O Shepherds, Teach Me How to Celebrate Christmas
Lord God, create in me a clean heart and make it a heart in which true faith glows brightly hour by hour. Chase away the darkness of sin that still lingers in my heart and which at times affects my spirit and life. With the light of Your Word prepare me to celebrate Christmas with joyful faith as did the Shepherds when they first heard of Jesus’ birth. Oh come, Emmanuel, and bless us in our worship this morning. Amen.
Seeking help from the dead through mediums is just one example of darkness. All unbelief and sin is darkness. Thanks be to God who sent His Son to bring the light of salvation to sinners. Thanks be to God who sends His Word into our hearts to enlighten them with faith to believe in our Savior.
By grace, we have been enlightened with the good news of the Gospel. The "light" of forgiveness, peace with God, certain hope of eternal life, and every other blessing that comes from Christ fills our hearts, shines forth in our actions, and directs our lives. Let the light of Christ SHINE to awake and enlighten those still in darkness!
Text: Luke 2:8-20
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. "And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us." And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
In Christ Jesus, Whose Word is our light and salvation and in Whom we place our trust, dear fellow-redeemed:
Making the trek into the forest to find & cut the perfect Christmas tree…Oyster stew or some other favorite "specialty food" that shows up on the table once a year…leaving church after the Christmas Eve service and riding through town looking at Christmas lights…opening gifts on Christmas Eve, or perhaps on Christmas Day…after the gifts are all opened, walking across the paper and ribbon cluttered floor to gather around the piano to sing Christmas hymns…sitting in the dark and staring at the lights and ornaments of the Christmas tree—these are the kinds of traditions that are part of many Christmas celebrations. Chances are pretty good that you and your family have your own set of traditions that begin about this time each year.
Once a family Christmas tradition is begun, a celebration doesn’t seem quite complete without it. The different traditions that each of us observe are what identify our particular celebration. In addition to the individual familytraditions of our Christmas celebrations we ALL—as fellow members inGod’s family—share a common feature in our celebrations namely, Christ’s birth at the center of our celebration.
A true celebration of Christmas is a gift from the Holy Spirit, because a truecelebration of Christmas can only take place through faith. Faith comes only through the working of the Holy Spirit in the Word. The Spirit-created faith in the hearts of the Bethlehem Shepherds led them to enjoy the first Christmas celebration in marvelous fashion.
Our 1999 celebration of Christmas is getting excitingly nearer. We are preparing for that celebration, so for a time this morning we are going to leave the crowded shopping malls behind and go to the Bethlehem shepherds with the request: "O SHEPHERDS, TEACH ME HOW TO CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS" The answer we will gain from their example is: I. Hear & Believe II. See & Believe III. Speak & Believe.
How long do you think it took after that first Christmas night before those events didn’t dominate every conversation of the shepherds? How many times were they able to relive those events and celebrate them without ever growing tired of them, or just going through the motions of remembering without really caring? It is hard to picture the shepherds as ever getting bored or distracted in their thoughts about that first Christmas because theirs was an experience of a lifetime!
It was just another night at work when the shepherds lives changed forever. Their conversation out in the fields was perhaps not terribly different from our own—talking about how warm or cold it was, how work had been going so far that week, perhaps about their families and what was going on at home. However, when they HEARD the message, first from a single angel and then from many angels, suddenly their shepherding became secondary.
“And behold! an angel of the Lord stood before them… the angel said to them, "Stop being Do not be afraid, for behold! I’m bringing you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” [v. 9-14]
We can be confident that these shepherds were believers in Israel who were anticipating the Messiah’s coming. If the shepherds were not Old Testament believers they would not have understood the news from the angel. The angel’s short message and the praise of the other angels would, however, mean a great deal to an Old Testament believer.
An Old Testament believer would remember God’s words to Abraham referring to the Savior, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed”(Genesis 12:3). So when the shepherds heard, “good tidings of great joy which will be to all people” they knew the angels were speaking of the Messiah whom they were awaiting.
If there was any doubt in the hearts of the shepherds, then what they heard next would have erased it. "There is born to you in the city of David aSavior who is Christ the Lord." Old Testament believers were waiting for the CHRIST – the Messiah – to come. He would come from God and would, therefore, be "Lord." Furthermore, God had promised that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem, the City of David. When the Shepherds heard "City of David, Savior, Christ the Lord" they were hearing "buzz words" of their faith and the message was: "He’s hear! He’s born!"
Still there’s more, because when all the angels joined in praising God they announced the blessing that would come through the newborn baby: "On earth peace goodwill toward men” Peace and the reestablishment of goodwill between God and sinners was something only the Savior could bring. It was what Isaiah had prophesied when He spoke of the "Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6). The Savior Himself speaks through Isaiah in prophesy saying, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn(Isaiah 61:1-2).
