Christmas Light (part 4) Sermon Audio

On Sunday, December 22, 2019 at Wildwood Community Church in Norman, OK, I preached a sermon based on Luke 2:8-20.  This message was part 4 in the “Christmas Light” sermon series.  Below is the audio from this morning’s sermon to listen to, download or share.

 

To listen offline, click the link to download the audio:

Christmas Light #4 12.21.19

 

 

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Christmas Light (part 4) Sermon Questions

On Sunday, December 22, 2019 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Luke 2:8-20.  This message was part 4 of the “Christmas Light” sermon series.  Below you will find questions related to this message for further reflection or group discussion.

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read Luke 2:8-20
  3. When was the last time you found yourself going through a big moment while playing a “road game”?
  4. In what ways is the birth of Jesus “Good News of Great Joy” from your perspective?
  5. Who are some people you know who may be tempted to feel that the good news of Christmas is “not for them”?  How does this passage encourage those who may feel far away from God?
  6. Jesus is God, but He also humbled Himself to take on humanity at His birth . . . something that eventually make it possible for Him to die for our sins.  How does remembering the identity of Jesus help you understand more the significance of what we celebrate at Christmas?
  7. Have you ever responded by faith to God, trusting Jesus Christ to be your Lord and Savior?  If so, when?  If not, why not?  Would you consider trusting Him this Christmas?
  8. Following the example of the shepherds, who might God have you “shine” Christ’s light in their direction by loving them, serving them, and telling them about the person of Jesus Christ this year?
  9. What is one particular application you took away from this passage/message?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.

December 22: Christmas Light – “Come Adore the Humble King”

Have you seen the television show, “Undercover Boss?”  Honestly, I haven’t . . . but I am familiar with the concept.  On the show, a CEO of a big-time company leaves the boardroom and perks behind to become a common worker in his/her organization.  The ensuing drama inevitably leads to some dynamic shift in perspective as the CEO ultimately sees how their executive decisions are effecting front-line employees.

Jesus birth in Bethlehem was not an accident and was not by chance — God had planned it all along, and had been making preparations for Christ’s arrival from the very beginning.

It is a misnomer to think that Jesus came into existence at Bethlehem.  The Bible is actually quite clear that from the time that was the beginning, Jesus already WAS.  John 1:1 says it this way, “In the beginning was the Word (Jesus) and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”  Notice the tense of the verb in this verse.  Literally, this verse says, “Imagine the time when there were no people, no planets, and no plants.  At that very moment before anything was created, Jesus WAS ALREADY THERE.”  In fact, John 1:3 goes on to say that “All things were made through Jesus, and without Jesus was not any thing made that was made.”  Jesus created the world.  He did not originate in Bethlehem, He created the earth under which Bethlehem sits.  Jesus birth is not so much a simple Baby Story, as it is an episode of “Undercover Boss.”  The CEO of the universe came to the earth He created “dressed” as a common carpenter’s son.

But why did Jesus humble Himself to come as a baby that first Christmas day?  Here is a hint from Hebrews 4:15:  “For we do not have a high priest (Jesus) who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  Jesus went through the full human experience so that we could fully know that the King of Kings has a dynamic, personal understanding for what it means to be human.  He knows what it means to cry, laugh, and love.  He knows what it means to be disappointed, discouraged, and dissed.  He knows first hand what it means to spend a sleepless night in prayer, seeking God’s will while asking if “the Cup could pass from Him.”  Jesus knows.  Because the Boss went Undercover as the carpenter’s son, we can (as Hebrews 4:16 concludes), “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Therefore, this Christmas season, as you see reminders of the infant in the manger, remember that the baby was the Boss undercover.  He came to identify with us.  He came to save us, and to (in the words of today’s song) “crown us with forgiveness.”  Therefore, let us come adore the humble King!

