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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Day Sermon, 2011


Christmas Day Sermon


Luke 2: 8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Luke 2: 8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.


The second part of Luke’s nativity is the application, where the Holy Spirit reveals this great miracle to ordinary working people. Sheep were a mainstay for the economy at that time, providing many different products and clothing. The Bible contains 500 references to sheep and shepherding. God chose to show them the greatest miracle of all, the Incarnation, the Word made flesh, and to do so with an angelic light show and chorus.

Lenski:
The shepherds were out in the open because of their flock, and the probability is that they did not live in the town at all but somewhere in a valley in the hills. The place shown to tourists should deceive no one. So also the deduction that Jesus could not have been born in December, which is fortified by Talmudic notices to the effect that some time between April and November must be referred to. This conclusion is valueless, for in a climate such as Palestine has sheep could be kept out-of-doors all winter. While December 25 is only traditional and goes back to the celebration of the nativity at Rome on that date in the fourth century, it is at least traditional and better than deductions that have no basis and only assail the old date without furnishing even the inkling of a new one. Only one conclusion is sound, namely that Jesus was born at night—otherwise the angel would not have appeared to the shepherds “at night.”
Lenski, R. C. H.: The Interpretation of St. Luke's Gospel. Minneapolis, MN : Augsburg Publishing House, 1961, S. 128.

Any history fan knows that people make up details, and those details often stick for a long time. However, human tradition often remembers what is not written down. Religion is quite conservative in preserving the past, so I am always inclined to favor the traditional remembrance if no data contradicts it. Those who have never been to the Holy Land say, “It had to be in the spring because that is the only time shepherds are out in the fields at night.” Grand statements like that are difficult to hear without laughing. I would like to poll the farmers in Illinois and see if all of them infallibly do the same thing all the time.

The anti-Christians like to say that Christmas was invented to get believers away from the winter solstice (when the sun threatens to go even lower in the sky and begins rising again each day).  In fact, the first Christians in Rome were won away from drunkenness and orgies by the Gospel, not by an alternative celebration. That sounds like Guys and Dolls, where mobsters have to decide between a prayer meeting and a card game.

Not even the greatest expert on the culture of a time can say exactly what happened because 99% or more is lost to history.

Any believer would conclude that Christmas was celebrated because of the unique message of the faith, that God became man, that Jesus—a real person—was born of a virgin. Pagan Rome had gods and goddesses from all over the world, but they were not real. Jesus was a person known to history, seen and heard by many, someone whose effect left a permanent mark on the population, although His travels were limited to a minor and troublesome province in the Roman Empire.

One of the ironies of history is that the Empire identified the Christians with the Jews. They were just another brand of Jews, they thought. That only added to the persecutions that erupted from time to time.

So these shepherds were minor figures in an outlying province of the Empire, yet they played an essential role in the birth of the Christian Church. They were the earliest evangelists.



We know this happened at night –

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

God created light before the heavenly spheres, separating light from darkness. God is the ultimate judge of truth and falsehood, so Paul and John both use light and darkness to represent good and evil. That is also found throughout the Bible

KJV Isaiah 9:2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

Therefore, the angelic host was spectacular because of the light (glory) shining all around and also because they were light, truth, in the midst of darkness and untruth.

Still, divine appearances are terrifying at first. The shepherds were afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

When people face judgment of any type, fear is the first response. The greater the power encountered, the greater the fear. God knows all so the appearance of the angel is going to penetrate the conscience of each person witnessing the event.

But the angel said, “Stop being afraid.” The reasons are threefold:
  1. Good tidings – the Gospel literally.
  2. Of great joy – the effect of the Gospel.
  3. To all people – applied to all people. The Gospel will not go out to a limited group of people but will be shared with the world.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Here is the explanation – so much is said in one simple sentence.
  1. Unto you – This happened for your benefit.
  2. Is born – A real person, not god from mythology.
  3. This day – You are there to witness this event.
  4. In the City of David – The Messianic prophecies are fulfilled.
  5. A Savior – He will rescue His people.
  6. Christ – He is the King, anointed with oil, the Messiah.
  7. The Lord – He is Lord of all.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 

There is only one baby like this in the whole area. Verse 12 is a beautiful parallel to Verse 7 –

KJV Luke 2:7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Doubtless many babies were born that night but only One was lying in a manger. He was wrapped in pieces of cloth, swathed, as Lenski wrote.

