The Shepherds' Blessing (Luke 2:1-20)
Topic: Mathew Passage: Luke 2:1–2:20
The Shepherds’ Blessing
December 9th, 2012
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
I. Recipients of a Royal Announcement
You may have heard this week that, in about 7.5 half months, the royal family of England is going to be expanding...by one.
That's right! Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, the wife of Britain's Prince William is pregnant! The fact that there is “one in the royal oven” was not supposed to be common knowledge. That news was leaked when Kate had to be admitted to a hospital for a severe case of morning sickness.
But regardless of the fact that the whole world now knows about this new baby, I suspect there will still be a royal birth announcement. Wouldn't that be interesting to see what a royal birth announcement looks like. Is it embossed with gold leaf on handmade Ventian paper? And think about this, even more interesting, who would be on the list to receive this kind of announcement. I think that list would read like a “whose who” of the world’s most powerful and prestigious.
It seems pretty obvious that when the wealthy and powerful want to share news like this, they do so with people they consider to be in their own sphere of importance, right?
Look with me this morning at Luke chapter 2.
II. The Passage: “There Were Shepherds Out in the Field” (2:1-20)
This morning we are continuing a journey we began last Sunday. We are continuing a Journey to Bethlehem. There are so many distractions at Christmastime, aren't there? Well, as God's people we need to make sure that we are always seeking Jesus, that we are always moving forward in faith, just like the Magi did, as we talked about last time.
But here in Luke we discover others who are travelling to Bethlehem.
A. It Happened One Night (2:1-7)
To set the stage for these travellers, let's look together at verses 1-7 of Luke 2. We read that:
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration whenQuirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,
[he went up] 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed,who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Now we know, right from the start here, that the birth described here by Luke is unlike any birth that has ever taken place since, and unlike anything that had come before.
We need to point this out because the passage I just read seems pretty straightforward and very normal. If you just read this, and this was all you knew, you wouldn’t think anything was too unusual about this birth.
But we know better. We know this story. It happened one night that a simple, Jewish girl gave birth to the Son of God. In a feeding trough for animals, Mary and Joseph laid the very One who created those animals...who created everything.
And if we look closely at this, we realize that none of this is an accident. Notice that a pagan ruler decrees a census that forces Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem. Although this trip fulfilled their obligations to the civil authorities, it also fulfilled God’s promises to raise up a new king from David’s family, a king to be born in Bethlehem, the town in which David himself was born.
But instead of finding a kingly reception, the couple finds a crowded town, or maybe simply a crowded family home (the Greek word is vague here). The birth of the Messiah takes place, not in a palace, but in the stalls adjacent to this home or lodging place.
Instead of a crib surrounded with gold and jewels, the king of heaven is laid in the lunchbox of livestock.
B. From the Least to the Greatest (2:8-14)
But this strange royal birth is complemented by an equally strange birth announcement. Look at Luke 2:8-14:
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and 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 among those with whom he is pleased!”
Did you see...did you see who received this royal birth announcement...did you see who received the most important birth announcement ever given? The recipients were not those who occupied the positions of power in the first century; they were not the kings and governors mentioned earlier, or the Jewish religious leaders, who were considered to be the most pious, the most righteous.
News of the most important event ever to take place in creation was not sent to the people the world considered to be the most important. Not even close! The news of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God was first given to...shepherds.
Now we may think about shepherds in an idealized way, as down-to-earth kind of people who love to care for animals in picturesque fields, enjoying the outdoors and living according to the rhythms of nature. We may think of shepherding as kind of quaint and enviable vocation.
But that’s not how Luke’s first readers would have seen shepherds. In Jewish culture, shepherds were pretty low on the social ladder, so low that the rabbinic teachings of the Talmud tell us that shepherds were not acceptable witnesses in courts of law, since their testimony was considered unreliable.
And since they lived nomadic lives, they were typically unable to fulfill all of the ritual requirements of the Temple. AND shepherds had a reputation, probably based in truth, of being thieves, who moved more than just their flocks...as they moved across the countryside.
Now, we don't know if the shepherds here in Luke were like this, but we need to understand that they were not highly thought of in their culture. They might have been some of the last people anyone would have imagined when it came to God's announcement.
And the importance of this message is stressed by the identity of the messenger. This is not a birth announcement sent by the post office. This is a revelation of God’s glory given by an angel of the Lord, and then confirmed by probably thousands of angels who filled with every corner of that dark night with light.
Notice Luke moves the story from the least to the Greatest. The shepherds are not the focus here. It is the angel’s announcement that is key. Luke does not want his reader to miss the identity of this child. This is good news of a great joy because it is announcement that God has sent us a Savior. This was the Messiah they had been waiting for, the ruler who would bring peace to their people.
And in verse 12, we see that these shepherds are even given a sign, something that will help confirm the truthfulness of what they angels have announced. Now even for them this must have been a strange sign: they would find this king from David’s line lying in a feeding trough, which would quite naturally be in a stable.
Now wait a minute. How could the Messiah of God be lying in a smelly manger? I think they would be tempted to doubt their own sanity. One too many nights hanging out with the sheep right? Maybe they were dreaming.
C. Going with Faith, Returning with Praise (2:15-20)
But look at how they respond to this news and this strange sign. Luke 2:15...