Come Adore the Humble King

Come adore the humble King

Lowly in the manger

Fall before His majesty

Hail the little Savior

Hope, what hope no tongue could tell

God has come with us to dwell

His name is Emmanuel

O praise the humble King

Come adore in humble state

He the song of angels

Join the wise who call His name

And with all creation

Who, oh, who would condescend

God unknown now calls us friend

Love that none could comprehend

O praise the humble King

Come adore the King who came

To our world to save us

Born to heal our prideful race

Crown us with forgiveness

Fall, oh, fall before the one

Who in mercy left His throne

Christ the Lord, God’s only Son

His glories now we sing

O praise the humble King

Come adore, come adore

Come adore the King

Bow before, come adore

The Name above all names

 

To access all 31 days of the “Christmas Light” Devotional, click here.

To access the “Christmas Light” Playlist:

December 21: Christmas Light – “Joy to the World”

When is it too early for you to listen to Christmas music?  Halloween too early?  How about Thanksgiving?  Black Friday?  December 1?  When is your “starting line” for changing out your playlist?

Whenever your start line, at some point, most will begin listening to Christmas music by the time December rolls around.  However, there is one Christmas Carol that was intended to be sung in July . . . and April . . . and February!  What is that song?  Well it is only the most popular Christmas song in North America – “Joy to the World!”

In 1719, prolific hymn writer Isaac Watts wrote this song, and published it in his book, “The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament.”  Its inclusion in this book lets us know the origins of the song.  Long before Watts arranged it with a Christian perspective, the Psalmist wrote the message in Psalm 98 (way back roughly 3,000 years ago!).  What is interesting about this, is that Psalm 98 is not a Psalm about Jesus’ birth.  It is a song about when the LORD will come “to judge the earth . . . with righteousness, and the peoples with equity (Psalm 98:9).”

The earth celebrates with joy, in Psalm 98 and in Watts’ hymn, when the Messiah comes in righteous judgment upon the earth.  This reference is clearly NOT to Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, but to Jesus’ return at the end of the world as pictured in Revelation 19:11-21.  The earth rejoices on that day because the sin and sorrow that has grown on the earth and infested the ground will finally and fully be dealt with.  Jesus will rule the world with truth and grace at that time inside His Kingdom, and all will see the “wonders of His love” (see Revelation 20).  After the establishment of this Kingdom, Jesus will also usher in a new heaven and a new earth that will make His blessings flow upon the earth in opposition to the effects of the curse (compare Genesis 3:14-24 with Revelation 21-22.)  

Knowing this background is it bad for us to sing “Joy to the World” at Christmastime?  Absolutely NOT!  This song is great any time of the year, including Christmas.  When we think of Jesus’ birth, we also can sing for joy at His coming, even if the full effects of what this song promises will not be felt upon the earth until He comes again.  The historical reality of His first coming, is a down payment on the reality of His second!  Just as Jesus brought forgiveness for our sins and revelation of who God really is at His first coming, He also will bring judgment and righteousness to the earth at His second coming.

So, join the world in singing JOY this year . . . knowing that God’s redemption is coming.

Joy to the World

Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

 

To access all 31 days of the “Christmas Light” Devotional, click here.

To access the “Christmas Light” Playlist:

December 20: Christmas Light – “Adore Him”

In the distance a new star arose.  So the Magi from the East, began to journey west to see the One for whom it shone.  After making their long journey, they arrive in Bethlehem (most likely months — maybe even years —  after Jesus’ birth) and find Joseph and Mary with their Son, Jesus.

We don’t know for sure what their expectations were.  Did they expect to find Him in a palace?  Did they expect to find Him wearing a crown?  Did they expect to see servants attending to Him?  After all, Jesus was the King of Kings.  Kings of just one AREA had fortunes, and mansions, and servants . . . the King of KINGS surely must have more than that!

However, when they arrive, they find local dignitaries unaware that THE KING had even been born (see Herod’s ignorance in Matthew 2:1-6).  Instead of seeing servants tending to Jesus every need, Herod assembles the army to try to kill the baby Jesus instead (see Matthew 2:7-8, 12).  Instead of finding Him in luxurious accommodations, the star came to rest over a modest dwelling (Matthew 2:9).  No doubt, there were plenty of options for the Magi to lose heart in their search:  long journeys and confused expectations can do that to a group of people.  But, notice what happens . . .

