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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Shepherds (Luke 2.8-20)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - December 22, 2013
Text: Luke 2:8-20

:: Sermon Audio (link)
No sermon audio this week (technical glitch); scroll down for written draft

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Up, O Shepherds" (Schroeder)

Hymn of Praise: "How Great Our Joy" (JUENGST)
Hymn of Praise: "Angels from the Realms of Glory" (REGENT SQUARE)
The Word in Music: "While Shepherds Watched" (Peterson)
Offering of Music: "Joy to the World" (Handel/Cash, arr. Youngblood)

Hymn of Sending: "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice" (IN DULCI JUBILO)
Postlude: "Sing with Joy, Glad Voices Lift" (Schroeder)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon, not used in the service. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” 15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.  (Luke 2:8-20)
Shepherds were rough and rugged men who weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.  They weren’t 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.  Some 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 not entirely different either. 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 Wednesday 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 Wednesday night, but the people 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 this morning.  Are you here just to 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, because 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 time we worship – it is not simply to 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

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; people who come to see this thing... come away changed.  The shepherds went away full of the Good News story and worshiping God.  This thing is contagious; it IS 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. 

Now 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 thing: it’s the biggest thing 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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