Passage: Luke 2:8-20
The check-out queue at Sainsbury’s was where I had my first one this year and it was only mid-September. What am I referring to? A conversation about Christmas. Everyone seemed to be in a state of flux and the general thrust was clear, what on earth is gonna happen at Christmas? With social-distancing, the rule of six, 10.00pm curfews, no singing, mask-wearing and much more, Christmas 2020 could be quite strange to say the least. As a church many of the things that we’ve grown to know and love about Christmas are unlikely to be possible- minced pies and mulled wine, the nativity service, small group festive socials and belting out ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’. I’m not for one moment a Scrooge figure or the Grinch who hates Christmas. I absolutely love Christmas and almost everything about it, with the exception of marzipan. As things presently stand (and of course they may change) Christmas 2020 is really not the Christmas that we all want. However maybe, just maybe, it is the Christmas that we all need. Stripped of many of the trappings that we hold so dear, we may be more receptive than ever to the miracle of the incarnation, of God becoming one of us. I know it’s only October but let’s visit that great section in Luke chapter 2 where the angel visits the shepherds. A favourite passage for many of us.
The Shepherds Listen (2:8-14)
This is the third angelic appearance in Luke and each is met with human fear because God’s messengers often brought words of judgment. But these occasions are different, hence the first words of the angel- “Do not be afraid”. He has “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” You’ve got to admit it, we’re in serious need of some good news, aren’t we? There’s not a lot of joy around. So what is the good news? “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord.” Three things we’re told about the baby. Firstly we’re told what the baby has come to do- he’s a Saviour. That means we need saving, we can’t save ourselves and God loves us so much that he wants to save us. Secondly we’re told who the baby is- he is Christ. This is from the Greek title Christos equivalent of the Hebrew Messiah and it describes God’s Anointed King whose arrival had been long expected. Thirdly we’re told of the baby’s power- he is Lord. This baby is like no other as he has supreme power and authority. As with the other angelic appearances to Zechariah and Mary, a sign is given- “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Not exactly the setting anyone expected for the arrival of God’s King. Note too the personal nature of what the angel said to the Shepherds. The Saviour has been born, “to you”. Common shepherds they may have been, but the God of the universe breaks the news first to a bunch of nobodies. And as if this was not enough, the angel is joined by heavenly host praising God. A scene the shepherds would never forget.
The Shepherds Look (2:15-16)
Two things to see about the Shepherds response which we’d do well to copy. Firstly, they realise that it is God who has spoken to them. And secondly, they act upon what God had said without delay. “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off.” (v15) How easy is it for us to hear God’s Word but not believe it and not act upon it? We can be a hearer of God’s Word, but if that is all we are then it is of no good whatsoever. We have to be doers of his Word also (James 1:22). And what did the Shepherds find? They found Mary and Joseph and the baby just as the Lord had told them they would. God’s Word is the truth. We cannot go to see Jesus like the Shepherds did, but we do meet Jesus as he walks off the pages of scripture. It is when we open our Bibles that we discover who Jesus is, why he came and how we are meant to respond to him. One of the best ways to introduce others to Jesus is to give them a bible or a copy of one of the gospels and offer to read it with them. Why not give it a go? There’s nothing to lose at all.
The Shepherds Tell (2:17-20)
When we receive good news, it’s only natural to want to share it. Imagine the day when a vaccine for Covid-19 is finally developed. It will be breaking news all around the world. The shepherds here are no different but check out what Luke tells us- “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.” (v17) They didn’t talk about their angelic experience or the heavenly choir, they told people about the arrival of the Saviour, Christ the Lord. The good news of great joy is a person, and his name is Jesus. And this had a profound effect on others- “and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” (v18) Good news is just that, good news!! It will have changed the shepherds for good. Their lives would never have been the same again- “The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (v20) What was true for them is also true for us. When we meet with the Saviour, Christ the Lord our lives are never the same again either. Faith in Jesus means- sins forgiven, Christ’s righteousness credited to us, adopted into God’s family, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, obtaining eternal life, becoming a citizen of heaven, recipient of the God’s love that nothing and no-one can take from us, passed from death to life, no fear of judgment and more. That’s good news of great joy isn’t it?
What’s gonna happen at Christmas?
At a human level it’s likely to be unlike any Christmas in recent times with many of the things we associate with Christmas off limits. That’s not the Christmas we want. However, at a spiritual level it may be the Christmas we need as we marvel at the fact that God took on human flesh. He did this for a purpose, as the angel said to Joseph- “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). May I be the first to wish you therefore a very happy Christmas!