by Dr. Joe McKeever
"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night."
Have you ever wondered what those shepherds and their flocks were doing outside in the open in the dead of night? How many sermons have we heard over the years describing how shepherds put their sheep inside the shelter at night, and then lay down across the door opening, giving illustration to our Lord's teaching that "I am the door of the sheep." (John 10)
Some writers say shepherds in that part of the world kept their sheep outside from March through November. Maybe that's the reason. I wonder.
Have you ever wondered if there were other shepherds in nearby fields at the same time? And why only these shepherds were chosen as the earthly audience for the very first Christmas pageant ever, and this one the standard by which to judge all the succeeding ones?
Is it because only these shepherds were available? We do know that God puts a high prize on availability, more than on ability itself.
Were these shepherds the only people available?
"And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid."
I guess they were afraid. I would have been frightened out of my wits.
Have you ever wondered what that scene looked like? And if other people in other fields could see this heavenly vision? Would they have seen a bright light in the sky coming from the acreage these particular shepherds had staked out? Or would they have seen nothing at all, even had they been nearby?
"And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not. For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.'
Fear not. Oh yeah. Easy for you to say, angel.
Have you ever wondered about those words which seemed to fall from the mouth of every angel in Old and New Testament days? When the heavenly invaded the earthly, suddenly and without warning, did it paralyze everyone within view? Did their minds freeze up? Were they panicked? Did their hearts race?
Have you ever wondered about these opening words from the angel: "Good news of great joy." Was this the very first use of the word 'euangelion' which came to mean the message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ?
Have you ever wondered about the mega-joy which the angel promised? "Mega" is the Greek word for "great," and even without a knowledge of that language, every person in this culture knows the meaning of that word. One has to wonder if we who follow the Lord Jesus are experiencing that level of joy which Christ came to bring and the angel announced.
Have you ever wondered why it took the Lord's followers so long to believe that this message was "for all people"? No matter what we have said we believe, we have often lived in such a way that implies we think the good news of mega-joy about Jesus was for "people like us."
"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
Have you ever wondered why Bethlehem is called the city of David when just 5 miles up the road lay Jerusalem, David's capital city, also known as the City of David? The shepherds had no doubt about which one the angel meant.
More importantly, have you ever wondered why people who dislike any talk about "being saved" post these very words about the birth of the Savior on Christmas cards at this season and send them across the world? How can one be a Savior if no one needs to be saved? Why, even Mary sang about God being her Savior (Luke 1:47).
What is it about salvation that frightens people and turns them off? We applaud rescuers in our own day who go into burning buildings and bring out frightened children. We honor first-responders who battle floodwaters to save people stranded on rooftops or floating on debris.
Why would anyone have an aversion to being rescued? Why would we not love to declare everywhere that "the Lord saves"? In addition to being the point the angel made, it happens to be the very meaning of Jesus' name.
"And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."
Have you ever wondered how at no time did the angel instruct the shepherds to actually go into Bethlehem? He, the angel, just automatically assumed that if they knew where the Christ-child could be found, they would drop what they were doing and seek Him out. It apparently was a valid assumption. We have to wonder if that would hold true today. If people know where Jesus can be found, will they automatically stop and find Him?
Were the shepherds smarter than we?
"Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men with whom He is pleased.'"
Have you ever wondered if the angels sang? The record says they "said," and does not actually mention singing. My friend, worship-music professor Ken Gabrielse says singing is rhythmic speech projected according to established patterns, so perhaps we should not quibble over the distinction.
Have you ever wondered how the heavenly chorus felt about such a pitiful audience that night? "You mean we went to all this trouble for this? Came all this distance for them? What happened? Who was in charge of the gate?"
Have you ever wondered about the "peace on earth" business? The Christmas card industry loves that expression. Later, Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth; I did not come to bring peace but a sword." (Matthew 10:34) In context, He was preparing the disciples to expect opposition and division as people heard and responded to the gospel. They would see families torn asunder as some chose to follow Christ and others vehemently opposed Him. The "but a sword" line was not meant literally, but as a metaphor for spiritual warfare.
We're told by those who study these things that the angels' expression "peace on earth, good will to men" should be better interpreted as "peace on earth among men characterized by good will." God's favor rests upon those who accept His gift of salvation.
