Topic Scripture: Luke 2:8-14
This is the Advent week of love. No subject is a greater mystery to us.
Children try to help. When asked why love happens between two people, Mae, age 9, replied, “No one is sure why it happens, but I heard it has something to do with how you smell. That’s why perfume and deodorant is so popular.”
On the role of beauty, Brian, age 7: “It isn’t always just how you look. Look at me, I’m handsome as anything and I haven’t got anybody to marry me yet.” And Christine, age 9, replied, “Beauty is skin deep. But how rich you are can last a lifetime.” She’s a smart woman.
We adults are no better with the subject.
Have you heard about The Sims Online? Thousands of people are paying $10 per month for the privilege of living in a virtual community on the Internet. They interact with each other via a computerized role-playing program. Over the next five years, people are expected to spend $1.4 billion on subscription fees to such community games.
ABC’s The Bachelor gave Mr. Aaron Buerge 25 women from whom to choose as his fiancé, while America watched. “The Osbournes” is the first family reality sitcom, debuting on MTV last March. Six million people watch each week as they go about their dysfunctional lives.
True love is a true mystery to our culture. Mother Teresa: “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference towards one’s neighbor who lives at the roadside assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease.”
And now we’re just ten days from Christmas. Are you lonely? Do you need to feel loved? To be loved? To know that you are wanted and important? You’ve come to the right text.
Who does God love?
“And there were shepherds living in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night” (v. 8). Nobody reading these words for the first time in the first century would expect to see them here. You see, people knew about shepherds.
They couldn’t keep the ceremonial laws of Judaism—kosher diet, hand washings before and after meals, and the rest. They couldn’t abstain from work on the Sabbath, since the sheep didn’t very well know what day it was. And so they weren’t allowed to attend worship in the synagogue or at the Temple. They were religiously unclean. But that was only the start of their problem.
Shepherds were unsupervised for months on end. So they were known to steal from the flocks they kept, and to graze them on land which was not theirs. They were known to lie about their crimes, so that they were not permitted to testify in court or hold office. You were not to buy a lamb, wool or milk from a shepherd.
They were classed with tax collectors and prostitutes. It is worth noting that this text is the only occurrence of real shepherds to be found in all the New Testament.
Here’s the shock: “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified” (v. 9). Of all classes in first-century Judaism, they were the least likely to see an angel. And especially to see the “glory of the Lord.”
I learned in study this week that the “glory of the Lord” is a specific biblical phrase, meant to denote the presence of God which was first made visible to humanity with Moses at the burning bush. The “glory of the Lord” was next revealed to the Israelites in the Exodus desert (Exodus 16:10); to Moses on the top of Mt. Sinai (24:15-17); in the Tabernacle (40.34-35); and in the Temple when it was dedicated to God (1 Kings 8:11).
The “glory of the Lord” was displayed in Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:29-32). It was shown to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 22:6-11). He later described it: “I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions” (Acts 26:13). And in heaven, “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light” (Revelation 21:23).
No wonder they were “terrified.” They literally “feared a mega fear.”
This “glory of the Lord” was not revealed to Mary with the angelic visitation. It was not revealed to Joseph in his dream. Or earlier to Zechariah in the temple, or Elizabeth his wife. Not to the Magi in their visit. Not to anyone else in the entire Christmas event. But to shepherds. To the lowest caste of ancient Jewish society. If to them, to us.
An Irish priest on a walking tour of a rural parish came upon an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road in prayer. Impressed, the priest said to the man, “You must be very close to God.” The peasant looked up from his prayers, smiled, and said, “Yes, he’s very fond of me.”
Dr. Fred Craddock was invited to lead a lecture series in Winnipeg, Ontario. He arrived on Saturday night, and a blizzard arrived soon after. The lecture was canceled, and Fred was told to walk down the block from the hotel to a bus depot diner for breakfast.
Fred said, “It was packed with everyone trying to find a warm place.” He found a seat. A moment later, a lady came in. A large man with a greasy apron asked her, “What do you want?”
“May I have some water, please?”
He brought her the water. “Now, what do you want?”
“Water is fine.”
“No, I mean, what do you want?”
“The water will be okay.”
“I mean, what do you want to order, lady? We’ve got paying customers. If you don’t order, you can’t stay.”