The shepherds had heard the Old Testament Scriptures in the past; and in the field outside of Bethlehem they heard the first words of the New Testament—the Messiah is born! That news was enough to fill their hearts with celebration because this at long last was God’s glorious fulfillment for which believers had longed.
The Shepherds HEARD the angels’ message and BELIEVED. They BELIEVED that these were words from God Himself for they said, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing which the LORD has made known to us…” They HEARD and BELIEVED the message the Lord had given them. HEARING and BELIEVING gave them every reason to celebrate.
"Well, yes! of course the shepherds believed and were excited…they had ANGELS telling them the news! That’s what we need – we could use something extraordinary to reinvigorate a true celebration of Christmas—something like angels coming down and announcing the Christmas story all over again!" . . . Not really. Remember what Abraham told the rich man in hell in Jesus’ parable when the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers? Abraham said, “They have Moses and the prophets let them hear them…if they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:29,31)
It seems humanly reasonable that it was easier for the shepherds to believe the news of Christmas because it came from angels, but if you think about it, the shepherds could just as easily been skeptical. They could passed it off as being an hallucination. They could have come up with ways to "reason the whole thing away with logic" just as easily modern man reasons away the truth of God’s Word. Furthermore, it was not the angel messenger that affected the Shepherds or convinced them to go to Bethlehem it was the MESSAGE.
The shepherds reacted to what they HEARD from the LORD. It was the MESSAGE…not the MESSENGER. What was the MESSAGE? "Good tidings!" or put another way, "Good News," and a word that means "good news" is GOSPEL.
You and I have the GOSPEL right here in the Bible. So what the Shepherds HAD we HAVE! God gave angels to the Shepherds to give them the GOSPEL. God has given us His full written Revelation to give US the GOSPEL The messenger is different—it is angels vs. written word, but the MESSAGE is the same and it is the message that is the power behind a successful Christmas celebration.
The message which the shepherds heard and believed is YOUR message. The angel brought the news to the shepherds, but said that it was good tidings FOR ALL PEOPLE. So when you hear the message don’t think of it as being spoken to the shepherds, hear it as it is spoken to YOU. There is born to YOU this day…"— the Savior is born for YOU!! Hear it for yourself when the angels say to YOU, “…on earth peace goodwill toward men” Hear the message BELIEVE that God is telling YOU that this baby is YOUR Savior from sin, He is bringing YOU peace with God by removing Your sin and its guilt
HEAR, BELIEVE, and CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS because the baby born is YOUR Christ!
When the Shepherds heard & believed the gospel message from God, they acted on their faith. “Let us now go to Bethlehem and SEE this thing that has come to pass which the Lord has made known to us" and they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the Babe lying in a manger…” [v.15-16]
The Shepherds did not go to Bethlehem in doubt. They didn’t go to Bethlehem saying, "We’re going to have to see it to believe it and without that we WON’T believe it! – as Thomas did after Easter. The Shepherds went to Bethlehem to SEE because of their joy and as a fruit of faith. The Shepherds had heard and believed and been filled with joy; now they wanted to SEE with their eyes and have even greater joy.
As a parallel, consider: I could tell describe the Grand Canyon to you in vivid detail. Even if you’d never seen even a picture of the Grand Canyon, you would believe that it exists and form my description you would know that it is a breathtakingly beautiful. Still, you might long to see it for yourself—not because you doubt what I say, but because you want to see it for yourself, experience it yourself, and enjoy it even more! So it was with the Shepherds’ desire to go to Bethlehem and SEE.
The Shepherds left their sheep and hurried to Bethlehem as fast as they could. The desire to SEE Jesus was great so “they came with haste.” In Bethlehem the shepherds SAW everything just exactly as the MESSAGE had described it. SEEING their newborn Savior fulfilled the shepherds’ joy.
Simeon provides another example. Being a believer, Simeon could have died in the faith that Jesus was coming (or had been born) without ever seeing Him. In that case, Simeon’s faith wouldn’t have been less sure, nor would his joy have been diminished. God, however, promised that Simeon would get to SEE Jesus and when Simeon did see Jesus and then even held Him in his arms he exclaimed, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace…for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:30-32). Like the shepherds, Simeon heard and believed, but his joy and celebration became still greater when he SAW.
We hear that “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart…” Mary too kept "seeing" and reliving the wondrous words and events—the news from Gabriel, the visit to Elizabeth, the birth of Jesus, the visit of the Shepherds, Simeon’s words—everything! Mary kept these replaying before her eyes and in her heart. Each time she "saw" all of this it most certainly kindled her faith even more, deepened her love toward God, and heightened the joy of which she had spoken after HEARING and BELIEVING, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoice in God my Savior!” (Luke 1:46-47).