When the Magi arrive at the house, they do not question the veracity of the situation or allow their worldly expectations to deceive them from seeing their Savior.  Rather than act out in unbelief, these men bowed down and adored Jesus (see Matthew 2:10-11).  They laid themselves low before the child, and gave Him symbolic gifts pointing towards His future reign.  

Today, many of us live with unmet expectations.  We thought our career would be farther along by now, we expected to have more money, we want to be happier, we anticipated having better health, we assumed everyone would love us the way we want to be loved.  We have a lot of these expectations on life, and yet the reality of our lives is often different.  We didn’t get the promotion, we seem to have less than the rest of our friends, discouragement often dominates instead of delight, illness lingers, relationships fracture.  Our expectations are often not met with what we see.  So what are we to do?

Remember the birth of Jesus.  Remember that in the midst of modest dwellings and poverty God was at work.  Remember the promises of God and believe they will one day come to fruition.  And . . . bow down and adore Him.  Worship Him based on the truth not just what we feel, or even what we see.  Jesus is the King.  Let us bow our lives before Him in obedience, worship, and sacrifice.  Like the Magi before us, come, let us adore Him!   This point is the subject of today’s song by Kari Jobe, “Adore Him.”

 

Adore Him

Countless days on a journey that led so far

Endless nights they traveled to follow the star

They did not find a palace, just a humble village home

And searching for a king, but finding a child, no crown, no throne

Still they bowed down

Come let us adore him

Oh, come let us adore him

Oh, come let us adore him

Expectation turned to mystery

For nothing was like anything they dreamed

Anticipating the royal and those honored by this world

Instead they gazed in the awe-struck eyes of a lowly peasant girl

Holding her child

Come let us adore him

Oh, come let us adore him

Oh, come let us adore him

The brilliant gold, the fragrant myrrh, the costly frankincense

Placed before him

Come let us adore him

Oh, come let us adore him

Oh, come let us adore him

Christ, the Lord

 

To access all 31 days of the “Christmas Light” Devotional, click here.

To access the “Christmas Light” Playlist:

December 19: Christmas Light – “Hope was Born this Night”

 

Hope is a necessary thing.  It is not a luxury.  It is not an option.  We may need water and food and air to survive, but we need hope to thrive.  So how do we have hope?  Where is our hope found?  In this dark world, is there a light at the end of the tunnel, or is that flicker an oncoming train?

In Psalm 42:5a, the Psalmist asks a very important question, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”  In other words, life is hard!  My spirit feels crushed!  I am prone to discouragement!  Under the tree of my life today I can see more hardships than blessings.  What am I to do?  Is your soul cast down today?  Are you in turmoil?

The Psalmist continues with the solution to our down cast soul, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”  The solution for our spirit today is hope for tomorrow.

Hope for tomorrow means that we do not believe that today (or yesterday) was the best things will ever be.  We are tempted to think that our past was the “good old days.”  As we age, we are also tempted to think that the end of our lives will only be about loss:  loss of health, deaths of friends and families, activities we can no longer enjoy.  With this perspective, our past or our present are the pinnacles of existence, and everything else is simply downhill.  If our perspective is only earth bound, then there may be some truth to this existential depression.  However, if we know the God of the universe, we have access to an unending hope . . . because our hope is anchored to something OUTSIDE this life.

God is eternal.  When we “hope in God” we connect our perspective to Him.  In eternity, we are saved.  In eternity, our broken and breaking bodies are upgraded to an imperishable sort.  In eternity, God richly provides for all our needs.  In eternity, we do not sin or struggle.  With this eternal perspective, we can have hope now! 

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, God demonstrated His intimate connection between the world in which we live and His eternal order.  Jesus came here to give us a tangible and living hope, to provide a way for us to enter eternity.  When we place our faith in Christ, we can have a hope today based on what He has promised us tomorrow.  And Christmas is a reminder of that.

