Thursday, December 24, 2009

What We Watch (Luke 2.1-20) - Christmas Eve message

Sermon by: Robert Austell
December 24, 2009 – Christmas Eve

(download)**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**
Shepherds were rough and rugged men who weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. They weren’t prissy or fancy or cleaned up for Sunday morning church; they were more like farmers who deal with livestock… except on the move. While some of them may have been religious and made periodic trips to the Temple, most were probably focused on the work at hand. They were solid working men, trying to take care of flock and family as they watched their sheep by night.

What do you watch? We’ve had a farmer or two among us. Several work construction and know what it is to get your hands dirty. Many of you with young kids spend your time watching your flock – not the same as sheep, but more than a few comparisons. J Others of you watch the stock market or other economic indicators. Others watch students or patients. Many watch friends and the culture to stay current and not get too out of step. Almost all of us watch hours of TV or Internet or movies or other entertainment.

And for most or all of us, actually seeing or hearing from God in the middle of our daily life seems unlikely, farfetched, and unrealistic.

Seeing and Hearing from God

In the shepherd’s story, their routine was interrupted by a message from God. While I am no shining angel, there is a real sense in which what happened to them is not unlike what could happen here any given Sunday. For many, I know Sunday morning or Christmas Eve night church can seem distant or irrelevant to the things you watch and do during the day. But my message any given Sunday is some variation on what the angel said: I bring you Good News of a Savior, born from God for your sake. The messenger is different, but the message is the same.

And then, the shepherds saw an amazing sight – the angels of Heaven praising God. Again, the heavenly host do not appear visibly on a Sunday morning or Christmas Eve night, but the children of God do gather to sing and declare the same praises to God.

I am not trying to take anything away from the amazing story in Luke 2. Rather, I’m trying to make a connection between that amazing story and what happens here on a regular basis. It’s on the wall as you come in, around the large picture display – we are ordinary people who gather to hear the Good News and worship an extraordinary God. Like the shepherds, every single person here is an ordinary person, with no special direct line to God. We simply believe that God is trying to get our attention and speak this message – this Christmas message – of a Savior born into our world. That is the Good News, not just in Bible times, but here and now.

Seeing This Thing

The shepherds decided to check it out – to “see this thing” that had happened. That’s the bottom-line challenge I’d give you tonight. Are you here to just go through the motions – hear some pretty music and get in the Christmas spirit – or are you willing to look closely at what is being proclaimed and worshiped? Whether you came for tradition, someone dragged you, out of curiosity, or deep faith – are you willing to see this thing of which the angels speak?

What is it? It is the angel’s news; it is the Good News. It is there in verses 10-11:
I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Listen; check it out. Are you willing to see and hear this Good News? I bring you Good News – the best news, which is for anyone and everyone and is cause for real joy. Jesus Christ, first century Jew from Nazareth, is more than a historical figure; he is Savior and Lord, rescuer and God. When we gather here to worship – any given Sunday or tonight – it is not to simply go through some religious routines, but to celebrate God’s salvation and to worship and adore the God who pursues us in love to rescue us.

God’s extraordinary love and salvation is not for spiritual giants; it is for ordinary people – shepherds, construction workers, accountants, teachers, teenagers, moms, dads, grandparents, intellectuals, disabled, sick, well, discouraged, hopeful, hopeless… you… and me. Have you seen this thing that we call the Good News?

Change and What it Does to You

I’m tempted to end there, but there is one last piece to this story and it’s worth hearing, both for the challenge of it and in terms of full disclosure. The shepherds who went to see this thing came away changed. They went away full of the Good News story and themselves worshiping. This thing is contagious; it should be life-changing. If you claim to believe and are not full of the story and full of worship, then you need to see this thing again.

Most of those who encountered Jesus, including these shepherds, went back to what they were doing before. These shepherds went back to watching their sheep. But they were changed. They had seen God and were full of the Good News and were full of worship.

So I’m not going to lie and say that Jesus isn’t a big deal. I’m not going to encourage you to come check him out and say it won’t change your perspective or your choices or your life. Just the opposite! I urge you to come see this thing that God has done in Jesus because it is a big deal: it’s the biggest deal of all time. It should be life-changing. It should make you re-think everything. It should leave you full of amazement and worship.

Most likely, God won’t ask you to become a pastor, monk, or distant missionary. Most likely, God will send you back to your flocks – to the things and people you watch – and send you full of Good News and worship. If you have never experienced those things or seen firsthand this thing God has done, I offer this to you as the best Christmas gift you will ever receive.

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