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Dec 24 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 23, 2012 – Luke 2:1-20

The Fourth Advent Candle

The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. Luke 2:20

INTRO: Yesterday Barb and I were walking Kona in San Clemente

When we came to the pier, there were a lot of other people milling around. I noticed three boys in particular, about junior high school age walking toward us. Just then, a large palm branch fell from the top of one of the trees and crashed on a roof nearby, startling everyone. Immediately one of the boys yelled “It’s 12-21-12!” — the date the world was supposed to end according to calculations based on an ancient Mayan caldendar.

Friday’s apocalypse turned out to be yet another dud
– remember Y2K predictions? or the wild-eyed predictions of Harold Camping last year?

However, on December 25th, something world-changing will happen–again
– in our hearts and in our homes

We hear the shepherd’s story every year

So it seems like it happens again and again – we’re familiar with it
– it feels natural, even if in a fairy-tale sort of way
– but it was not natural for them!
• they were visited by angels only this one time in their lives
• this had never happened before in the lives of their ancestors and it never happened again in the lives of their descendants

They didn’t live in a make-believe world
– they did not see God’s face in the sky every they led flock out to the countryside
– what they saw was the sparse vegetation of the rocky terrain in their arid climate
• the burning sun by day and cold, distant stars at night

They were not at home with the supernatural, they did not expect it to burst upon them
– and that’s why they were “afraid with a great fear”
– they didn’t know what was happening or how to defend themselves from it
• the supernatural was no more part of their normal experience than it is ours
• let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that faith came more easily for them than it does for us

Two things link the shepherds to King David

Bethlehem–which the angel refers to as “the city of David”–and their profession

David knew his place, that he had no business aspiring to be the king’s son-in-law
– in the first go around with King Saul’s eldest daughter, David said:

Who am I and what is my father’s family in Israel, that I should be the king’s son-in-law? (1 Sam. 18:8)

– the second time, he said,

I am a poor man and lightly esteemed (1 Sam. 18:23)

– in other words, shepherds were not the sort of people you would want to see show up at the maternity window, viewing your newborn infant
• yet it was shepherds whom God invited to witness the birth of his Son

The shepherd’s destiny was to be a shepherd — their ambition was to survive
– and that depended on the health and safety of their flocks
– so who gets the privilege of receiving angel’s announcement?
• to be temporarily lifted out of their ordinary circumstances?
whomever God chooses — and who are we to say who God will or will not invite?

Luke really does turn his camera on the shepherds

Matthew doesn’t even mention the shepherds in his documentary; neither does Mark, or John
– Luke, however, builds this story around them
• “an angel of the Lord stood before them . . . shone around them . . . to them . . .”
• the angel told them, “for you” a Savior was born and “for you” a sign would be given

In chapter 1, an angel appeared to a priest in the temple
– this was very proper – but this appearance to shepherds was not proper at all
• these were not priests, or Pharisees, or Essenes (who devoted lives preparing themselves for just this type of encounter)
• this did not in temple, or the “holy city,” or desert monastery
• nor were the shepherds at prayer, worship, or reading scripture

Matthew’s documentary follows foreigners from the far east
– Luke was interested in the locals
∙ the magi were wealthy and brought gifts, the shepherds poor and brought nothing
∙ the magi were from highest social class, the shepherds were from the lowest
∙ the magi lived outside of God’s covenant, so God used a star to guide them
the shepherds lived within the covenant, and were guided by angels
∙ both the magi and shepherds were led to the Christ child

Loot at the faces around God’s Son . . .
– it doesn’t matter how they got here, only that they’re here

There’s a debate that seems like a waste of time

Were the magi astrologers? Had they been reading the motions of planets and stars?
– to argue one way or the other is a waste, because it shifts our attention away from the heart of the story
• where is the center of the story and where is the circumference?
○ who do we find in the center and who stands on the circumference?
○ Jesus is the center, everyone else is on the circumference
• Matthew’s point and Luke’s point is that people were moving from the circumference to the center
○ they were being drawn to God’s only begotten Son
– if we fixate on other characters, we lose spiritual energy of story and its whole point

It is typical of Luke to feature the shepherds; he likes the fact that Jesus went to people on the margin

The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” (Lk 5:30; see also 15:1-2)

– but didn’t we just see that people on circumference were coming to Jesus?
• how is it that later on we find him going to them?
– Jesus was not the center of his social world–or the political world, or even the religious world
• he is the spiritual center of the kingdom of God
○ he is, in fact, the spiritual center of the universe

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Col. 1:16-17)

The center of God’s work in the world, the center of history, center of every life given to him

Jesus remains the center, so wherever Jesus moves, the center moves
– this is true when he moves to the man or woman on the margin of society

CONC: I see something in this story that we will find useful for our spiritual growth

What happened to the shepherds after they saw Jesus?
– v. 20 says they “went back” – where?
• back into the night
• went back to the way things were before the angels appeared
○ back to the fields and their flocks, no longer illuminated by the glow of heaven
– they went back to the life they had always lived and the way things had always been
• they went back to where everything was the same; everything, except them
– they were not the same – they had seen Jesus and seeing him changed them
• not what he said, or what he did, but Jesus himself

We are learning to listen to God, to discern his will
– we make progress, stall, improve a little, slip up, and step by step we know God better
– we find that our bond with him is getting stronger
• our Christian experience is becoming more exciting and intense, more rewarding and fulfilling

But we have to be careful not to sabotage our spiritual growth
– and, in this regard, there are some things we can learn from the shepherds

  1. They started telling people about their experience
    – we can hardly help doing this, especially at first, but we have to be very cautious about this
    • we experience a few breakthroughs in prayer and think we’re experts–start preaching at others
    – what would have happened if the shepherds had taken their experience on the road? If they wrote books, began giving interviews and appearing on talk shows?
    it would have ruined their message
    • to make it understandable and acceptable to masses, they would have to reduce it to the level of the lowest denominator
    ○ they wouldn’t mention Jesus, but instead, talk about the miracle of the holiday spirit, so as to avoid offending anyone
    it would have ruined them – it’s dangerous to be treated as a  guru
    • taking their angel story on the road would have given their ego room to grow out of proportion
    • it would have changed them, again, but not for the better
  2. They went “back,” and that is always a challenge
    – not only that we go back to our old places, but the danger is that we fall back into our old selves
    – the truth is, we resist change – we’re afraid of the new things we may have to learn, etc.
    • we get comfortable with our lives, as troubled as they are
    – but God has not demanded that we pour all our effort into changing ourselves
    • spending time with Jesus in prayer produces subtle changes
    ○ that is why it was important for the shepherds to go look at Jesus — looking at him changes us (2 Cor. 3:18)
    • our hearts begin to release their attachments to of the old desires, ambitions, and attitudes
    ○ the Spirit is changing us and our work is to accommodate those changes and adjust ourselves to them
  3. They went back to where they lived and what they did before the angels, but they went back with a Savior
    – their salvation wasn’t instant – it is a process
    • gradually God’s Spirit works through and takes over our emotions, intellect, memories, etc.
    • he saves everything in us that needs saving
    – we don’t have to save ourselves (some of us have worked hard and wearies ourselves trying to do this)
    • we have been spare countless anxieties and wasted labor
    • our Savior is saving us
  4. They went back glorifying and praising God
    – the angels taught them the Gloria, seeing Jesus inspired them

So, after Christmas we go back – to our pre-Christmas lives, with all the challenges, chores, and responsibilities
– but we will go back with heaven in our hearts and its song on our lips

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