The Psalmist ends 42:5 by reminding us to demonstrate our hope in God by praising Him.  To help with that, listen to the contemporary Christmas song, “Hope was Born this Night” by the Sidewalk Prophets, and hear “the echoes of grace of our Savior’s embrace because hope was born this night.” 

Hope was Born this Night – Sidewalk Prophets

Tonight I can see a star shine

And its splendor fills up the sky 

It’s the same that appeared

And the wisemen revered

When Hope was born this night

Out upon the snowy fields

There’s a silent peace that heals

And it echoes the grace

Of our Savior’s embrace

Because Hope was born this night

Glory to God in the highest

Peace on earth

Goodwill to men

Let all of the world

Sing the chorus of joy

Because Hope was born this night

I can hear the Christmas bells ringing

As softly a church choir sings

It’s the song used to praise

The Ancient of Days

When Hope was born this night

There are angels in this place

And my heart resounds in the praise

Like a shepherd so scared

I’ll rejoice and declare

That Hope was born this night

Glory to God in the highest

Peace on earth

Goodwill to men

Let all of the world

Sing the chorus of joy

Because Hope was born this night

 

To access all 31 days of the “Christmas Light” Devotional, click here.

To access the “Christmas Light” Playlist:

Christmas Light (part 4) Sermon Preview

I still remember the morning our son was born.  Though the event occurred many years ago, I still have great clarity of that day – it is a time my wife and I treasure.  

It was the “spring forward” day of Daylight savings time, and our doc had attended a rock concert the night before – forgetting to “spring forward” her clock.  So, even though the birth day was planned several days in advance, Josh entered the world one hour later than expected!  

Josh was born at 31 weeks, and would need to spend the first month and half of his life in the NICU at Children’s Hospital in OKC.  Because of this, we had to play a “road game” . . . out of town and away from family and friends.  Any visitors had to be invited and planned out.  This meant that our birth experience looked a bit different than some . . . but it was still special to us.  

This Sunday morning at Wildwood we will be continuing our “Christmas Light” sermon series by looking at Luke 2:8-20.  In these verses we are reminded that Mary and Joseph were playing a “road game” when Jesus was born.  They lived in Nazareth, but Jesus was born in Bethlehem (a week’s journey away).  Though Bethlehem was Joseph’s ancestral home, they were far from what was “normal” for them.  

Even though they were miles from home, the Lord still planned some special visitors to see the new born baby.  By special invite, shepherds came.  By divine plan, angels attended. In the night sky, the darkness of an entire era was broken by the Christmas Light of the glory of God.  And through it all – Mary treasured all these experiences in her heart.

As we gather for worship this Sunday morning, we are adding one additional worship service (at 8:30).  So, we will have 3 services at 8:30, 9:45 or 11:00 where we will treasure the birth story of Jesus and see how we are also invited to worship Him this Christmas season.  Make plans to join us!

 

NOTE:  We will have normal children’s programming, student programming, and adult classes during the 9:45 and 11:00 services.  At 8:30, we will only have the worship service running.  If you are able to come early to worship on Sunday, please do — and worship with your entire family (we have some amazing things planned with our worship team — including the annual presentation of “Carol of the Bells.”)  The added service on this day will create more space for you to invite and include many in your network to come and worship with us this Christmas season.  See you Sunday!

 

NOTE 2:  Wildwood will also have 3 Christmas Eve Services on Tuesday night, December 24 at 3:00, 4:30, and 6:00PM.  These services will feature candlelight, singing, and a short reflection on Matthew 2.  Can’t wait to see all of you Sunday AND Wednesday!

