they had an altogether different response, because they laid hold of hope!
III. Luke 2:17-19 Shepherds…1st evangelists
Read: Luke 2:17-19
What puts a boost to our hope? Personal experience. Even though the shepherds believed the angels message, it became real for them when they saw Jesus. And hope realized… changes us.
- It took those lowly, keep to themselves because no one liked them shepherds,
- and transformed them into the first evangelists for the Gospel.
Hope realized, changes you! And others notice. Usually, shepherds were outcasts, untrusted, so no one spoke to them except those in in their families.
But now people are actually talking to them and listening to what they said, and wondering if it could be true.
- Perhaps you don’t think you have a voice.
- Perhaps you aren’t sure others will listen if you talk to them about Jesus.
- Perhaps you think others won’t believe what you say about Jesus.
But hope realized pushes you to see past the perhaps to the transformation, hope, the Good News, can make in their lives.
- Luke 2:20 Shepherds go home, changed
Read: Luke 2:20
Folks, the awe, the wonder of God, was restored that night in the lives of those shepherds who obeyed the angels and went to see Jesus.
The shepherds returned to their sheep, returned to their lowly, unappreciated jobs… but they didn’t return the same. Because of hope they now glorified and praised God!
- In other words, their heart of worship was renewed.
You see, I failed to mention that shepherds in that day were prohibited from attending worship in the Temple and synagogue because they were considered unclean.
And it’s very likely that absence from the Temple/Synagogue did not make their hearts grow fonder… for God, but instead, colder, distant.
- Not unlike what happens today when for whatever reason Christians stay away from regular Sunday worship… they too grow spiritually cold, distant.
- It may take time, but it will happen.
Conclusion: What happened to the shepherds has happened over and over again since that glorious night in Bethlehem.
- God sends us His Message, the Good News of forgiveness, of eternal life in Jesus, His Son.
- Even though we are desperate and w/o hope, God He touches our life and we respond by placing our faith, our trust in Jesus.
- Hope is restored, and joy, true joy begins to flow through us and we start telling others of the Good News that changed our lives.
- We start living, expecting to see Jesus, expecting to grow deeper in our understanding of and love for Him.
- And that expectation, feeds our desire to worship Him, and Him alone.
So, how about we all stop and take notice of the awe and wonder of Advent
that’s patiently hovering about the hustle and bustle of the commercial Christmas.