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Monday, December 10, 2012

The Message: Do I Get It? (Luke 2.8-20)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
December 9, 1012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "People, Look East" (Susan Slade, flute) (arr. Powell)
Hymn of Praise: "Angels, from the Realms of Glory" (REGENT SQUARE)
Hymn of Praise: "I Wonder as I Wander" (I WONDER AS I WANDER)
The Word in Music: "Behold the Lamb of God" (arr. Andrew Peterson)
Offering of Music: "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus" (Susan Slade, flute) (arr. Powell)
Hymn of Sending: "Angels We Have Heard on High (GLORIA) 
Postlude: "Oh Lord, How Shall I Meet Thee?" (Paul Manz)

"The Message: Do I Get It?"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: Luke 2:8-20

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

The scripture text we heard this morning is among the most familiar in scripture.  It is part of the Christmas story.  It is the text that Linus quotes in the Charlie Brown Christmas special.  It’s the text we read every Christmas Eve as a part of our hearing of the full Christmas story.  It’s the text that many, many songs about angels and shepherds have been written.  And it’s all about a message – hearing it, acting on it, and passing it on.  So, I want us to ask ourselves this morning: “…about that message, do I get it?”

Hearing the Message (vv. 8-14)

The text divides out into several parts.  The first is the sharing of a message, from angels to shepherds.  The scene opens with the shepherds out in the fields, doing what shepherds do (v. 8).  And suddenly, an angel of the Lord stood before them (v. 9).  That would be enough to startle anybody, but the really frightening part – and we are told how terribly frightened they were! – was the “glory of the Lord” around them.  We often gloss over that, thinking that angels are imposing enough on their own… which they are.  But this was beyond that.  The “glory of the Lord” is what was present at the burning bush, on top of Mt. Sinai when Moses received the Ten Commandments, in the vision that brought Isaiah to his knees in complete repentance and awe.  It is the very manifestation of God’s presence.  At the appearance of this angel (and this is underscored a few verses later when the multitude of heaven appear) it is as if a curtain was pulled back and Heaven itself was briefly present on earth.

The word angel means “messenger” – and that’s just what this angel did; he gave a message.  Here’s the message:
Do not be afraid; for behold, 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.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. (vv. 10-12)
Let me start with “Do not be afraid.”  This is typical for angels to say because people are usually terrified.  But again, this is more than just the angel.  This is heaven opening and the glory of God engulfing the shepherds.  THAT was what “undid” Isaiah and what few humans ever encountered.  Realize how unusual and new this was – for God to reveal His very glory to a group of human beings.  But that was exactly what God was about to do through Jesus.  No longer would God be primarily confined to the holiest of holy places, but revealed for the world to see through Jesus, whom John later described as “God’s glory among us” (John 1:14).

Next, the angel brought “good news of great joy for all the people.”  That’s a world of significant stuff right there.  We can understand “good news” quickly enough.  We’ve all received good news and we’ve all received bad news.  But this is beyond good; this is the BEST news of all, because it is from God, it is for the world, and it involves a Savior.  (We’ll get to that in a minute!)  But think about what “great joy” might mean.  Most of us have trouble understanding “joy.”  We know it’s different than “happy.”  The Bible says it often comes in the presence of suffering and sorrow when we recognize God’s presence and power with us.  And that’s just what this message is all about.  God is with and around the shepherds and God is about to come into the world through the birth of Jesus.  It is great joy not only because of the nature of the news – a Savior! – but because of the scope of the gift – for the world! 

Then comes the announcement of the actual content of the news, the joy, and the gift: “today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  This is all the detail of prophecy and promise.  Last week we talked about the prophecy of Isaiah, how God had promised a Savior, a light in the darkness of human reality and suffering.  These details all connect with the various prophecies about the Messiah, the one God would send.  “In the city of David” fulfills the covenant promise to David about one of his descendants sitting on an eternal throne and ruling an eternal Kingdom.  “Born for you a Savior” connects to the promise in Isaiah that we heard about last week: God’s promised light would come through the birth of a child.  “Christ the Lord” is actually a direct reference to the Messiah or “anointed one” from God.  “Messiah” is Hebrew for “anointed one”; “Christ” is the Greek translation often Hebrew word Messiah.

So the message is this: the promised Messiah of God, the Savior of God’s people, is being born right now near Jerusalem, in the town of David’s family; and this is for the world!  The angel even offers a “sign” – which is a something that points to God’s involvement, “proving” if you will that the message is true (as if the glory of God isn’t enough!).  And the sign is so ridiculous as to be a sure thing; wrapped in cloths, yes, but surely no King or Messiah would be lying in a manger, a feeding trough for animals.