 

December 18: Christmas Light – “The First Noel”

In 1833 William Sandys wrote the hymn, “The First Noel.”  The song details the story of Jesus birth, with each verse of the hymn telling a new part of the story, separated by the chorus refrain, “Noel!  Born is the King of Israel!”  The word “Noel” is a French word for Christmas that comes from Latin roots that mean “New birth.”  Therefore, the song is ultimately about how the “new birth” of Jesus in Bethlehem’s stable leads to the New Birth of the people of God in Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  Again Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3:3-8, “‘I [Jesus] tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’  ’How can a man be born when he is old?’ Nicodemus asked.  ’Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!’  Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sounds, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’”  

These verses talk about the new birth that believers in Jesus Christ have.  A Christian’s “second birth” occurs because in Christ, their full identity has changed.  The core identity of who they were before Christ was an “object of wrath” before a Holy God.  After trusting in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, the Christian’s core identity is as a child of God . . . an heir according to His promise.

What this means is that believers in Christ celebrate the first birth of Jesus because it provides for them their new birth into the family of God.  That is why the sixth verse of this hymn has such power to me.  It begins, “Let us all with one accord . . . ”  Since this song has been sung for 185 years now, our voices join the “one accord” with literally millions who have sung this very song.  The verse concludes with declaring the reason for our cross-generational unity, “With His (Jesus) Blood mankind hath bought.”  Because of the blood of Jesus Christ, all believers now have a second, “new” birth.  With this in mind, the chorus sounds off like a 1930′s newspaper salesman shouting, “Extra, Extra, read all about it!”  The chorus shouts out, “New birth!  New birth!  New birth!  New birth!  Born is the One who brings us new birth!

Think about that as you reflect on the lyrics of this great Christmas hymn this season.

 

The First Noel

The First Noel, the Angels did say

Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay

In fields where they lay keeping their sheep

On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel

Born is the King of Israel!

They looked up and saw a star

Shining in the East beyond them far

And to the earth it gave great light

And so it continued both day and night.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel

Born is the King of Israel!

And by the light of that same star

Three Wise men came from country far

To seek for a King was their intent

And to follow the star wherever it went.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel

Born is the King of Israel!

This star drew nigh to the northwest

O’er Bethlehem it took its rest

And there it did both Pause and stay

Right o’er the place where Jesus lay.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel

Born is the King of Israel!

Then entered in those Wise men three

Full reverently upon their knee

And offered there in His presence

Their gold and myrrh and frankincense.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel

Born is the King of Israel! 

Then let us all with one accord

Sing praises to our heavenly Lord

That hath made Heaven and earth of nought

And with his blood mankind has bought.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel

Born is the King of Israel!

 

To access all 31 days of the “Christmas Light” Devotional, click here.

To access the “Christmas Light” Playlist:

December 17: Christmas Light – “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”

When the story of 18th century western church history is told, there are three names that simply must be included:  John and Charles Wesley and George Whitfield.  Growing up within the Church of England, these three men each came to a genuine faith in Christ later in life.  After their conversions, these men followed Christ in a radical way, spreading the knowledge of Christ to the common people.  These three men were some of the early fathers of American Evangelicalism because they had an interest in taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people wherever they were.  Instead of staying inside large stone cathedrals, these men took to the open air, holding outdoor revival meetings and church services where thousands were in attendance.  In a day before microphones and high tech audio/visual equipment, Whitfield alone preached to as many as 30,000 people in one audience!

Given their common threads, it is not a surprise that these men were friends and had a great deal of respect for each other’s ministry, even though they had some theological differences.  Charles Wesley wrote over 7,500 hymns in his lifetime.  Some of these hymns were incorporated into Whitfield’s open air revival meetings.  One of Wesley’s hymns that Whitfield used was a hymn Wesley titled, “Hark, How the Welkin Rings!”  (The word “welkin” means “vault of heavens”.)  This song had the same tune as another famous Wesley hymn, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!”  Whitfield loved the song, but did not care for the opening line.  He changed the opening line to further connect this song with the birth of Christ.  His new first line was the now famous, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing!”  Whitfield made this change, but never asked his friend Wesley for permission to do so.  This outraged Wesley.  Even after Whitfield’s version grew in popularity and became very well know, Wesley refused to acknowledge or sing the Whitfield abridged version of his song.  Can you imagine that?  The author of one of the most famous Christmas songs ever written never sang it!  About 100 years later the tune was changed to the current form by Felix Mendelsson.

