(You may listen in full to this sermon which was preached on Sunday, December 23, 2007, at the Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY.)
Given the time of year, we are inundated with lists. Men of the Year, Women of the Year, Comebacks of the Year, etc. One of the most intriguing lists to come out is the quotes of the year. With issue with Don Imus and his racial slur, the proliferation of quotes from the presidential debates, and really just the din of commentary from 24-hour news networks — there was a lot to choose from. The winner? The University of Florida student named Andrew Meyer who tried to speak up during an address of a U.S. Senator. The security guards then tazed him. His quote, “Don’t taze me, bro!” That small quote shot all over the place like crazy. Fred Shapiro noted, “Meyer’s quote was a symbol of pop culture success. Within two days it was one of the most popular phrases on Google and one of the most viewed videos. It also showed up on ringtones and T-shirts.”
We tend to take for granted how fast information is spread. And we take for granted the ones who spread it. With the Internet, with CNN and FoxNews, with even the antiquated inventions such as the radio and telephone, information passes quickly and in many different ways. And even with the information that passes, before we look to see whether we believe the information, we look to the credibility of the ones passing the information along right?
So when we read through this and see exactly who these first ‘good news tellers’ (also known as missionaries) were, we would be skeptical if we lived during that time, not knowing how the story would end. Yet, when Christ makes himself known, he does so in ways that no one else can conceive of, and in ways that no one else could get the glory. By coming in such humble means through a poor humble young virgin and by using such outcasts on the outskirts of the city — and even so we’re still celebrating this holiday (holy day) 2,000 years later. Why? It is because of one of two reasons: either we are a group of unintellectual rubes who hang on to fairy tales as a crutch, or there is enough substance and significance that we can hang on to this great story and event with every confidence in the world.
1. When Christ makes Himself known, we must go and see (Luke 2:15-16)!
When the shepherds heard the Word of the Lord through the angels, how did they respond? Did they go and pray about what they had heard to see what they should do next? Did they go and talk to the scholars and the priests to make sure they had it right?
They could well have reacted like Scrooge did in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol when the ghost of Jacob Marley visited Scrooge in his home. Scrooge, a very cynical and practical man, found himself (as one would imagine) very surprised. After Scrooge asked Marley to sit in a chair (which he did), Marley replied, “You don’t believe in me.” “I don’t,” said Scrooge.
“What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your senses? … Why do you doubt your senses?”
Scrooge replied, “Because a little thing affects them. A slight order of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!” If you know this story, you realize that Marley was real — but Scrooge needed double-convincing that this supernatural event actually took place!
In our culture, we are very much in danger of these things. Some of the issues that come up are very spiritual (we must pray about this! We must go and confirm this with the pastors and scholars) or very secular (Bah! Humbug on anything supernatural — there must be some other explanation!). Each of us has different lenses through which we look at the world — and that tends to color our reactions.
Yet these shepherds — these outcasts of society; these smelly, dirty, unkempt, earthy shepherds — were told from the angelic choir itself about an event which happened over on the outskirts of Bethlehem. What was their reaction?
Luke 2:15-16 again says,
“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.”
Their reaction may seem very unspiritual to us — they didn’t think, they didn’t pray, they didn’t ponder — they just reacted with excitement. Much like we would react when a child is born into our family, or when someone is engaged, or … as is the case with some folks at school … when they find out they passed a test and are graduating.
Only more so. These shepherds likely did not receive a kind word from anyone. And yet, they received a good word — Good News — not just from anyone on earth, but from God Himself who made the greatest event ever known first to them. They couldn’t wait.
2. When Christ makes Himself known, we must go and tell (Luke 2:17-18)!
In Luke 2:17-18, says, “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.”
We tend to focus a lot on how surprised the shepherds were, and for good reasons. When the angels arrived on the scene, the shepherds were “very afraid.” Yet, do you think that Mary and Joseph were afraid when the shepherds showed up hastily on the scene. Mothers are very protective of their newborns. I’m sure they had already been through quite a bit just to get to this particular point. This company showing up unexpectedly, I’m sure, was met with some bit of concern.
So naturally, the shepherds felt a duel need to explain themselves. First, to possibly disarm (emotionally, that is) a protective father from harming his son. Yet, they had to speak these things not simply for their protection but also because of their desire to see what the angels were speaking of!
Over the next few weeks, there were be football a-plenty. As you watch the games, you will notice certain groups of people in the game. You will see the players, you will see the spectators, and you will see the commentators. There is a game taking place on the field. Tackles are made, blocks are executed, passes are thrown, and touchdowns and field goals are scored. The crowd in the stadium and at home are there watching what is going on — either cheering or booing what happened. Yet the commentators are there explaining each play, each block, each move executed. Their job is not simply to watch, but to tell what is going on!