Then though it’s not called a sign, there was one more thing, and it was not insignificant.  Suddenly a multitude of “heavenly host” appeared and began praising God.  These “heavenly host” were part of Heaven opening up and appearing on earth.  Through their praise, the multitude of angels added a bit more to the message: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”  This was the birth announcement… more than that the announcement that the Great God of Heaven was coming to earth to establish peace and restore people of all nations to right relationship with Himself.  That word, “peace,” describes that right relationship, truly only possible through God’s involvement with us. 

Acting on the Message (vv. 15-16)

Now did the shepherds get all that?  I don’t know; I probably would have been in a quivering heap on the ground.  But they got the basics: God showed up, announced the birth of the Messiah-Savior, gave us multiple signs, and we’re still alive.

The shepherds collected themselves and decided to go see for themselves (v. 15).  After all, the angel had told them where the baby was born, given them a sign to look for, and this was the greatest news of all time.  So they went “in a hurry” (v. 16) and found Mary, Joseph, and the baby.  And they found him “in the manger” just as the angel had said.

I only point all this out to say that it is not enough that a message be spoken, even if it is by an angel and all his friends.  It was also necessary that the message be heard.  Anyone who has tried to communicate with another person has realized that.  A parent can say “please set the table” in many different ways, but until the kids (or husband) tunes in, it’s just floating out there.

Listening means we take in a message.  And if we’ve truly listened, then we always act in some way.  Acting may mean disregarding or rejecting the message, but that’s still acting on it.  In this case, the shepherds acted more positively.  They listened, believed, and followed; and they did so in a hurry and with great excitement.  They also acted in one more way…

Passing on the Message (vv. 17-20)

After hurrying to see this baby and the sign the angel had described, the shepherds could have just gone back home feeling blessed to have witnessed such a thing.  But that’s not what they did.  In fact, the text describes several additional responses from the shepherds.  Having heard and acted on the message, they saw the object (or subject!) of the message with their own eyes.  And when they had seen this…

They made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.  Presumably that means they told Mary and Joseph.  Now an angel had come to Mary, but had not spelled out all the things that the angel had told the shepherds.  This was another reason that listening well was important.  The shepherds told the “good news of a great joy for all the people” to Mary and Joseph.  They, too, heard the connections back to prophecy and promises, and the announcement that this child was the Messiah-Savior of God for the sake of the world.  Mary and Joseph, and all who heard it – maybe others later – wondered at these amazing things (v. 18).  Mary specifically treasured this message and continued to ponder it deeply in her heart (v. 19).

Then, the shepherds went back home, back to their fields and back to their sheep.  But they went back “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (v. 20).  Another part of acting on the message, at least on this particular message, was to share it with others.  They first shared it with Jesus’ parents.  Then they shared it as they went.  After all, this was “great news!”

And finally, the shepherds went in an attitude of worship, “glorifying and praising God.”  I don’t know if they were serious worshipers before all this, but they sure were after.  Think about the two different ways they testified to God.  They shared the specific message with Mary, Joseph, and perhaps others.  But they also were changed into folks captivated by the glory of God.  If you’ve ever met anyone that takes God that seriously, that loves to worship God and does so freely, you know that’s yet another way of passing on the message.

Do I Get It?

So, where I want to end is with a question: “Do you get it?”

It’s easy enough to speak the message, though I can’t summon legions of angels as a back-up choir.  But it’s there in the text itself: God has come from Heaven to earth through the birth of Jesus, and that Jesus is understood and demonstrated to be, at least by eye-witnesses, the very Savior God promised throughout history. 

I could try to say that in different ways.  In one sense, every sermon, every Sunday school lesson, and just about every verse in the Bible speaks that message in one way or another.  But are you listening?  Have you heard?

And if you’ve really listened, how have you acted on that message?  Again, if you’ve heard it, you’ve acted… in some way.  How have you acted?  Have you gone to see?  Have you checked Jesus out?  Have you studied scripture and tried to learn more about this so-called Savior?  Has it changed you in any way? 

And finally, if all these things are true – that you’ve listened and acted in faith – have you passed it on? Has it made you more devoted to, interested in, in love with, however you might frame it… with God?  Can others see and hear the great news through you?

That’s what I mean by “Do you get it?”  Christianity is good news about God and humanity, meant to transform a person’s life in a way that will transform the world.  Do you get it?  Do you want to get it?  That would be a good start… and the way to get there is to really listen.

May God give you ears to hear and hearts to follow.  Amen.

1 comment:

Paul Savage said...

Thanks Robert for a great message.