“Can’t I stay just long enough to get warm?”
“Listen, lady, order something or leave!”
The woman got up to leave. So did the people on each side of her, then the people on each side of them, then the entire restaurant. The man with the greasy apron said, “Oh, now wait a minute. Everybody sit back down, she can stay.” He even brought her a bowl of soup.
Craddock asked the man next to him, “Who is she?”
He said, “I never saw her before in my life. But if she ain’t welcome, ain’t nobody welcome.”
As Craddock began to eat his own soup, he found it wasn’t too bad. In fact, it was almost good. He had the feeling he had tasted it before. Something in the soup reminded him of something. As he walked out the door and looked back upon that group of people, with the woman sitting among them, he remembered. It reminded him of the bread and cup of communion.
Take a look at the shepherds again, dressed in their peasant rags, dirt smeared on their faces. Smell them and their animals. See the angel at their side, and the “glory of the Lord” around them. Look into their bewildered faces. And ask yourself, who does God love?
How does he love?
The angel answers your question: “Do not be afraid.” “Stop being afraid” is a better translation. Why? I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (v. 10). What is this joy?
In the literal language: “There is born to you this day in the city of David, Savior, Messiah, Lord” (v. 11).
“Savior”—the one who saves us from our sins. No one else in human history has ever claimed to be able to do this. Not the emperors, certainly. Not Buddha or Mohammad or Confucius or the Jewish rabbis or the Hindu masters. Who else today can save you from your sins?
Christ—Messiah, God’s anointed agent announcing himself as the bearer of this salvation to mankind. The fulfiller of the promises of God, the one who brings the salvation God has promised us.
Lord—kurios, power, authority, God. The one born this day will save us from our sins; he has come to tell us, with the authority to do what he promises. This is the day Israel has been waiting and praying for since they first heard their prophets promise it would come. For at least 700 years they have been waiting and hoping. And now he has finally arrived.
Who needs such joy?
Atheist Bertrand Russell wrote, “What the world needs, I am ashamed to say, is Christian love.” Do you?
Douglas Coupland, who coined the term “Generation X,” concluded in his book Life After God, “My secret is that I need God—that I am sick and can no longer make it alone.” Do you need him?
The secular humanist and novelist Marghanita Laski told a television interviewer not long before she died, “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness. I have nobody to forgive me.” Do you?
Now shepherds the world over are invited to this celebration.
He has been born “to you” (v. 11). “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (v. 12).
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (v. 14). And it rests on us all.
“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3).
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1).
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
“Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
“Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2).
“ This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (I John 3:16).
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 1:5-6).
Someone loves you. He was born for you. If you’ll ask him, he’ll be born again in you. He will forgive every sin you’ll confess to him. He will fill your life with purpose and joy. He will be your Savior from sin, your Messiah to bring God to your heart, and your Lord to guard and guide your life. His love is unconditional. And it is all for you.
Where are you a shepherd this morning? What flock are you “keeping watch over?” Where is your field? Where do you feel unloved or unwanted? Where do you need someone to forgive you? Someone to accept you? Someone to want you?
Leave your flocks and fields and fellow shepherds—you’ll not find true love there. Come to the Christ. Receive his love as your Savior. Make him your Messiah and Lord. Tell him where you are hurting today, and ask for his help, his healing, his love. He’s waiting for you.
Raymond Russell Kelley was killed in June of 1944 while fighting in France. His widow Daphne has the poem he was carrying on that day. Its paper is stained with the blood of his mortal wounds. The poem is titled, “When You Come Home”:
When you come home once more to me,
It is unlikely, dear, that I shall be
Articulate; the words I’ve wanted so
To say, I’ll try in vain to speak, I know
I shall reach blindly for you, stricken dumb
With swift and aching joy when you have come,
Or if my tongue find utterance at all,
It will be commonplace and trivial.
But you will understand. And oh, once more
I’ll feel your hand laid lightly on my hand
As was your wont, smoothing it again
And yet again. You’ll lift my face and then
We shall forget all else. You’ll hold me fast
When you come home, come home to me at last!
Jesus is waiting for you to come home. Home to his stable, and one day to his throne room. Home to his love. His promise is stained with the blood of his mortal wounds, blood shed for you. His manger is empty, and his tomb is empty, so he can fill your heart with his love.
He’s waiting for you. Right now.