There was a time in Jesus’ ministry when some Gentile believers (Greeks) came to worship in Jerusalem and then approached Philip to say, "Sir we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21). That is exactly what we wish for our Christmas celebrations. WE WISH TO SEE JESUS!
We even have an advantage over Shepherds. Unlike the shepherds, we are able to SEE the fullness of all that Jesus did. They SAW the baby Savior but they had to believe UNSEEN what that Savior would go on to do I His life and by His death. We, however, “have the prophetic word confirmed” (2 Peter 1:19), complete with the fullness of Jesus’ work.
We SEE JESUS when behind the manger and a baby lying there we also see our Savior giving up His life on the cross for our sins. We SEE JESUS when together with a crying baby we see His life and ministry, His proclamation of the Gospel. We SEE JESUS when we not only see a brand new life brought by birth, but the eternal life Jesus won for us through His glorious resurrection. We SEE and BELIEVE Jesus when we keep before our eyes and hearts that the baby we celebrate on Christmas is our Savior who was born to die. We who now celebrate Christmas SEE the fullness of Christ’s work—that we also have Lent and Easter, Ascension and Pentecost to celebrate.
There are so many faces and events in the Christmas Story and all are important: Joseph, Mary, the Shepherds, the angels, and so forth; BUT they are all supporting roles. When we look at CHRISTMAS we need to SEEJESUS.
A Christmas celebration that…sees the goose for Christmas dinner is a little tough this year and the stuffing a little dry…that SEES the present that wasn’t the right size, the store that’s so crowded and loud with people bickering about something, parents yanking children by the arm who are getting out of control…that SEES a holiday hat just doesn’t seem like Christmas because of sorrow, trouble, and grief in my life… That is a celebration of Christmas that will be less than thrilling. SEE JESUS and it will be successful. When we SEE JESUS in our preparation and celebration then we are ready for Christmas.
SEE, BELIEVE, and CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS because the JESUS you see is YOUR JESUS Who has SAVED YOU FROM YOUR SIN!
Hearing and believing, the Shepherds left work and went to Bethlehem. Seeing and believing, the shepherds went back to work “Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” [v.17-18,20]
By doing what came naturally in their excitement of hearing, seeing, and believing, the shepherds learned that "giving" is at least equally as enjoyable as "receiving." The shepherds received a gift from God—their Savior and to receive that God’s gift of grace through Jesus is indeed great. Yet, we see them joyful all over again when they were telling others about what they had heard and seen. OH, WERE THEY EXCITED!! They went here, telling everyone they could, making widely known what they had heard and seen! …and all who heard it marveled!
Misery may love company, but Joy loves it even more. Try to keep good news to yourself…YOU CAN’T!!…and if you do, part of the joy is gone. The disciples found the same thing when they were preaching about Jesus. On trial before the Jews, Peter said, “We cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard!!!” (Acts 4:20).
Believing, the shepherds spoke…to God. They spoke to God giving Him all praise and glory for the wonderful Gospel they had heard and seen. Our Christmas celebrations are marked by bringing our praise to God as well. The Christmas hymns with their joyful melodies and Gospel-rich words fill us with joy as we sing them in honor of our God Who sent His Son.
Believing, the shepherds spoke…to others. They spoke to others declaring the wonderful works of God. Our Christmas celebrations are marked with that kind of opportunity too. This afternoon Immanuel’s Elementary Chorus will carol…the church choir…the high school choir…caroling, singing in church…the children presenting the Gospel on Christmas Eve…sharing Christmas invitations for worship…helping someone see the reason why Christmas bring JOY--all of these are ways in which we speak to one another with what we have heard and seen. ITS YOUR CHRISTMAS JOY! IT’S YOUR CELEBRATION!! What a sad Christmas it would be if we didn’t talk about it!
The marvelous thing about SPEAKING CHRISTMAS is that we’re speaking the Gospel and so the more we do, the more God does. Through the WORD which we speak, God lifts up hearts and chases away fear, sorrow, and other trouble. He cheers hearts and relieves souls. We can go back to work tomorrow after the weekend, and again after the Christmas vacation, just like the shepherds went back to their daily routine after going to Bethlehem. Like the shepherds when we go back it will be with a glad celebratory heart.
It’s less than two weeks until we reach the peak of our Christmas celebration. As we continue to prepare for that celebration the two most important things we can do are: 1) to pray for the Holy Spirit to give the gift of a wonderful Christmas celebration and 2) to go to the Word of God through which the Spirit will answer that prayer.
Prepare and celebrate Christmas with the Shepherds in faith, as Luther encourages in his Christmas hymn: Now let us all with gladsome cheer go with the Shepherds and draw near to see the precious gift of God, Who has His own dear Son bestowed. Amen. [TLH # 85 st.6]
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt