Christmas is almost here. Little ones have been waiting, anxiously waiting for the big morning to arrive. They are expecting to find some of the things…no, let’s face the facts, they are expecting to see everything under the tree they’ve asked Santa for during the past two months! Expectations realized will make for an Instagram moment for mom and dad. Unmet expectations can leave a little one wondering, while surrounded by gifts, why they didn’t get the one thing they really wanted.
It’s not just little ones who have to navigate unmet expectations at Christmas. Our society has taught us that Christmas is a happy, cheerful…well, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Right? That’s not my experience. My experience is that Christmas can be a very tough, tough time. I have friends who will experience their very first Christmas with someone missing because of death. This past Tuesday night we hosted 71 kids and their families for our Angel Tree/Bethel Christmas. Those kids are a tiny fraction of the total number of kids who will be missing their mom or dad at Christmas because they are incarcerated, some for a very long time. Divorce complicates things during the holidays doesn’t it? Who will get the kids at Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and who will get them Christmas Day? Will there be another fight like there has been in the past? Some have lost jobs and things are really tight right now. I had lunch this week with an old friend who is caring for three family members who have serious health issues going on and my friend is weary. Others have the blues, they are depressed, and seeing all of the happy, cheerful people makes them sad and bothered that they aren’t more happy about life. All of these situations I’ve just shared with you are real life situations. They aren’t a Hallmark production or an idealized expectation of what we want this Christmas. They are reality, the hard truth that life is difficult, often painful, and there is just no getting around it. It is the realities of life that can complicate things at Christmas if…if we are expecting something wonderful, magical, and marvelous.
I’m sure you’ve all seen A Charlie Brown Christmas. Charlie Brown had the same problem didn’t he? He was depressed at Christmas and it bothered him. He went to the psychiatrist for answers. Lucy tried to diagnose Charlie Brown and eventually she told him to get involved in something positive, like directing the nativity play. To make a long story short, things really went from bad to worse for Charlie Brown until finally he threw up his hands and confessed, “Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I really don’t know what Christmas is all about.” Then Charlie Brown turned his head to the heavens and yelled, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus spoke up and said, “Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” He walked over to the center of the stage and began to quote Luke 2,
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:8-14 NIVO)
“That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.” And that is still what Christmas is all about for you and for me. The real meaning of Christmas is not found in the hope of getting what we want, feeling what we want to feel, or having those we want to still be with us. The real meaning of Christmas is found in focusing on the gift that was given.
Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning. First of all, I want to set the scene for us. If you will go back to the beginning of the chapter we can see that the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, ordered that a census be taken of all of the people ruled by the Romans. Let’s read Luke 2:1-3 together.
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register. (Luke 2:1-3 NIVO)
Caesar Augustus was not his name. Caesar Augustus is really two titles combined. Caesar is a title like “king, ruler, or emperor” for the Romans. Augustus is an adjective used to describe someone. “Augustus” means honored, revered, highly esteemed, highly regarded.” This esteemed emperor’s real name, given to him at birth, was Gaius Octavius Thurinus, but folks called him Octavian. Many believe Caesar Augustus’ 41 year reign and all that he accomplished made him the greatest of the rulers of the Roman Empire.
There are some interesting things you need to know about Caesar Augustus. He claimed to have had a miraculous birth, he called himself “lord” and “savior,” and was worshiped as the “son of God.” Caesar Augustus wrote something like his memoirs which, translated into english, are called, “Deeds of the Divine Augustus.” An inscription found in the city of Pergamum reads, “The Emperor Caesar, son of god, Augustus, ruler of all land and sea.” A coin of Tiberius, Caesar Augustus’ successor, reads, “Son of the Divine Caesar, the Divine Augustus.” I could go on and on, but I’ve shared this information to let you know how powerful, how esteemed, even worshiped Caesar Augustus was by the Romans. So, when Caesar Augustus called for a census to be taken, a census would be taken of all the citizens of the Roman Empire, but is there more to the story? Let’s read Luke 2:3-5.
