Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, IA
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And 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 among those with whom he is pleased!” 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. 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. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:1–20, ESV)
(from a sermon by Rev. David Schmitt, Voices from the Edge)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The heavens were opened and the angelic host peered down upon the earth in wonder and excitement. They sang the song of God's glory to the shepherds and to the whole earth. The heavens weren't opened up so the shepherds could see the Angels. The heavens were opened up so the Angels could see the glory of God in Jesus Christ, born in a stable and Bethlehem, and to direct the shepherds attention there. "Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all people." God is filling the world with great joy that comes from sins forgiven, death defeated, life forever with God. In this is a joy for all people. And it comes today, in a baby, and Bethlehem. And it comes in his life, death, and resurrection. It comes as God saves you from sin, death and the power of Satan.
One of the very strange things about this account of God's glory at the birth of Jesus Christ is the fact that it was first announced shepherds. Why would the Angels make the announcement to shepherds?
See that clearly we need to remember that in Palestine in those days there were two kinds of shepherds. There are shepherds who were peasants. They lived in villages. In the morning they would take their flocks out to the pastures around to feed them. And at night they would gather them together and bring them back to the fold. Jesus parable about the lost sheep in the shepherd that goes out to find it is about this kind of Shepherd. When he finds that he brings it home and calls his friends to rejoice. This is a peasant shepherd who lived in a village. He had a home to return to friends to rejoice with.
The other kind of shepherds were nomadic. They didn't have a home. They wandered about the countryside from place to place looking for green grass to feed their sheep. They were mistrusted by people because they didn't have a permanent home. They were considered liars and thieves and con artists. They could do and say whatever they wanted and miss the consequences because they would move on to a new village. They were not allowed to testify in court. These are the kind of shepherds that would be out in the fields "by night". Why is this important?
Caesar Augustus commanded that the world be counted. A census needed to be taken. People had to go to their cities of origin. That's why Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem. Joseph was of the house and lineage of David. Census didn't include nomadic people, like nomadic shepherds. They were not important enough to count. They had no family and bloodlines. There are not numbered among the Roman people or the Jewish people. The Angels appeared to them. God was counting them. He was saying even these kind of people were important to him. The joy of Jesus Christ born in the stable is not just for people count but for all.
It's easy for us to forget that God's joy is for all people. In fact our culture pushes us to isolate God's joy at Christmas to Christians. Everyone else celebrates the holidays with lights and gifts and cards in the joy of being together. But not Christmas joy that comes from a Savior born, crucified, and reason.
We are here to celebrate the real joy and reason for Christmas. And yet I have heard about churches who don't have services on Christmas morning. In fact back in 2005 Willow Creek in Chicago and Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids and first Baptist Church in Atlanta and fellowship church in Dallas all decided not to have Christmas Day services. The reporters had a field day with these mega-churches because it look like they canceled Christmas. Pastor at Willow Creek explained in an interview, "We don't see it as not having church on Christmas. We see it as decentralizing the church on Christmas, hundreds of thousands of experiences going on around Christmas trees. The best way to honor the birth of Jesus is for families to have a more personal experience on that day." (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2005-12-06/news/0512060228_1_christmas-eve-mars-hill-bible-churchevangelical-
churches, accessed August 12, 2012.) One thing these churches are doing is mistaking the kingdom of God with the American nuclear family. Isolating the joy of Christmas in that context. They wanted to help families have "a more personal experience that day". But actually they made matters worse. There were many people who have no family with which to celebrate Christmas. And by not having church they took away their opportunity to celebrate Christmas with God's family. Don't even think about not ask me to have church on Christmas day.
Sometimes we take the joy out of Christmas with our own expectations. We have hopes of a wonderful Christmas they are not always fulfilled. Christmas has way bringing back memories. Memories of what it was like as a child. And Christmas has a way of bringing out hope. Hope for a better future. We know what we want for our children and our grandchildren are friends and even ourselves. But the world as it is, broken, full of sin, often prevents our dreams from being fulfilled. It happens in our families. It happens in our lives. Sin tears everything apart. It tears apart our relationships with arguments. It tears apart our lives sickness and death.
God is the one who speaks to us the account of what happened on Christmas. We hear the voice of the Angels. God sent them to proclaim the good news of the Savior. And who did God send them to. There were important people gathered together, people who counted. God appeared to the ones that didn't count. He saying no one should be overlooked.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, ESV)
God sent his Son to takes upon himself human flesh. And in that human flesh God carries all of our human suffering. He dies under the just judgment and punishment of sin as he hangs on the cross for sake and by God. And most important he rises from the dead. Jesus Christ proves who we is, God and man together, in his resurrection. And he proves that the joy of Christmas is well-founded. He rises from the dead and shows he has power over everything, even death. And it Christmas God announces this Good News of the forgiveness of sin to people who didn't count, shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. The joy of Christmas was for shepherds in the field. The joy of Christmas is for you. God brings forgiveness through Jesus Christ to every person, every family, every county, every state, every country, in fact the world.
It doesn't matter if there's a death in your family, a divorce, the loss of a job, or insecurity about the future. God has brought you to this place to hear the good news, the voice of the Angels.
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.