What are your Christmas traditions?  What do you do every year at Christmas time that you would be very upset if it changed?  For some it is the day and time that presents are opened.  For others it is the songs that you “should sing” in church or on Christmas Eve.  For others it is a particular service (and time) that must be attended or a particular passage of Scripture that must be the text for that service.  Whatever it is, there are somethings that just “have to happen” in order for it to be Christmas for you.  What happens if your form changes?  What happens if you open presents on Christmas day instead of Christmas Eve?  What happens if you sing “Manger Throne” instead of “Silent Night”?  What happens if the “wrong passage” is preached at the Christmas service?  If these changes happen, will you refuse to sing?

May we learn something from Wesley’s folly.  May we learn that most of the traditions we embrace today have evolved over time.  Santa Claus has not always been at the mall, Candles weren’t always a part of Christmas Eve services, and at one time, it was the “Welkin,” not the “Herald Angels” that were ringing/singing.  At one time, maybe the greatest Christmas hymn in existence today sounded like an Easter song to our modern ear.  The key is not the form, but the spirit behind it.  Whitfield and Mendelssohn improved Wesley’s hymn.  Is it possible that God might be using some of the changes in your Christmas worship celebrations to increase your soul’s rejoicing this season?  Don’t refuse to sing.  Join the angel chorus and worship Christ the new born King!

I have attached below the original lyrics of Wesley’s hymn, “Hark How the Welkin Rings!”

Hark, How All the Welkin Rings! – Charles Wesley

“Hark, how all the welkin rings,

“Glory to the King of kings;

Peace on earth, and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled!”

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,

Join the triumph of the skies;

Universal nature say,

“Christ the Lord is born to-day!”

Christ, by highest Heaven ador’d,

Christ, the everlasting Lord:

Late in time behold him come,

Offspring of a Virgin’s womb!

Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see,

Hail the incarnate deity!

Pleased as man with men to appear,

Jesus! Our Immanuel here!

Hail, the heavenly Prince of Peace!

Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!

Light and life to all he brings,

Risen with healing in his wings.

Mild He lays his glory by,

Born that man no more may die;

Born to raise the sons of earth;

Born to give them second birth.

Come, Desire of nations, come,

Fix in us thy humble home;

Rise, the woman’s conquering seed,

Bruise in us the serpent’s head.

Now display thy saving power,

Ruined nature now restore;

Now in mystic union join

Thine to ours, and ours to thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface;

Stamp Thy image in its place.

Second Adam from above,

Reinstate us in thy love.

Let us Thee, though lost, regain,

Thee, the life, the inner Man:

O! to all thyself impart,

Form’d in each believing heart.”

 

To access all 31 days of the “Christmas Light” Devotional, click here.

To access the “Christmas Light” Playlist:

December 16: Christmas Light – “Angels We Have Heard on High”

“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.  But the angels said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you:  You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’  Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.’  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.’  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” – Luke 2:8-16

Imagine that you were the shepherds that first Christmas night.  You were gathered out on the hillsides surrounding Bethlehem watching your livestock.  You were bundled up to keep warm.  Having never been a rancher or taken care of any animal larger than a Beagle, I have a hard time imagining what they were doing.  My best guess is that they were sitting by the fire . . . maybe singing a song.

As the they sat there, these shepherds saw an impressive sight.  It is hard for me to imagine what shepherds were doing on that Christmas night, but it was even harder for the shepherds to imagine the sight they were getting ready to behold.  Out of no where angels appeared in the sky singing a new song.  They were singing “Gloria in Excelies Deo!”  For me today, it is easy to imagine the shepherds seeing the angels . . . this is a story I have heard since I was born . . . but for the shepherds, this was a very “out of the ordinary” situation.  It was not normal for them to see angels on the hillside.  This was a unique event!  The angels told the shepherds to go to Bethlehem and see a baby which was the Savior of the world.

