Non-Profit Internet Source for News, Events, History, & Culture of Northern Frederick & Carroll County Md./Southern Adams County Pa.

 

The Men of Christmas

Pastor Gary Buchman
Emmitsburg Community Bible Church

(12/28) The Shepherds

Introduction Ė Well, here we are, my 64th Christmas has come and gone. I hope that you had a wonderful celebration of Christmas with your family and friends. And I hope that you worshipped God for this reminder of His faithfulness, in that He sent us a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

Debbie and I want to thank you for your cards and gifts. No words can truly express our gratitude for you all and your generous care for us. So we simply say, "Thank you," with all our hearts.

So, here is our question for this morning. When your children were born, how did you let people know? Back in the day, we didnít have sonograms, or ultrasounds, and didnít know the gender of our children until they made their appearance. Perhaps the Dr. or nurse first gave congratulations and said that you have a boy or a girl. Now think for a moment, so, who did you tell and how did you tell it? How did you announce the birth of your child? Chances are that dads called the grandparents and other special people from a pay-phone. In recent years, with modern social media, in an instant, you face-booked, twitted, or insta-gramed the news with photos. Perhaps you put an announcement banner in your yard or balloons on your mail box. Maybe you sent announcement cards that people use today, to let everyone know that your child has been born. The Newspapers print the birth notices. A birth is usually a joyful occasion and too wonderful to keep silent. You must let people know.

So, who would you expect God to announcement the birth of His Son to? Wouldnít you expect Him to announce it to Kings, Emperors, Presidents, Politicians, and Priests, Prophets or other prominent people? "Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king, ĎDo you know what I know, in your palace warm mighty King.í" This is news. This is the greatest good news there has ever been.

When the Son of God was born into this world, no newspaper reported it. The family was nearly 100 miles from home with no telephone, telegraph, or internet. The people in Bethlehem were concerned about the inconvenience of their travels to pay taxes, or the locals were concerned about how to make money from those who traveled to pay taxes. No one cared that a baby had been born, except for God the Father. He wanted to announce to the world that His Son had, as a man-child, been born to Mary to be raised by Joseph. It would be another 30 years before His cousin, John the Baptizer, would proclaim His presence. But God made His announcement to two unlikely groups of men; Shepherds and Wise men.

These are the men who along with Joseph, make up the men of the Nativity scene. How many of you display Nativity scenes in your home or yards? So, typically, what makes up a Nativity Scene? Usually it includes a Stable, a Manger, some Animals, an Angel, Mary and Joseph, Baby Jesus, some Shepherds, and some Men who look like Kings, that we call, Wise men. God announced the birth of His Son to these last two groups of men. What do we know about these men and what can their stories tell us?

Consider that one group was Jewish and one was Gentile; one group was educated and one was not; one group was wealthy, the other very poor; one group was next door, the other was hundreds of miles away; one group brought gifts, the other probably did not. Next week we will look at the Wise Men but this morning, letís consider this group of Men of Christmas called Shepherds.

The Shepherds

Now, I have to tell you that God has a special place in His heart for shepherds. He once took a Prince and made Him a Shepherd so He would know how to lead a people in an Exodus from Egypt. Later he would take a Shepherd and make Him a King over is people; so says Psalm 78:70-71, "He also chose David His servant and took him from the sheepfolds from following the ewes that had young He brought him, to shepherd His people, and Israel His inheritance." Shepherds are special to our God, because He compares us to sheep and He, Himself, as a Shepherd as Psalm 23:1; Isa. 40:11 and Ez. 34. The Lord Jesus would call Himself the Good Shepherd and others would call Him the Great Shepherd.

But is that the reason for their inclusion in the Christmas story? Iím not sure. I thought that perhaps it might have been because they had a job that everybody appreciated but few wanted. Theirs was a hard and yet lonely occupation and a smelly one at that. They couldnít escape smelling like sheep. Being a shepherd in that day was similar to working on a garbage truck, or cleaning septic tanks. Everyone is grateful for those who do that but few want to do it. Shepherds were not trusted, and some say that they were not allowed to testify in court because they had the reputation that many have given to gypsies. Maybe it was because they were humble and poor working people and God is showing His favor towards the poor and lowly. Perhaps, but I believe that God sent His angels to announce the birth of His Son to these Shepherds for a different reason.

Luke 2:8 says, "Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night." These shepherds were raising sheep for a special purpose. The same country was the hills outside of Bethlehem. The flocks from this area were the ones that produced the lambs for the daily sacrifices in the temple at Jerusalem. Every morning and every evening a lamb would be sacrificed; two a day plus all the extras on the Holy days and the thousands that would be needed for Passover every year. Itís similar to the turkeys that are raised just for Thanksgiving or Christmas each year. These Shepherds constantly cared for sheep that would produce lambs that would be killed to provide a covering for manís sins. Their job was a constant reminder of the consequences of manís sinfulness and the need for blood and death in order to have forgiveness.

I wonder if they ever talked among themselves and wondered when all this sacrificing would end. I wonder if they ever felt sorrow for all the lambs that they would send off to their death. I wonder if they ever prayed and asked God when He would send the Savior into the world that all the prophets had said would come. Maybe that was on their minds when the heavens lit up with the glory of the Lord and they were terrified, as you and I would be. An angel of the Lord began his announcement as he almost always does, "Donít be afraid."

Letís look at some lessons we learn from the story of the Shepherds.

