Shepherds and Angels — What’s Really Important

Title: Shepherds and Angels – What’s Really Important.

Text: Luke 2:8-20

Time: December 19th, 2004

It was a very quiet, very calm night in the fields outside of the little town of Bethlehem as the shepherds were huddled around the campfire to keep warm, talking about the day that had past and the day ahead — typical shepherd talk about, well, sheep. When suddenly, all of a sudden, a bright light appeared in the sky and got brighter, brighter, brighter until the whole sky was lit up like the sun. This made the shepherds totally afraid because nothing like this had ever happened to them before. And then from the midst of the light came a heavenly figure with white robe and white hair, an angel. This made the shepherds all the more afraid. But this angel began to speak to the poor shepherds, saying: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find the baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger,” Luke 2:10-12. And with that a whole sky full of angels appeared flying around and praising God and singing together in loud voices: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests,” Luke 2:14. Now when the angels had finished delivering their message (because that is the meaning of the word angel – messenger, giving a message) and gone back into the heavens, the shepherds turned to one another and said, “Let’s go into Bethlehem and see this thing that the Lord has told us about, how it has happened,” Luke 2:15. And so they ran into Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby Jesus in a manager. And they told everyone there just what the angels had told them. And everyone was amazed, but Mary especially, who was listening to everything that was said intently. Then when they had told their story until there was nothing left to tell, the shepherds decided to get back to their sheep (because they had been left unattended for a long while). But as they returned, all the way back and even afterwards, they praised and glorified God for what they had heard and seen that night. Wow! What an adventure, what an event. You’ve got to imagine that it was the most important thing that ever happened to these shepherds their whole life long. Let’s try to relive some of the excitement of that first Christmas night, and see if it helps our faith.

First, it shows us God cares about all people, not just the rich and famous and important ones. Isn’t that good to know? When I read the Christmas story one of the questions I ask myself is: why go to shepherds? In the story we don’t know anything about these guys except they were shepherds. We don’t know their names. We don’t know anything about them. They weren’t rich, they weren’t famous, they weren’t important, they weren’t powerful, they weren’t from a high class family, they weren’t leaders (except of sheep), they were average, or maybe even a little less than average because shepherds were known for their dirt and smell that came with working with sheep. So why did the angels appear to them? If you were to write the story yourself you might have the angels appear in the Temple in Jerusalem wouldn’t you? That would be appropriate. A religious and spiritual message, the Temple as the central place of Jewish worship, etc. Or you might have the angels appear in a synagogue during a Jewish religious meeting, to the Rabbi and men and women gathered there. Or you might think the angels would announce the birth to some of the leading Jewish leaders of the time. But to shepherds? Why? The answer is that by appearing to shepherds the Lord is saying he has no favorites. If he announces to the lowest ones on the totem pole that means that he cares about all people no matter how un-famous, unimportant, or how poor or low class they are. I’m glad I don’t have to be important or famous or rich to get God’s attention. To get the world’s attention you usually have to be important for something, or wealthy, or powerful. But to get God’s love and attention you don’t have to be anything other than willing to listen. Those shepherds were willing to listen and they were told the gospel. Are you willing to listen to God? Are you willing to follow God like the shepherds? If so, you’ll see the glory and grace of God.

Second, it shows that we don’t have to be afraid of what God is telling us. When the angels first appeared in the light in the sky the shepherds were afraid. But the angel quickly told them not to be afraid because he was bringing good news. And you know a lot of times people today, all of us some times, are afraid to believe and do what God tells us to do in life. The good news from God seems to us at first as almost bad news. For example, when God explains to us how to live holy lives, at first that seems like bad news, especially when we are living unholy lives. God calls us to give up getting drunk, give up getting high. But we react, “But I need that! That’s how I get through my low times! That’s how I deal with my disappointments, my anxieties, my fears.” So we might be afraid because we think we would be worse off not better off by following God. But God’s way is the good way, it’s the good news. The same thing with believing certain things in the Bible. When we first read about some of the miracles – the talking snake in the Garden, the Red Sea parting, Jonah and the Whale, Jesus walking on water, etc. We may say, “I can’t believe that. It’s too hard. I’m afraid I’d go crazy. It goes against my thinking. I’m afraid if I believed those things I’d be stupid, I’d be gullible.” But these things are good news. Yes, God asks us to believe incredible things but life is bigger than logic. Strange, mysterious, incredible things called miracles happen, and when we believe in them we are given the faith to live by faith. Because without faith it’s impossible to please God, says the Bible in Hebrews 11:6. One of the reasons God announced to the shepherds was because they wouldn’t doubt but would simply believe. Sometimes we can get too smart for our own good. When people go to college and think they are too smart to believe in the Bible any more. Some people think they are too smart to follow God’s directions for life, so they deliberately disobey because some other way makes better sense to them. Let’s live and believe like the shepherds — simple faith, simple obedience. Let’s not make everything so hard.

Third, it shows us faith is more than just believing something, it’s doing something too. Now it might have seemed crazy but these shepherds left their sheep out in the fields and went into the town of Bethlehem. They didn’t use the sheep as an excuse not to follow God’s instructions. Do you know that if you really want to come up with an excuse for something? You can. It’s true. If you don’t want to come to church on Sunday, there’s always an excuse you can give. If you really don’t want to follow some moral teaching in the Bible, you can always come up with a so-called good reason for it, an excuse. If you want to get a divorce, there’s always some reason you can give that will make it sound reasonable to people you talk to. We have the infinite capacity to rationalize anything and everything we do. The lamest excuse I’ve ever heard was a man out in California murdered a friend and claimed that he wasn’t in control of himself because he had just eaten a Twinkie, Hostess Twinkie, and the sugar had gone straight to his head and made him hyper and out of control. So he made the Twinkie defense in court. Now the shepherds were simple, honest people who did what they believed. They heard the good news from the angels and then went to the Baby Jesus. They could have merely heard the good news and then just continued on. Anyway, the sheep still needed watching whether Jesus was born or not. There was the perfect excuse: “We can’t go to the Baby Jesus, we’ve got to watch these sheep.” But no, they acted not just believed. And we too are called by God to not just believe in the story of the first Christmas, but to live it 24/7 in our lives. How do we do that? By determining in our hearts we are going to walk the walk of faith, not just talk the talk of faith. What is talking the talk? Singing praise songs, learning the language of church, giving our testimony, making prayer requests, attending Christian concerts, quoting Bible verses, etc. — things that don’t require anything but some kind of belief. But then not walking the walk. Singing praise songs, but not paying attention to the words we are saying and doing them. Not dealing with sin in our life, living in willful, deliberate disobedience to God. And there’s always an excuse, there’s always a lie we tell ourselves and others why we can’t obey God right now. But it’s lame. These shepherds, they were as real as you get. Their walk matched their talk. They lived what they believed. They believed the angels, and did as the angels told them. Very simple, very straight forward. God is challenging all of us today: don’t complicate things, keep it simple. Live what you believe and believe what you live. Have faith in God, obey God, obey the Bible, stop making excuses for yourself. Let’s have a simple faith in Jesus like the Shepherds did. Let’s not make it all complicated, let’s not make excuses for our sins, let’s confess sin, receive forgiveness, and live by faith in Jesus.

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