Even so, wouldn't it pass muster for us to simply assert that the angels were declaring God to be "for" them? Later on, the Apostle Paul would build the massive eighth chapter of Romans around the assertion that "Since God is for us"(Romans 8:31).
So many people then and now live in fear of anything supernatural that perhaps the angels just wanted humanity to know Heaven is on our side, and God is doing something about Earth's self-destructive and headlong downward plunge toward hell. In Jesus Christ, God was bringing peace. In Christ, God was showing His favor to man. Maybe it was that simple and we needn't split hairs over what the angels sang. If they sang.
"And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us now go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord has made known unto us.' And they came with haste...."
Have you ever wondered if they left the sheep unguarded? Writers with too much time on their hands have fantasized that the shepherds left the youngest of their group on duty and theorized on what might have happened then. They must have left someone with the sheep, they assert, otherwise they would have gotten in trouble by deserting their posts.
Have you ever wondered if those who say such things really know what it is to meet the Lord? After being overpowered by such a Heavenly display, after receiving such an earth-shattering announcement, how could anyone care about lesser things! There is a time to watch the sheep and a time to walk off the job! In fact, we see that very thing happen in Mark 2:14. "As Jesus passed by, He saw Levi...sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, 'Follow me!' And he got up and followed Him."
We are told that the shepherding business was the lowest rung on the career ladder, that shepherds were lowly esteemed and poorly paid, that they tended to be dishonest, to float from job to job, and not to be accepted as trustworthy witnesses in courts of law. And yet, these particular shepherds impress us by having been chosen by the Lord as eyewitnesses and as possessing the basic intelligence to process what they saw and heard. They did not need an invitation to the stable or instructions to drop what they were doing and go there; the clue as to how to recognize the Christ-Child once they arrived was quite enough.
"They came with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child."
Have you ever wondered why God chose for His Son to be born in a stable and laid in a feed-trough? Is this too because they were the only things available?
Have you ever wondered if God chose a stable because everyone would be welcome there, no one needed an invitation, and that He did that as a message to mankind?
"And all they who heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds."
Have you ever wondered about "all they who heard it," why they didn't head down to the stable and see for themselves? Were they content only to hear, but not know for themselves?
In the same way, we read in Matthew 2 of the Easterners who showed up in Jerusalem asking, "Where is He who is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him." King Herod summoned his advisers and was told that the Old Testament prophet Micah had predicted the Messiah's birth at Bethlehem. The Magi thanked the king and walked away, making the final five miles on their lengthy trek to find the Christ-Child.
But what we wonder is why none of the others in Herod's palace came, too? History supplies no more details and no answers for that question.
Is this all about paying attention to the Lord and being available for His purposes? Of receiving what He sends and having the good sense to get up and come to Him?
Luke tells us the people who heard the shepherds' report "wondered at those things." We find this so strange, that they were so close to the greatest event in the history of the universe but rather than dropping what they were doing and seeing for themselves, they were content to "wonder."
We wonder, too.
We wonder about this characteristic in ourselves that is content to be religious without knowing Jesus Christ personally, that is satisfied with being near those who do know Him without getting up and coming to Him ourselves.
This year, this season, today--let us end the small tasks which distract us from knowing and worshiping and serving the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Let us come to Him and bow before Him and give Him our hearts and very lives. For now and for all time.
[Editor's Note: Dr. Joe McKeever is a Preacher, Cartoonist, and retired Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. http://www.joemckeever.com/mt/ ]
The Nativity of Christ - Christmas Day - What Can We Learn From the ICON?
This is not only the icon of the Birth of Christ, it is also the icon of the Burial and the Resurrection of Christ. The present and the future come together here. The swaddling clothes resemble the burial shroud, the cave resembles the tomb, from where Christ rose.
Millions of people in this world do not know the reason, the reality, or the result of the First Christmas when God's Son, our Savior, arrived on this planet at a stable in Bethlehem. They do not know Jesus.
Christmas - Here It Comes Again Right On Schedule!
One of the reasons the Luke 2 passage is so well-loved is that it nails down the time-frame when these things occurred. The birth of Jesus Christ is historical, it is factual, it is well-documented and reliable. It occurred at a real place in real time.
Malankara World Christmas Supplement
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