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Instead of doubting their sanity, these men responded to this news in faith. They didn't say, “Let’s go see this thing that MIGHT have happened”...but “this thing that HAS happened”!
AND it says they went with haste! They ran to see! And when they found the right stable, Mary and Joseph must have wondered why, in the middle of the night, this crowd of ragged shepherds was pressing in to see the baby Jesus.
We’re told here that the shepherds explained what had happened...not only to Joseph and Mary, but to anyone who would listen. Notice verse 18: “all who heard it”. I think that refers to more people than just Mary and Joseph.
And just as they had come with faith, Luke tells us they returned to their fields with praises on their lips. These men had been touched by the grace of God.
III. The Lesson of the Shepherds
And so like the Magi, these shepherds made a journey to Bethlehem, didn't they? Even though it was an extremely short trip, this journey was similar to the journey of the Magi in that it was a faith-filled response to God's light of grace. Think about the lesson that God has given us here.
The lesson of the shepherds depends entirely on how you think about yourself, or maybe on how you think others think of you.
For those who feel insignificant, for those who feel cast-off, for those who feel neglected or marginalized or misunderstood, for those who feel hopeless or worthless, for those who feel like they are too far gone, God wants you to understand this morning the amazing truth that... He chose shepherds...He chose shepherds!
God chose shepherds as the first human beings to celebrate with Heaven over the birth of His Messiah. He didn’t honor those who were honored by the world. He didn’t honor the “order of importance” that Jewish society had set up.
Can you identify with these shepherds this morning?
Maybe because of how others see you, maybe because of how society labels you, maybe because of the job you have, or because of the place your from, or because of the car you drive, do you feel like you’re on the fringes? Maybe you feel like there is something you've done, or something you've gone through, by which you have pushed yourself to the fringes of God’s list of who is acceptable.
Whatever it is, this morning, God is telling you through Luke, “I bring you, YOU, good news of great joy, which will be for ALL the people.”
There is nothing that you could have done, there is no label with which the world can label you, that can DISQUALIFY you from receiving this good news of great joy. It is yours if you will accept it in faith.
But there's a flip side to this. Listen to how the Apostle Paul expresses this “flip side”:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards,not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human beingmight boast in the presence of God.
You see, there is nothing that you could have done, there is no label with which the world can labeled you, that can QUALIFY you to receive this good news of great joy.
God’s choice of the shepherds confirms that He gives no weight to the ways in which we often value individuals. God chose what is foolish and weak to shame the wise and the strong, to show us that there is no rank we can hold, or wealth we can offer up, there is no degree we can earn, there is no family we can hail from, there is no accomplishment we can accomplish, that will allow us to EXPECT, that ENTITLES us to God's offer of great joy.
Are you successful? Do have the kinds of things that society says you must have? Are you living a comfortable life? Do you have a good job, with opportunities for advancement? Did you go to a good school? Are you talented? Are you respected?
Listen, those are not bad things. These are blessings. But they are often part of a recipe for the kind of subtle pride that allows us to think that the good news of Jesus Christ is just one more good thing that has come our way because we are living a charmed kind of life.
No. God does not announce this good news to us because we are something. He reveals it to us because we are nothing...and that's precisely why we need of a Savior.
The lesson of the shepherds is humility. We are either humbled by the fact that God's grace found us when, in despair, that is the last thing WE expected, or we are humbled by the fact that God's grace found us when, in pride, it is the very thing we expected. Either way, we see that God's grace is not about our failures or our feats. It is about His merciful choice.
And what happens when you've been humbled by this gift of faith, faith that finds the announcement to be true, faith that finds Christ right there where God promised He would be? What happens?
Here's what happens: We who are the least should make much of Him. (2x)
If we have seen Christ with the eyes of faith, we go back to where we came from. We go back to same fields in which we first saw the light of God. We go back to those same circles... but not as the same people. Like the shepherds, we go back as people of praise.
If you have been brought in from the fringes by the hope of God’s grace through Christ, then go back into your workplace, your family, and your neighborhood with praises on your lips.
If you have been brought down from your pedestal by the humility that comes from God’s grace, then go back into your workplace, your family, and your neighborhood with praises on your lips.
Make much of Him! Don't be ashamed. Would you be ashamed if you received a birth announcement for William and Kate's new baby? No! You would show it to everyone you know. You would frame it, wouldn't you? You would make sure the local news channels were aware of what you'd be given.
If that's true, how much more should WE share the news of what God has given us?! How much more, since, unlike the shepherds, WE know the baby who was laid in a manger became the man who was laid in a tomb...after six hours on a Roman cross?
How much more, since, unlike the shepherds, WE know this Messiah born in the city of David was the king who overcame our greatest enemies on that cross: sin, death, and the Devil?
How much more should we share this good news, since, unlike the shepherds, WE know the invitation is not simply about “this day”, but about “forever” in the presence of God for all who come in faith.
Verse 20: And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Haven't we heard and seen so much more? Haven't we been told so much more?
I hope that you will take every opportunity this Christmas, this holiday season, to glorify and praise God for all that you've heard and seen about Jesus Christ. Put it on your Christmas cards. Write a Christmas letter to your family and friends. Engage people in conversations about the true “reason for the season”. Give gifts that point people to this “good news of great joy”.
What will you do this Christmas? It all begins with one journey. Make haste. Go back in faith and see what God has done.