3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. (Luke 2:3-5 NIVO)
Because of the census, Joseph and Mary, who the King James Version says “was great with child,” she was very pregnant, had to make about an eighty mile trip to Bethlehem from Nazareth where they had been staying. If it were not for the census they would have never made the trip to Bethlehem, but it was important that Jesus be born in Bethlehem and not in Nazareth. Why? Well, it had been prophesied by Micah, some 700 years before Jesus’ birth, that a ruler would come from Bethlehem. Read it with me in Micah 5:2.
2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2 NIVO)
Can God use the Emperor of the Roman Empire to accomplish His will? Oh my friend, do you not remember that God is the King of all kings, He is the Lord of all lords, He is the Emperor of all emperors? Warren Weirsbe wrote,
Augustus Caesar was ruling, but God was in charge, for He used Caesar’s edict to move Mary and Joseph eighty miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to fulfill His Word. Rome took a census every fourteen years for both military and tax purposes, and each Jewish male had to return to the city of his fathers to record his name, occupation, property, and family. All of this occurred just as the Scriptures said, and Caesar unknowingly played an important part. (Wiersbe, Warren. The Bible Exposition Commentary)
Throughout history the Jews had been anticipating the coming of the Messiah. It wasn’t simply wishful thinking, but the promise of God. They longed for and looked for the Messiah, someone who would rescue them from their predicament and plight in life. There are so many prophecies in the Hebrew Bible about the coming of the Messiah. There were signs the people were to look for as they awaited His arrival. Generations were born and generations died longing for His coming. Then, Paul tells us, in his letter to the church in Galatia,
4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Galatians 4:4-5 NIVO)
At the right time, in the fullness of time, not a moment too soon or a split second too late, Jesus was born. The announcement wasn’t anything like you’d expect of royalty. Do you remember July 22, 2013? It was the date of William and Kate’s firstborn son’s birth, in London, England. Reporters had been camped outside of St. Mary’s Hospital in London for days awaiting the arrival of the royal baby, Prince George. When he was born the news spread like wildfire around the world. He would be third in line to the throne behind his grandfather Prince Charles and his father, Prince William. The British people spent some $300 million on royal baby-themed goods and party supplies celebrating the newborn prince’s birth. The birth announcement of Jesus wasn’t anything like that.
Luke tells us there were shepherds out in a field at night keeping watch over their flocks when an angel of the Lord appeared to them. Shepherds? Why wasn’t the announcement made in Rome? Wouldn’t you think the angel of the Lord would have gone to the Emperor or maybe the High Priest at the temple in Jerusalem? Shepherds? Seriously? You don’t have to know anything about first century shepherds to know they would not be high on the list of the powerful and influential. Nobody went to college to become a shepherd. Their work made them unclean in the eyes of the religious authorities. A shepherd’s testimony wasn’t permitted in a court of law because they were not considered trustworthy. Shepherds didn’t go to the temple very often, it at all, because they were working, taking care of their sheep and they were looked down on by others. The rabbis who put the Talmud together considered shepherds dishonest and prone to violating Jewish law. Philo, a Jewish writer, described shepherds as “mean and inglorious.” If the world had been told that an angel of the Lord was on his way to make an important announcement, no shepherd would have ever guessed that he would be the one the angel would seek out to share the news. And yet, these shepherds, out in the field at night, were the chosen ones of God. This choice of God to reveal the good news to the least of society was not an aberration, it wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime decision to include the least. It’s still the way God works with people. Paul wrote,
26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31 NIVO)
For those of you who feel forgotten, for those who have no influence, no power, possessing nothing that those in our society feel is important or desirable–you need to know your Father sees you and He has sent me to let you know that He desires you, He loves you, and He has chosen you to receive the good news, just like He chose those shepherds out in the field.