What about us? Are we spectators or commentators? And if we comment, is it only when the company is safe, or are we like the disciples when they went before the judge, accused of stirring up the crowd with the message of Jesus. When they were ordered to speak no longer about him, Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20, ESV). Have you asked God to give you the courage to go and tell? You’ve seen in part what he’s accomplished. Don’t be a spectator simply watching the action, tell us all about it!
3. When Christ makes Himself known, we must go and ponder (Luke 2:18-19)!
In Luke 2:18-19, we read, “And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
When we look at Mary, we see what a discerning and meditative heart she had in soaking in all that transpired in her and before her. When the angel first approached her with a greeting, her first reaction was that “she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29). Later, when the 12-year-old Jesus stayed behind at the Temple to talk to the religious leaders, and his inquiring parents asked him what he was doing, with him responding how he must be about his father’s business — Luke tells us that “his mother treasure up all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51).
Mary takes time for this as well when the shepherds arrive. While everyone else was wondering, Mary was treasuring these things and pondering them in her heart. Is there a difference between wondering and pondering? To wonder about something means “a cause of astonishment or admiration”. To ponder means to weigh in the mind, to think about and reflect on a matter. While the differences may seem slight, they are there nonetheless.
We tend to like admiring things based on simple external things. Many may attend church based on external things — great music, pleasing aesthetics in the architecture, a warm and welcoming atmosphere, even to the point of a pleasant temperature. Even with preaching, many times it doesn’t matter what’s said, just so long as what is said is brief, the speaker is well-dressed and in the ballpark of articulate.
There is great value however in looking deeper, pondering, treasuring up all the things we see. You see, Mary didn’t simply admire what was happening. The danger would be for her to simply admire what was happening then forget when the shepherds left. Mary treasured these things up on the shelves of her heart for her to pull down and recall and remember when necessary. And would they ever be necessary as she would watch her Son die. She would have never been able to process such a despicable acts (at least as far as the world was concerned) unless she took time to ponder the lessons God taught her in life.
When we think of meditating, it is not like that of the monks centuries ago who sought to remove themselves from life — but is rooted in life. Paul notes in Philippians 4:8-9:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Christmas is an exciting and special time, regardless of your background. The truth is, many people are more apt to include certain religious celebrations in their Christmas plans.
4. When Christ makes Himself known, we must go and glory (Luke 2:20)!
While Mary was pondering and treasuring all that God was accomplishing before her, what did the shepherds do? Luke 2:20 says, “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”
We will not stay in this place for very much longer today. In fact, we live in a culture where the average church service lasts about an hour. Whereas the last point dealt with much on how we deal with what’s going on here, this last issue deals with what we will do when we leave.
The shepherds returned back to where they were, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. To glorify means to see and know the attributes of God and to speak about them.
But the shepherds “returned back.” Where did they return? They went back home. Home. Home is a place where many love, but it’s also a place where many struggle. You see, I have been a youth pastor long enough, and was a youth long enough, and have been on enough missions trips to realize the euphoria and the spiritual-centeredness on these trips, and conferences, and events. The hardest part of the trip was not going — it would be coming back home. Back to the trappings of the culture, back to the temptations and distractions that would take me away from God, back to the people who cannot relate to what God may have done — and even feel the need to bring us “back down to reality.”
The shepherds had to return home. While we do not know what happened to them after they returned home — but we know they returned the right way. They had seen it, they remembered what was told to them.
M.R. DeHaan, founder and longtime host of the Radio Bible Class wrote a poem which touches at the heart of this time of year:
What’s all this hectic rush and worry?
Where go these crowds who run and curry?
Why all the lights — the Christmas trees?
The jolly “fat man,” tell me please!
Why, don’t you know? This is the day
For parties and for fun and play;
Why this is Christmas!
So this is Christmas, do you say?
But where is Christ this Christmas day?
Has He been lost among the throng?
His voice drowned out by empty song?
No. He’s not here — you’ll find Him where
Some humble soul now kneels in prayer,
Who knows the Christ of Christmas.
But see the many aimless thousands
Who gather on this Christmas Day,
Whose hearts have never yet been opened,
Or said to Him, “Come in to stay.”
In countless homes the candles burning,
In countless hearts expectant yearning
For gifts and presents, food and fun,
And laughter till the day is done.
But not a tear of grief or sorrow
For Him so poor He had to borrow
A crib, a colt, a boat, a bed
Where He could lay His weary head.
I’m tired of all this empty celebration,
Of feasting, drinking, recreation;
I’ll go instead to Calvary.
And there I’ll kneel with those who know
The meaning of that manger low,
And find the Christ — this Christmas.
I leap by faith across the years
To that great day when He appears
The second time, to rule and reign,
To end all sorrow, death, and pain.
In endless bliss we then shall dwell
With Him who saved our souls from hell,
And worship Christ — not Christmas!
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