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Well, good morning to all of you, and I want to say Merry Christmas. Once again it’s a joy to say that to you as we’re entering into Advent season. Also would like to dispel some speculation. A few weeks ago Dr. Jim Newheiser from RTS preached and many people have come up to me and said, “Are you two related? Are you his son? Are you his long lost son?” And the answer is no, although I do have to tell you someone stopped Fritz Menchinger and I said “If you take Fritz and Derek and put them together, you get Jim Newheiser.” [laughter] To which Fritz responded, “Well, Jim Newheiser is one good-looking guy.” [laughter] Fritz said that, I didn’t. Be careful what you say around me, you might get outed in front of the congregation. Sorry, Fritz.
Well, have you ever had a strange knock at the door? I mean, one where it’s late at night and you’re not expecting a visitor? A few years ago my wife and I were lying in bed about 11:30 p.m. and we were startled from our sleep. Someone was at our front door just pounding on the door. And I sprung from the bed and ran to the window and looked out and I saw a police car in the road there and so I started down the stairs and there was a flashlight. Our house was just pitch black. There was a light shining in the window, and I looked out that window and saw a police officer and so I opened the door. Now, if you can just get this in your mind, I’m in full, full-on pajama gear. Okay? Full on pajamas, bed head, the whole nine years, and so I open the door and the police officer asked me very pointedly “Are you the one playing the drums?” [laughter] And I thought “Do I look like I’m playing drums right now?” [laughter]
Now my neighbor at the time would on occasion retreat to his shed in his backyard. He set up this large drum set and he would discover the fountain of youth playing his favorite hit music from the 1980s and he chose to do it at 11:30 p.m., which in turn summoned the police to our house, and so there you have it. The strange knock at the door.
Maybe it wasn’t a police officer for you. Perhaps it was just a stranger at the door. Perhaps it was a neighbor who came unexpectedly. Your house is not ready, it’s not kempt, and there they are. Whatever the case, I think we’d all agree that there is nothing worse than the arrival of an unwelcome guest at your front door.
This Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent and our passage this morning is Luke, chapter 2, verses 8 through 20. Now the word “advent” means arrival or coming. And Advent gives us an occasion, an occasion to turn our attention more fully to the incarnation of our Lord. The incarnation refers to the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ taking on flesh, becoming a man, to enter this world, to save us from our sins, the God-Man, the Messiah, our savior.
So why should you give attention to the incarnation? It’s a big word. Seems kind of complicated, God becoming man. Why not just stick with Christmas parties, Christmas lights, Christmas music, Christmas sweaters, and just put baby Jesus somewhere in the middle of all that? Why should you give your attention to the incarnation?
Maybe it seems like a distant topic to you, but let me offer, just by way of introduction, a couple of thoughts as to why.
If you are looking for what separates Christianity from every other world religion, the incarnation is a good place to start. If your impression of God is one of a distant deity, one that you must appease by your own devout performances, the incarnation is a good place to start. If you feel far from God, if you feel hopeless, if you feel comfortless, if your heart is cold or indifferent, the incarnation is a good place to start.
There is nothing magical about this time of year. December 25 is not any more special than any other day. But there is a unique opportunity for God to warm the coldness of our hearts in the fires of the truth of the incarnation during this time.
Now I don’t so much have an outline or practical points that I want to impress upon you this morning, but what I would like to do is press you into a deeper consideration of the incarnation, even as we come to the table. I want us to observe the news of the incarnation, and observe the people before us in this text, how they move from fear to faith, from sadness to joy, from darkness to light, from having nothing to treasure to having everything. The incarnation received moves you in these areas.
So let’s read Luke chapter 2, verses 8 through 20. Hear the word of the Lord.
“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 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.”
Let us pray. Father in heaven, how we would be as these shepherds, glorifying and praising You over the good news of the Gospel. And so we pray now that Your Word would go forth, that it would open hearts and open minds and that we would be enabled to receive who You are in Christ for us. And we ask this prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well, many of you have been raised in church and so this is a familiar scene in verses 8 and 9. It begins with the divine visitation to the shepherds. And perhaps you wondered why shepherds. Why this appearance to shepherds? It seems like an unlikely audience. Not priests, not pastors, but shepherds. Ordinary people. We might say blue-collar people. What’s more blue collar than just tending a flock of sheep. There they are, ordinary people, and there’s a divine visitation to them. Why, why shepherds?
Shepherds had a significant place in the history of Israel going all the way back to Abraham and Joseph and his brothers. Israel was a nation of shepherds. And this occupation, which was seen as detestable by pagan societies, and was even in this context of a seemingly lower spiritual and social class in this time, it still occupied a prize place in Israel’s history.
King David was a shepherd. He was tending his father’s flock in Bethlehem when he was called to deliver Israel from oppression from its enemies.
In Micah 5, we have a prophecy about the coming of the Messiah. Not only that he would come out of Bethlehem, it’s a familiar passage, Micah 5:2, you’ve probably heard it many times. But if you read on, the Messiah is pictured as a shepherd, a shepherd-ruler who attend His flock, bringing peace and spreading His greatness to the ends of the earth, the shepherd-ruler.
