The Significant Shepherds

The Significant Shepherds

Luke 2: 8-20

Christmas is a time for thinking about our favorite people.
We honor them with our time, with our words of kindness and appreciation, and with cards and gifts.
When you think of the Christmas story, who would you list as your favorite people?
There is no question that the first favorite person would be the baby Jesus.
The tenderness and innocence of the baby Jesus draw us like a magnet to the manger and rightly so.
Of course there would be Mary, chosen by God, to give birth to the Messiah.
And then the faithfulness of Joseph also attracts us.

Do you remember the story of the little boy in Sunday school, when asked by his teacher
to draw a picture of the Nativity scene including all three of these, plus one whom
the Bible did not include.
So, the little boy took his crayons and drew an airplane with a man, lady, and baby in
the back of the plane and another man in the cockpit area.

When asked about the meaning of the picture, the boy replied,
"This is Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus on the flight to Egypt."

The teacher asked, "But who is the man in the front of the plane?"
"Oh," said the boy, "that is Pontius the Pilate."

While we might correctly omit Pilate from the birth narrative, we would err by failing to consider
the presence of the shepherds at that first Christmas.
How many of us would consider the shepherds to be important personalities
that significant night in Bethlehem?
Yet, in reality, the shepherds play special roles that may challenge us today.

By examining the roles of the shepherds in the Christmas story, we may learn some
valuable lessons about the true meaning of the Christian life.
Why does God choose the shepherds to be recipients of the angelic proclamation of the birth of Jesus?
While the shepherds are out in the field watching their flocks, the Lord's angel appears to them
to bring this exciting news.

God could just as easily have sent the angel to the political leaders of the day.
Then, they could have gathered a great envoy, along with a magnificent military escort,
to parade to the location where the mighty Saviour and Messiah had been born.
But they would be disappointed to see this baby wrapped in blankets in a place
where the animals sleep,
and to discover that the father is only a carpenter and the mother a simple peasant.
They might sneer in mock anger, much like they would years later at an illegal trial
and an immoral crucifixion.

Instead, God reveals the good news to a group of shepherds representing the
common people of the world.
If God did not choose the political giants, then why does God not choose the religious leaders?
After all, they are trained in the Scriptures, and should know all about the coming Messiah.
Surely, the religious leaders would be better vessels and messengers than the shepherds.
The lowly herdsmen did not practice the Jewish ceremonial laws, and they are looked down on
by others as being crude and unorthodox.

If the religious leaders rejected the the Messianic claims of the adult Jesus,
can you imagine how they would scoff at the possibility of a Messiah in a manger?
The religious leaders would have stated that God would never come to us in such a setting.
God chooses normal, down-to-earth people to be His agents, just as He did so many years ago
when He appeared to the shepherds.

God loves the poor and the rich; He reaches out to the common, as well as to the famous.
God reaches out to the failure as much as to the successful.
The example of the shepherds relays the wonderful reality that the saving message
of the Christmas story is for all people.
Without wasting any time, the shepherds quickly decide to go see for themselves
this great thing that had happened in Bethlehem.

In verse 17, we read that when they see Christ, they immediately begin to share with others
the good news of the birth of a Saviour.
There are no unnecessary frills or worldly distractions on this first Christmas;
the central theme of the first Christmas is Jesus Christ!
That has changed today!

Do you think if you were to ask someone the first thought they have of the Christmas season,
do you think he or she would answer, "The birth of Christ?"
I seriously doubt it!

Can you think of a greater opportunity than that of Christmas to provide the world with a witness
of the saving power of Christ?
Yet, we secularize and water down the true meaning of Christmas that a witness for Christ
becomes secondary or is not even mentioned.
Christmas presents, credit cards, Christmas trees, shopping, traffic jams, increasing
suicidal rates, theft, Santa Claus, declarations, dinners, Rudolph the red-nose reindeer, mistletoe,
family gatherings, Christmas cards, and bills creep in to take the central roles at Christmas.
And Jesus Christ is relegated to the back seat of our lives.

The story of a little boy at school defines for us how we have secularized Christmas.

A teacher had asked the class to construct a manger scene in the corner of the classroom.
They built the stable, covered the floor with hay, and filled the structure with the figures
of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men, the animals, and a tiny doll, representing the baby Jesus.

All of the children were excited about the project except one little boy, who kept looking
at the manger scene with a troubled expression.
The teacher finally asked him if something was wrong.
With childlike wisdom, the boy said: "What I'd like to know is, where does God fit in?"

We must ask ourselves that same question as we celebrate Christmas.
Where, amidst the gifts and the glitter, does God fit in?
The example of the shepherds teach us that the proclamation of the birth of the Saviour
should be central and primary at Christmas.

Christmas is stale and meaningless for many individuals.
Statistics reveal that clinical depression increases during the holiday season.
Angry motors blow their horns and swear at one another.
Impatient shoppers jostle for position and rudely shove and push their way through the crowds.
Modern-day Scrooges boycott the whole affair, seeking the confines of their homes;
they refuse to recognize the significance of Christmas.
Somehow, the beautiful freshness of the Christmas story is lost to many.

Yet, after encountering the Christ at the manger, the shepherds are glorifying and praising God
for all that they had heard and seen.
In verse 18, we read that everyone at the birth of the Messiah are filled with amazement.
At this Christmas season, may we too, be caught up in joy and amazement at the birth of the Saviour.
"Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called
Emmanuel (which means, God with us
)."
God is with us!

There could never be a more magnificent event to appropriate in our lives?
God has fully entered into human affairs in the person of Jesus Christ.
There is no wonder that all who heard the message proclaimed by the shepherds were amazed.

When we remember Whose birthday, we are celebrating at Christmas, we will also glorify and praise God.
The simple beauty of the Christmas message is being overlooked; the central character is being ignored.
Instead of celebrating the birthday of the Saviour, we worship the Christmas idols we create.
Who is birthday is it anyway?

In the fictional land of puzzling tales, where things are always a little backwards, lives an
eight-year-old named Jason.
Instead of playing football, the kids in this land play kneeball.
The children do not go to school, the teachers come into the homes.
Water would freeze in the summer, and leaves grow bountifully on the trees in the winter.

When it comes time for Jason's birthday, some unusual things happen.
When Jason's grandparents arrive to help celebrate his birthday, they go to another home
down the street and do not stop at Jason's house.
The mother makes a birthday cake and gives it to the mailman.
When all the neighborhood kids hear about the birthday, they exchange gifts with each other,
and Jason gets nothing.
While everyone in town gets birthday cards, Jason gets none.

Needless to say, Jason gets pretty frustrated, so he borrows a cheerleader's megaphone,
rides up and down the street on his bicycle and shouts: "Whose birthday is it, anyway?"

The night is so still that echoes of Jason's question bounce off the mountainsides:
"Whose birthday is it, anyway?"

And so, year by year the Christmas season replays itself.
Billions of dollars will be spent on gifts for one another.
Thousands of parties will be thrown.
Millions of miles will be traveled.

But for whom?

The example of the shepherds echoes through history to challenge us to turn our eyes upon Jesus.
As we exchange our gifts may we celebrate the greatest gift of all -- the Lord Jesus Christ!

The shepherds recognized something very special on that evening in Bethlehem so many years ago.
May the beauty of God's gift to us in the person of Jesus Christ move us to unspeakable joy and praise.
At a time when the world ignores the true meaning of Christmas, let us proclaim
the wondrous story of Jesus Christ!

"Whose birthday is it, anyway?"

Sermon by Dr. Harold L. White