A. God wants the poor and lonely to have hope. He wants them to rest in the assurance of His love and Grace. He wants them to know that even if they never have two pennies to rub to together, they will know that God has a place for them. This baby would one day say these words. "I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. 26 Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. 27 All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. 28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matt. 11:25-30) Paul would say, 26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence. 30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from Godóand righteousness and sanctification and redemptionó 31 that, as it is written, "He who glories, let him glory in the LORD." (1 Cor. 1:26-31).

The message of the angels was that the Good news of the Messiah was for all people. God wants to extend His grace and peace to men whose hearts are open to Him. Jesus would later tell us this. "When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just." (Luke 14:12-14) The message of the Shepherds is that God cares for the poor and those whom society rejects, because of how they smell, or where they live or what they do or what they have done.

B. Our God wants people everywhere to have Great Joy (v.10), 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." Joy is something that God wants all of us to have. Jesus said that He wanted us to have His joy (John 15:11). John says that joy was one of the reasons He wrote 1 John (1:4). Now, joy may sometimes be synonymous with being happy, but it is not really the same. Happiness depends on our circumstances. Christmas may have made you very happy or unhappy depending on a gift or the actions or reactions of others. Christmas have left you depressed after all that went into it and then, in what seemed an instant it was over. But Joy is a deep inner delight that can make you smile in your hearts, no matter what happens with your circumstances. This deep inner delight is grounded in the fact that all is well between God and me. Because Jesus has come, I know I am loved, accepted, saved, and secure in my relationship with my Father in heaven. God wants us all to have this Joy. Do you have His joy?

C. God wanted to let people know they could have Peace (v. 14), "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" May I say to you that the most literal reading of this verse in the original Greek is, "Peace toward men on whom His sovereign pleasure rests." His sovereign pleasure rests on those who respond to His grace. You see God was/is extending an offer of peace to you and me in the grace gift of His Son Jesus. Paul would say in 2 Cor. 5:18, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself." We offended God, yet God reaches out to us to graciously give to us His peace and to invite us into a right relationship with Himself. All who accept His gift of salvation receive His peace. Romans 5:1 reminds us that, "Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Jesus is God reaching out to man and extending an offer of peace; Peace with God; and wanting us to know that we can have the Peace of God, peace in our minds and hearts.

Let me ask you a question. Is your heart and mind at peace? Isa 26:3 is one of my absolute favorite promises in the Bible. You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. Luke 2:14 is telling us that those who receive Godís grace receive His peace, will have joy, and know His love. And itís all gift wrapped in strips of cloth and laying in a manger. This is the gift of Christmas. Itís a gift of grace, and peace. It is the gift from God to everyone who will receive it.

D. The Lesson of the Shepherds is that this gift is to be Shared "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." 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

My friends, this is what the church should be doing every day, but especially during this Christmas season. We take for granted that Christmas is about Jesus, but the generation around us did not grow up in Church nor does it know the reason for the season. 259 million or 2/3ís of all Americans have never heard a clear gospel presentation and they are not going to church, and many who do, never hear anything about the necessity of being born again. Even if they know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, they donít know why. And if they say they know that Jesus died for our sins, they really donít know what that means or why He did that.

I encourage you to write letters. Ask acquaintances if they know the reason for Christmas. Teach your children and grandchildren every year the story of the Christ. Debbie and I bought a toy nativity set to teach our grandchildren. These men knew that the days of offering sheep was coming to an end. Because the Savior had come. Whether they understood that He would be the Lamb of God who would be sacrificed for us, is not known. But they did know that He would do what no lamb or priest could do; He would rescue them from their past, their present, and what the future would have been without a Savior. And that needed to be shouted to others.

E. The Result of Christmas is Worship (v.20) "Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them."

We donít know if they sang Psalms, prayed, danced, or how they praised God, but they did. They worshiped God for their gift. This is why we are here today. Our Songs, our readings, our time together is to worship the God who kept His promise and sent a Savior, born of a woman, to rescue us from the condemnation of our sins. Letís remember that Christmas is really about Easter. That Baby in the manger is the Lamb of God who would be slain for us, as our substitute. And then rise again to show us that He is God, our sins have indeed been paid for, and because He lives, we who follow Him will also live forever. Every Sunday ought to be a reminder of the Resurrection and how God reached down to give us a gift. Every able Christ follower should be anxious to gather with other Christ followers to shout their praise to God as often as they can. May I encourage you to take the time to worship God together as a family? Next week, we will consider the lessons of the Wise men and will conclude our series on the Men of Christmas.

Love, Joy, Grace, Peace, and Hope are all words we shared in our Christmas cards. These are the words spoken into the lives of these shepherds. Words they could not keep to themselves, nor should we.

Three closing questions.

1. Do you have His Love, His Joy, His Grace, His Peace, and/or His Hope? You can find them wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger. Jesus is Godís gift to you. But He is a gift that you have to receive personally. These men responded in faith believing what the angels revealed to them. Have you responded in faith and received Godís gift?

2. Do you know someone who needs love, joy, grace, peace, and/or hope? You may be surprised to know that even if they go to church, they donít know the real meaning or the real story of Christmas. Would you write a letter, pick up the phone or make a visit and ask to share it with them as your wish for their new year.

3. Do you come each week to worship? Do you look forward to Sundayís, singing and praising God with others each week? Maybe today is a day of renewal; a day to remember that your hope is all because Jesus came into your world. Would you re-commit to worshipping God with your life. It is the one thing God wants the most from you this Christmas season.

Letís Pray about it.

If this life lesson has challenged, encouraged or helped you, let me know, or if you have any questions, write to me at pastorgarybuchman@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you. (p.s. I wonít put you on a mailing list or ask you for money). It would encourage me to know that you were encouraged.

Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman