The Scandal of Christmas
“The Shock of the Shepherds!”
Gospel of Luke 2:8-20 (NLT)
December 4, 2016 (2nd Sunday of Advent)
Pastor Jerry Ingalls
What a joy for us to tell the best story ever told for the next 4 Sundays—it is the Christmas Story! During Advent, a season of anticipation and preparation for the Coming of the Messiah, we will gather weekly to declare that Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, is the Son of God, born of a virgin, crucified on a Roman Cross, raised from the dead on the 3rd day, and coming again soon to right every wrong. Come Lord Jesus!
As we discussed last week and I will continue to remind you of during this Advent season, at the time of Jesus’ birth (2,016 years ago), God had been silent for 400 years (Can you comprehend how long 400 years is actually?).
When would God burst onto the scene? How would He do it? Can you for a moment empathize with their eagerness? And every year that went by, the imagination of the people got bigger and so did the disappointment of God’s silence…
But God, you promised…WHEN? A cry of desperation from a people doing everything they can to remember their own birth right and not sell God’s promises for a better life NOW on earth.
In the midst of such questions, such silence, such anguish enters the Christmas story! Enters the Promised One…enters God, the main character of the show… After 400 years of silence, God breaks into history to tell His story…
Listen carefully to the Christmas story because God’s breaking in to the world was not a power play! God declared His plan to the least likely of people… Never forget that God handpicked the eye witnesses to the Christmas miracle…
Listen to the greatest story ever told, the story of the birth of Jesus the Messiah, from the Gospel of Luke 2:8-20 (NLT), “That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.’ 13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 14 ‘Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.’ 15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ 16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.”
Show Skit Guys “Shepherd” video. [*Thank you to skitguys.com for their “sermon helps” sheet for some great insights on the Shepherds and their point of view!]
God chose shepherds for His angels to deliver the amazing news that God was back after 400 years of silence, saying, “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
We don’t need to speculate the point of view of the angels themselves for that is evident—they worshipped God for this amazing Good News of Peace and Joy! They were in awe of God for His majesty and glory! God’s plan to rescue the world caused them to worship Him!
But, what about those shepherds? What was their point of view?
You see…the scandal of angelic visitors and divine intervention is not that it has happened or can still happen, but that it is doesn’t happen more…and that it doesn’t happen upon our whim and command! The scandal is not that God will supernaturally involve Himself in the matters of history, but that often, each one of us wonders, ‘Why isn’t God more visibly active in my story?’
I. The shepherds teach us that whether we can see it or not, God is active in His creation!
God broke into history to tell “His story”—of faith, hope, and love! He didn’t do it with a power play! He didn’t come and manifest His presence and plans of redemption in a place of reputation and power! He didn’t reveal Himself to a notable people or enter in a King’s Court where He could have access to the best technology, military prowess or political means of influence!
The shepherds are in a profession that is not held in high esteem; they are in the family business and no one aspires to have their lot; in fact, their testimony in a court of law was not even admissible, but these shepherds had a lot going for them that made them the perfect witnesses for the Christmas miracle:
+ they observe what is happening around them;
+ they watch all night when everyone else is sleeping;
+ they keep track of sheep and the environment around them that may threaten them; and
+ they see what we so often don’t see…because they are paying attention!
Were the shepherds the only ones God could trust with such information? God couldn’t trust the dominant group of religious leaders of that day (Pharisees) or the Roman government, as such a revelation was a threat to their pride and position and lifestyle. Just look at what Herod did when he found out about baby Jesus (see Matthew 2:16-18 and the murder of the children in Bethlehem).
Were the shepherds chosen because they were humble enough to hear, see and receive? The humble (“poor in spirit”) are willing to accept “unusual events” because they don’t have to worry about their pride or looking foolish. Nobody thinks much of them to start with, so what do they have to lose? Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs” (Matthew 5:3). Are you humble enough to hear, see and receive?
Were the shepherds chosen because they weren’t power players, trading on inside information for their own benefit? God uses the foolish to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27) & God chooses to show His power in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)!
Jesus is still a scandal today and His message should not be co-opted for power plays; Jesus came in love & humility, to empathize with humanity and to save it from its sin.
God is active in His creation, but are we willing to look past the power structures of the world to see God working in miraculous ways through ordinary people and unorthodox situations? Even more scandalous, are we willing to become a part of God’s way of working in the world or must we remain associated with the power of this world?
II. The shepherds teach us that we could see God’s activity more in our own lives if we weren’t so quick to jump to our own solutions first!
God broke into history with humility and love to woe you with His willingness to join with you in empathy, truly knowing what it is like to be human. As scandalous as this is going to sound, the truth of the Christmas miracle, is that God chose to empty Himself so that He can demonstrate His love for you by learning how hard it is to love, have faith, and put hope in a God who, from a fully human perspective, seems distant, silent, and at times powerless to make a difference in a dying world.
From the humility and lowliness of the shepherds we are confronted with:
+ our own pridefulness:
+ our own resourcefulness to know how to deal with the situations the world throws at us; and
+ our own self-sufficiency to make life work for us, even if it means throwing a little God in every now and then!
Is God even necessary in our daily life of self-sufficiency? What role does God play when we try to have every base covered and call it being good stewards?
Are we too quick to bypass divine intervention by reacting in our own means, before even giving God a chance to move? Here are ways we demonstrate our own self-sufficiency:
The modern and very American phenomenon of insurance (everything, including your very life is insured!)
Our bank accounts and even worse our credit cards. Who needs to trust God when you can just borrow more money today and pay on it tomorrow!?!
First world medical systems are amazing, but do you ever wonder why there are significantly more accounts of medical healings in non-westernized nations?
The use my own wit, intellect or experience to solve the problem or minimize the effects. The famous mantra of being a self-made person.
Keep it quiet, dig in and ride it out – “I got this, I can take it!” “I don’t need help!” The rugged American independence model.
Do we not see God more in our lives because we are tone deaf to His whisper because we want the fire?
Christmas is a scandal because the greatest story ever told mocks our pride; it is God breaking into history in a way that confronts our own self-righteousness & resourcefulness. Still to this day, we romanticize and talk around words like “virgin” because they embarrass us. But they don’t embarrass God, nor did they stop His heavenly host of angels from worshipping Him and declaring His glory. And that is the point—God came to heal us of the very pride His coming confronts!
Christmas demonstrates His power in our weakness… But we still want to be the powerful ones!
Will you submit your life to this Jesus—a baby born to an unwed teenage girl whose birth was witnessed by lowly shepherds?
On December 11th Pastor Jerry Ingalls will be preaching on Luke 1:46-55 “Elizabeth’s Elation at the Incarnation!”