Sidebar - This term is used in Latin for the earliest printed books, incunabula, Latin for “wrapping in swaddling clothes.” The great and glorious bindings for printed books came later. I saw many jewel encrusted bindings for Dante’s Divine Comedy, lying about at Notre Dame’s library, before the rare books collection was finished up. I imagine the school got tired of getting them as gifts – another Dante from the cardinal of Padua, what a cad you are.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

This means the sky was filled with thousands of angels praising God and chanting this poetry, made famous by the miraculous event.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.




This is the application of the Gospel, so clear and yet so clearly evading many ministers today. The energy of God’s Word is so great that the Holy Spirit moves people to do what is God pleasing. The power of the Word is directly related to the purity of the Word. The angels proclaimed the Gospel, moving the shepherds to visit the Child – with haste – not making any excuses or stopping along the way. And, once they had seen God Incarnate, they told everyone about it, verses 17 and 20.

“And they returned”

They went back to their flocks, but with new experiences and emotions. Nothing was the same after that.

Mormon missionaries told me about the imaginary visions of Joseph Smith, a noted con man. They said, “If that happened to you, wouldn’t that change your life?”

I said, “I wouldn’t start a new religion.”

The shepherds did not start a new religion. They renewed their understanding of Judaism transforming into Christianity. They began laying the foundation of the Church that grew so rapidly at Pentecost.

The self-appointed miracle workers want nothing to do with the pure Word of God. They have programs, which water down the Word. They have personalities, goals, objectives, and exciting new movements. They are the religious leaders being left behind, because they are too blinded by their own arrogance to know the treasures of the Gospel.

As Luther noted, God placed the Savior in a manger, not in a palace. He give the honor of the first visit to shepherds, not to scribes and Pharisees. And yet He gave them another chance when Jesus stayed days at the Temple, and another chance when Jesus was tried for treason and blasphemy, and yet another chance when the Apostles taught on Pentecost and afterwards.

The Gospel Word keeps going forth. There so many examples I could tell, but many would involve personal details that I would rather keep private. One young man never had a saving knowledge of Christ until we took him to church every Sunday. Now that is the most valuable thing to him, knowing Christ.

We should trust God so much that we let Him accomplish His will through His Word rather than force results through our goals. He has managed quite well up to now and should continue to do so as well, as Luther observed.



Quotations
"Here are no learned, no rich, no mighty ones, for such people do not as a rule accept the Gospel.  The Gospel is a heavenly treasure, which will not tolerate any other treasure, and will not agree with any earthly guest in the heart.  Therefore whoever loves the one must let go the other, as Christ says, Matthew 6:24:  'You cannot serve God and mammon.'"
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., I, p. 154. Luke 2:1‑14.      

"The preachers are to be angels, that is God's messengers, who are to lead a heavenly life, are to be constantly engaged with God's Word that they under no circumstances preach the doctrine of men.  It is a most incongruous thing to be God's messenger and not to further God's message."
Sermons of Martin Luther, I, p. 153. Christmas Day Luke 2:1‑14.
          
"Whoever does not receive the Word for its own sake, will never receive it for the sake of the preacher, even if all the angels preached it to him.  And he who receives it because of the preacher does not believe in the Word, neither in God through the Word, but he believes the preacher and in the preacher. Hence the faith of such persons does not last long.  But whoever believes the Word, does not care who the person is that speaks the Word, and neither will he honor the Word for the sake of the person; but on the contrary, he honors the person because of the Word, and always subordinates the person to the Word."
Sermons of Martin Luther, I, p. 162. Luke 2:15‑20.
   
"Therefore God must lead us to a recognition of the fact that it is He who puts faith in our heart and that we cannot produce it ourselves.  Thus the fear of God and trust in Him must not be separated from one another, for we need them both, in order that we may not become presumptuous and overconfident, depending upon ourselves.  This is one of the reasons why God leads His saints through such great trials."
Sermons of Martin Luther, II, p. 21. Luke 2:41‑52.


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