So it’s both proper and it’s provocative that shepherds would have been chosen to proclaim the good news of the Gospel. The good Shepherd, born to everyday shepherds, who will now bear the news of the Gospel. It’s a striking start to this passage in Luke.
Well, it doesn’t appear to be good news at first, right? They’re going about the business, their business of an ordinary day and all of a sudden the sky erupts.
Now think about it. I don’t know how many of you have been before a night sky. We have a family farm in Illinois and we will go up there in the summertime, and the first time I went there I wasn’t used to being in a night sky with no lights around. And as I looked up and I gazed at the stars and saw all the activity that was going on, I thought “wow, there’s a lot going on in the heavens that I’m missing.” And I had the sense of wonder, but also of feeling quite small, quite finite, underneath the expanse of that sky.
Now think about that, and the sky erupting all of a sudden. You’ve probably been walking before around, maybe around the Fourth of July, and all of a sudden there’s fireworks booming off in the sky, the suddenness of that startles you.
These shepherds had the night sky erupt before them. And what is their response? What does it say in verse 9? They’re very afraid. The Greek word here that we have for the fear that they felt is the word for phobia. They were terrified. It’s the kind of fear that you, you feel when you want to run away. It’s the fear that puts you to flight. Makes you want to run. Something catches them off guard.
And what is the source of this fear? An angel of the Lord appears to them and the glory of God shines around them.
Now the glory of the Lord is often synonymous with God’s presence in the Old Testament. God’s act of, of self-disclosure in miraculous ways. You think of Him showing His glory to, to Moses, or appearing to prophets like Isaiah in the temple.
It was a terrifying thing, God’s glory, that would leave men trembling.
And you remember Isaiah, beholding God’s glory and saying “Woe unto me, I am undone.” God’s glory undoes us.
In the fear of the shepherds we see something very powerful about the natural condition of every man. We are finite. Not only are we finite, but we are sinners, too. The glory of God puts man to flight. Man in his natural condition is afraid of God.
But look at verse 10, look at what the angel says in verse 10: “The angel said to them ‘Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.'” The angel says do not be afraid, and it’s significant that the Gospel proclamation begins with these words: “Fear not.” And Gabriel says the same thing to Zechariah, to Joseph, and to Mary: Fear not, fear not, fear not. A constant refrain of the Gospel: Fear not. You even see it with Christ and His disciples. The proclamation of the Gospel: Fear not.
In the Gospel, God bids our fears to depart. He bids our fears to leave us.
The angel says “I bring you good news, of great joy for all people.” You wonder what does it mean for all people? For all people, that means for all races, for all people throughout time. “I bring you good news of great joy” and the word here for “joy” means delight that comes from the awareness of favor. The good news of what? The good news of God’s favor.
How? Look at verse 11. It says “for unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior who is Christ the Lord.” He says a savior, a messiah, is born to them, who is Christ. Christ is a translation of the Hebrew “messiah,” meaning “anointed one.” In the Old Testament, that was known as the One who would deliver Israel.
And the word “savior” also stands out against the backdrop of the Old Testament. You heard it in Habakkuk 3 when we read it earlier: “I will rejoice in God, my salvation. I will rejoice in God, my savior.” We see the word “savior” in Habakkuk being applied to Yahweh.
And Mary, in Luke chapter 1, repeats this liturgy at the news of her being pregnant with child. Listen to verse 47. She says “my soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”
And here Luke uses this same word of “savior” applied to Yahweh and applies it to Christ, to the baby wrapped up in swaddling cloths. And the message is clear: The savior is none other than God Himself in the manger, come for His people.
Well, verses 13 and 14 continue this, this fireworks display before the shepherds. It says a great heavenly host appeared with the angels, praising God. It was this cosmic display of rejoicing. And many scholars believe that this was simply angelic song before these men, praising God, a cosmic display with cosmic implications.
But note what they say in verse 14. Their praise is one of heaven and earth rejoicing together in this great announcement. We see here that the glory of God and the peace of earth come together in perfect harmony at the news of the incarnation.
Look at the latter part of verse 14. It says all wonderful news. But does it say? It says “peace among those with whom He is pleased.” The message of salvation, the message of peace, the message of joy, is not some vague general message of God’s favor, but it’s a particular message to a particular people, to those who receive the Christ, those on whom God’s favor rests.
Well, how do you know that God’s favor rests upon you? Well, let’s look at those on whom God’s favor rests. In verse 15, what do the shepherds say? They say “let us go and see that which the Lord has made known to us.” They take all of this to heart. They’ve seen angels, they’ve heard the message that a savior is born to them. They’ve heard, they’ve heard the good news.
And so many of us, because we’ve been in church week after week, we hear the good news and perhaps you’re hearing it yet once again, and this is all something familiar to you, and it’s in your mind and you might say “How does it move from my mind to my heart? I can’t seem to get it there, it just stays there.”
