“And in the same region, there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and 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 among those with whom he is pleased!’
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”
This morning we were looking at Luke’s gospel, chapter 2, and the nativity scene in verses 1 to 7. If you have your Bibles, if you don’t already have them open, would you turn to them once again to Luke’s gospel, chapter 2, to the passage we read a moment ago, and to the second half of the chapter. I thought since we considered the first half this morning, we might think about the second half this evening and the visit of the angels to the shepherds in the fields as they watched their flocks outside Bethlehem that night. So Luke chapter 2; page 857. Of course, the accounts of the first Christmas have been embellished since the Gospel writers first penned them. Children’s nativity plays have to find roles, after all, for every child in the class. And now suddenly, Sheep 1 and Sheep 2 have speaking parts in the nativity play! And some of our Christmas carols don’t help much either, do they? “I saw three ships come sailing in, to Bethlehem in the morning!” Really? Whoever wrote that needs to look at the map a little more closely! Bethlehem’s about twenty miles from the nearest body of water. But, okay! Quite the Christmas miracle, but we won’t quibble about it!
When the angels split the heavens that night right above the shepherds’ heads, scaring the daylights or the snot out of them – I guess it was midnight or late at night, not the daylight then – scaring them half to death, an invitation was issued to them to do much more with the Christmas story than to quote it in a thick layer of schmaltz. In fact, there are three things I want us to learn very briefly from the reactions to the birth of Christ that night while the shepherds kept their flocks; three things that teach us about how we all ought to respond to the gift of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. First of all, there is proclamation. The angels and the shepherds both have good news for the world. Then, there’s meditation. And then finally, there’s celebration. Proclamation, medication, and celebration.
First of all, proclamation. The angelic messengers told the shepherds in verse 10, do you see this in verse 10? “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And after the angels left them, the shepherds went to see the infant Jesus for themselves. And what did they do in response, having found everything just as the angels told them? Look at verse 17. Verse 17 – When they saw that everything was “as it had been explained to them, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.” They told everyone who would listen the same message the angel had given them. “A Savior has been born that is for all the people – Christ the Lord!” They have good news for the world.
Proclamation. The true measure of how far the joy of Christmas has really captured our hearts is not actually how loudly we sing our favorite Christmas carols, though you were in wonderful voice this evening. It’s not the excitement that we feel about giving and receiving Christmas gifts or being with family, yet we celebrate those things as sweet kindnesses from the hand of God. No, the true measure of whether the joy of Christmas has really captured our hearts is whether or not we can keep the good news about Messiah Jesus to ourselves. In a world of sometimes unrelenting bad news, we have some really good news to tell. Really good news. And it’s for everyone. It’s for all the people. “Go! Tell it on the mountain! Jesus Christ is born!” We have proclamation; that’s part of our response, those of us who have come to know and love the Lord Jesus. We have good news for the world. There’s a Savior for you. A Rescuer has come who can deal with your sin and guilt and reconcile you to God. Proclamation.
Secondly, meditation. It’s interesting to me that the angels do the first and the third of the three things we’re thinking about this evening. They proclaim and they celebrate, but they do not meditate. If you’ll look at verses 18 and 19, that’s what those who hear the shepherds’ message do. “All who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” So some people who hear the Christmas message merely wonder at it, but there were those, Mary chief among them, who did more than that, much more than that. Notice the two things Mary does. Here’s the two parts of Christian meditation. It has nothing to do with emptying your mind or controlling your breathing or being mindful or anything like that. That’s not Christian meditation. Christian meditation treasures the truth about Jesus and ponders it in our hearts. Treasures the truth proclaimed – the Word of God, the good news – and dwells on it, chews on it, turns it over, sees it from every facet and angle, seeks to extract from it every ounce of soul-nourishing truth and goodness.
The second part of our duty and our delight as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus, is not just to talk about Him to others, but to treasure the truth about Him and ponder it deeply in our hearts. It’s to talk to ourselves about Him. It is to preach Christ to ourselves. As you face another year, with all its joy and its sorrows, you’re going to need some wisdom from God. You’re going to need resources of grace to sustain you. You’re going to need help killing your sin, cultivating the fruit of the Spirit. One vital tool ordained for your good this year is to imitate Mary and to do more than merely wonder at the message and then move on, but to treasure it up and to ponder it on your heart; to press the good news about the birth of Christ, your only Savior, your only hope, down into every pore, into every part of who you are until it takes deep root and permeates you and changes you and shapes you for the praise and glory of God. It is to tell yourself again, “Not only is there good news for the world, there’s still good news for me, today and tomorrow and the day after. There’s still good news for me in Jesus. I have a Savior and a Lord in Jesus Christ. He is sufficient for me. God’s perfect provision for every deep need of my heart.”
Here's the second challenge of Christmas. First, go tell the world. But secondly, be sure you’re telling yourself that there is good news even for you. Will you resolve this coming year to make Christian meditation on the person and work of Christ as we find it in holy Scripture your daily discipline, your normal routine, the heartbeat that animates your Christian life?
Proclamation. Meditation. Finally, celebration. When the first angel was done preaching, the heavens exploded with light and joy and song. They weren’t celebrating that the preacher was finally done, as you may perhaps be ready to do. If you’ll look at verses 13 and 14, it’s as though they simply could not restrain themselves any longer. As the message is heralded, the rest of the angels perhaps – I picture them sort of listening in, poised and ready, and they simply could not hold it back anymore. And they rupture the night sky with light and joy and song. “Glory to God in the highest,” this vast multitude of the heavenly host begin to say, “and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
You know, this scene will be repeated but only one other time. One more time this scene will be repeated in human history, when a countless company of the heavenly host, angels in rank upon rank, will appear in glory before the watching world. And we live tonight, right now, between these two angelic choruses. And it is our task to pick up the song and to sing it with joy till our voices mingle with the angelic chorus once again when they begin their song anew. They will sing it, as they began to sing it at our Savior’s first coming, at His final and second return when He comes in glory with an innumerable company of the heavenly host. And He will come on that occasion not only as Savior to finish the saving work He has begun in our hearts, but also as Judge to bring the just sentence of God upon all who refuse to bend the knee to Christ’s lordship. And the angels will sing in celebration and we who know Him will join them.
My question for you this evening is, “Will you join them?” Will you belong in that vast company or worshipers – angelic and redeemed humanity – together, swelling the praises of our Savior who was born that first Christmas and who comes again soon? Or when that second angelic chorus begin their song, will you find yourself taken all by surprise – shocked, horrified, ashamed, outside – facing not the glad reception and embrace of Christ your Savior, but the just sentence of Christ your only Judge? We live today, right now, between those two angelic choruses. And it is possible for you now to take up the song with more than just your lips but with the joy of your hearts if you will embrace Christ, God’s gift for wicked sinners like me and like you, who so urgently need Him.
I wonder if you know anything of the true joy at Christmas? It captured the shepherds’ hearts too, didn’t it? Verse 20, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen as it had been told them.” Not just angels, but sinners saved by grace may sing this song. Do you know that joy? Can you sing that song? Christ is worth celebrating and He is offered to you as God’s most precious gift, His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. We bring you good news of great joy for all the people. A Savior has been born, the Savior, Christ the Lord! Let’s proclaim Him to the world. We have good news for everyone, everywhere. Let’s meditate on the truth, treasuring it in our hearts and pondering it for our soul’s benefit and good. And then let us celebrate Christ’s first coming, even while we wait with expectation for His final return. May the Lord bless you, and may you have a very Merry Christmas and a new year that is filled with an awareness of the presence of Christ, your Redeemer. Amen.
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