We read that the “glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” The glory of the Lord would terrify any of us my friend. I know we have become so casual about God that we speak of Him like a buddy, my homeboy, the man upstairs, but if God were to blind us with His glory like Moses on Mount Sinai, like Saul on the road to Damascus, like these shepherds, we would be terrified as well. The angel said,
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11 NIVO)
Over and over again we run into people in God’s Word who are afraid. That’s comforting to me and I hope it is to you as well. I’m not alone. I’m not the only one who has to battle fear. Abraham, Hagar, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Solomon, Jehoshaphat, Ahaz, Jeremiah, Mary, and many others found in God’s Word were afraid and yet they were told, “Do not be afraid, do not fear, I will be with you, I am with you.”
What’s really interesting is that when Luke describes the fear experienced by the shepherds he used the Greek word, “megas,” which means “large or great.” They had mega-fear. The angel said, “I bring you good news of great joy.” It’s the same word. Their mega-fear would be transformed into mega-joy and only the Lord can do that my friend. The great joy the angel came to announce was for “all the people.” Not the religiously pious, not the influential powerbrokers, not the savvy politicians, not the wealthy aristocrats, but for all people…even shepherds..and even people like you and me. The angel told the shepherds to look for the Baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger, a feed trough. Is there a feed trough fit for a King? Pastor Spurgeon wrote,
Not in marble halls, wrapped in purple and fine linen, and welcomed by the great and mighty of earth, nay, this greatest of all princes is born amid the poverty of our ordinary manhood. He is One chosen out of the people, the people’s Saviour, and a manger receives the people’s King. (Charles Spurgeon)
The God of glory born a baby resting in a feeding trough looked upon by His mother, a young Jewish girl of no significance, not a blue-blood, but a virgin who had never known a man, his adopted father Joseph, a construction worker, and a host of animals oblivious to what was taking place. It is mind-boggling, isn’t it? This is how God chose to make His entrance into our existence? This is what the shepherds were to look for that night.
As soon as the shepherds were told what to look for, Who to look for, then we read, “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying…”
14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14 NIVO)
It is vitally important that we understand that last phrase, “to men on whom his favor rests.” This is a much better translation than the KJV which says, “good will toward men.” Some have taken that to mean that God’s peace comes to those who show good will towards others. What the angels were declaring was something altogether different. Peace comes to those on whom God’s favor rests. The Christmas gift of Jesus is God’s good will, His gift to us. Who are those who have God’s favor? They are those who receive the gift of God’s reconciling love, mercy, and grace which has come to us from Jesus, His only Son. I want to share the final segment of the story with you. I wish Linus would have shared it with Charlie Brown. Turn to Luke 2:15 and let’s begin there.
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:15-18 NIVO)
Did you notice what the shepherds did once they saw the newborn King? When they had seen Him they spread the word! It’s really ironic don’t you think? Those who were barred from giving testimony in a manmade court of law were chosen by God to be the first evangelist, to give testimony of what they had seen and heard, to all of those they met. All of us who have experienced the gift of salvation, grace, mercy, forgiveness, joy, and peace that has come to us by receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives must tell others the good news.
Let me share one more thing about this unforgettable gift received by the shepherds that night in Bethlehem. Those who were undeserving, those who weren’t expecting anything, were the very ones God chose to reveal the greatest news the world has ever received. It’s still true today. For the followers of Jesus, one of the toughest challenges we face today, is to never forget what we were before Jesus came and opened our hearts and minds to our greatest need in life–God’s saving grace. And to remember that we are still being saved daily by God’s grace alone. It’s not that we were undeserving, we are still undeserving, just like everyone else. Far too many followers of Jesus become self-righteous, high-minded, and look down on our broken world with disgust instead of empathy and love. Jesus told the crowd, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” If you are a sinner in need of God’s grace I want to invite you to speak that to the Lord this very morning. Tell Him you need Him. Tell Him you believe Him–you believe that Jesus is the Promised Messiah and you want to invite Him into your heart, to be King of your life this very morning.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114