The shepherds quickly took off for Bethlehem.  Can you imagine the conversation they may have had with each other all the way to the stable?  “I wonder what He looks like?  What could this all mean?  I wonder if everyone got this same announcement . . . if so, I wonder how long we will have to wait in line?!?”  The questions would have no doubt fired back and forth throughout their walk/run to the manger.

Upon arriving on the scene, however, I am sure the shepherds were probably scratching their heads a bit.  There was no line outside the stable filled with government and religious dignitaries and local celebrities.  Upon entering the stable, the place smelled more like a barn full of animals than the temple incense.  As they approached the baby in the manger, no halo circled His head, and the child was probably crying for His mother to give Him more milk.  While the text does not say it, I am guessing that the shepherds were probably wondering (either aloud or to each other) if they had heard the angels correctly.  Given the disparity between what they saw and what they had heard, these old school cowboys were placed in a spot that is very familiar to us . . . they were being asked to take God at His Word.

I walk through this story today because many times as I read the Christmas story I think, if only all people could see what the shepherds saw then all people would believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world.  To my old way of thinking, the shepherds, based on what they had seen, would not have needed a lot of faith to believe in Jesus as their Savior.  The reality, though, is that I still think it took LOTS OF FAITH for the shepherds to believe.  In fact, they did not have some of the benefits that we have.

When the shepherds saw Jesus in Bethlehem, they had never heard Jesus preach; they had never seen Him work miracles; they had never imagined the cross;  they had never conceived the empty tomb.  While they had an angel declaration, there were many facts of the story that they did not have.  Based on what they knew, they were asked to take God at His Word (through the angels) and trust Him with the rest.  As people today, we have record of His preaching, miracles, death and resurrection.  We have the testimony of  2,000 years of Church History, and the corroborating evidence of ancient historians.  Given that, however, we have never seen Jesus face to face, and angels have not visited us on hillsides.  Based on what we know, however, we are asked to take God at His Word (through the Bible) and trust Him with the rest.  When we do this, great blessings come our way.

The Apostle Peter wrote a letter to the first generation of Christians who were growing up in our present reality . . . people who had the testimony of eye-witnesses and the Scripture, but had not physically seen Jesus.  To this group (to us) Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:8-9, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  Peter celebrates the faith of those who have not seen Jesus, but still love and believe in Him.  This verse of Scripture is talking to you and me!

1 Peter 1:8-9 further indicates that when we believe in Jesus based on what we know (but have not seen), we reap the same benefits that His first followers experienced, “an inexpressible joy” (“Good news of Great Joy”) and “the salvation of our souls” (“a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord”).

At first glance, it appears that we have very little in common with the shepherds that first Christmas night, but in the end, we have something big in common . . . we are both being asked to embrace by faith that the child born in Bethlehem is our Savior, Christ the Lord.  Upon hearing this announcement this Christmas will you run to the manger as the shepherds did?  Will you believe in Him based on what you know and trust Him for the things that are harder for you to understand?  If you will, then joy and salvation await.  Those are two Christmas gifts that are on everyone’s list.

Today, sing “Angels we Have Heard on High” and remember the story of the shepherds and what we share in common with them.

 

Angels We Have Heard on High

Angels we have heard on high

Sweetly singing o’er the plains

And the mountains in reply

Echoing their joyous strains

Gloria, in excelsis Deo

Gloria, in excelsis Deo

Shepherds, why this jubilee?

Why your joyous strains prolong?

What the gladsome tidings be

Which inspire your heavenly song?

Gloria, in excelsis Deo

Gloria, in excelsis Deo

Come to Bethlehem and see

Him whose birth the angels sing,

Come, adore on bended knee,

Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

Gloria, in excelsis Deo

Gloria, in excelsis Deo

See Him in a manger laid,

Whom the choirs of angels praise;

Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,

While our hearts in one we raise

Gloria, in excelsis Deo

Gloria, in excelsis Deo

 

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