Well, let’s look at these shepherds. What do they do? They not only hear the good news, they not only have it proclaimed to them, but they, they respond. They get up. And they go with urgency to Bethlehem. Now that might seem insignificant to you, but you think about this way—it’s a long way to Bethlehem. A long walk. And they have jobs. And you imagine someone might say “well, who, who’s going to tend the sheep? You just leave the sheep here by themselves? What are they gonna? You can’t just get up and leave your jobs. You can’t just get up and go.” But that’s exactly what they do. Why did they do that? Why do they interrupt their lives? These men know that they need a shepherd-ruler, they need a savior, they need a messiah. They interrupt their lives, they shift their schedules, they reorder things… Why do they do that? In order to see for themselves what they have heard, in order to see for themselves what they have heard. The message sends them seeking. They want to see, they want to look and see. And wanting to see, they find it all to be true. They find everything just as the angel has told them.
Look at verses 16 through 18: “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.”
Now you think about it. They go and see and they had this wonderful confirmation, this appearance in the sky, and what do they do? They go and they behold Christ there, and everything is as it should be. Everything is as it was told to them. There’s this wonderful scene of confirmation. God’s miraculous act of self-disclosure. If we could say it this way: God’s miraculous act of self-disclosure, His glory seen in the heavens, comes to rest fully and finally in the face of His Son.
As John would later say of the incarnation, John 1:14, the word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and only Son who came from the Father, full of grace, and full of truth.
These shepherds go to Bethlehem and they’re beholding the glory of Christ.
And now it’s here that Luke zooms in on Mary. Look at verse 19: “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
If you could just go there in your imagination. The words of Gabriel echoing to Mary, the words of an angel to Joseph, and what these shepherds are saying now… All of this coming together. She’s walking around, she’s pondering these things in her heart, putting it all together, everything that’s been said to her, finding it to be true. Treasuring she finds it to be true, pondering she finds it to be true, mulling these things over in her heart. She treasures this news. She hides it. She clings to this message in prayerful contemplation.
What do the shepherds do? Look at verse 20. “And the shepherds returned, glorifying God and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, as it had been old them.”
So you have Mary treasuring, you have Mary pondering. You have the shepherds glorifying and praising God. They’re filled with joy.
Now think about this: These people, they have nothing. They cannot put one thing underneath the Christmas tree. Not one thing. But they have a treasure.
I think these verses are a good medicine for us as we begin this season of Advent. We who live in 2018. Because there is a sense of urgency. There’s a sense of urgency not too frantically go get things done, but there’s a sense of urgency to go and look and see for themselves. They want to see Christ. They hear the news, and they act on the message. They go to see Him.
This passage tells us that we receive the news of the incarnation not merely as information, but as revelation, to ponder and to treasure. And that revelation comes to rest on them.
So I wonder what about you this morning? How do you receive the news of the incarnation of Christ? Is it information added to a number of other things? Is Christ just part of the list, part of the Christmas season? Is Jesus just a guest at your Christmas party? Or do you receive it as revelation? As a revelation to you. This message that is proclaimed, this message of the incarnation, spoken long ago, spoken to the patriarchs, spoken through the prophets, spoken through angels, spoken to Mary, spoken to Joseph, spoken to shepherds, is now spoken to you.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, Christ the Lord.
Or as Isaiah would put it in chapter 60, verse 1 and 2, concerning Zion, the people of God, here’s what he says. Remember what we said about the glory of God? Isaiah says this: “The glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick darkness is over the peoples; but the Lord rises upon you, and His glory appears over you.”
God’s presence marked not just by clouds and smoke and fire and fear, buy by illumination and proclamation.
In the incarnation we see the glory of God not just as a terrifying sight, but as something that comes to rest on His people, giving light into darkness.
Do you feel darkness in your heart this morning? Do you feel the weight of your sin? Do you feel comfortless? Do you feel hopeless? Do you feel far from God? The glory of God giving light into darkness and bringing dominion that spills over all the earth and the proclamation of the Gospel.
You see, here’s the wonderful thing about the incarnation. It’s that God’s glory comes to you in Christ. He comes to you in Christ, not as a distant deity of far away, but as the incarnate Lord, the Messiah, the one who is full of grace and truth for you.
How do we receive this revelation? We humble ourselves. We repent of our sins over the grace and goodness of our God. And we go and see. We welcome Jesus. We welcome Him into our lives. We welcome Him into our darkness. We welcome Him into our sins.
Welcoming Christ, the Messiah, is the beginning of the Christian life, but it continues throughout. Every day, every week, every year. The good news this morning is Christ stands ready to enter.
Advent is seen in a number of ways. You walk around and see nativity scenes every, everywhere, but perhaps one of the best pictures of this season is found in Revelation chapter 3. Jesus says to the Church “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him and he with Me.”
That is the Advent message. God is come in the person of His Son, seeking you, standing at the door, knocking, shining light into your darkness. Fear not, open the door, and welcome Him in.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we thank You that You have come to us, through Your incarnate Son, our Messiah, our Savior, our Lord. And we pray, O Lord, that hearing this news of the proclamation of the Gospel that You would help us to respond, to act on this message, as revelation to our hearts. Lord, may we humbly repent of our sins, and may we grow in grace and truth and knowing our Lord. In Christ’s name. Amen.