News of Great Joy to All People
nly Luke’s biography of the life of Christ records the Angelic Annunciation to the Shepherds. As he was developing his systematic chronology he, as do most modern day authors, went around interviewing persons who were actually there. As I have said before, he interviewed Mary, and she might have told him that some of the shepherds were still living in Bethlehem. Since his gospel was written only 40-50 years after the birth of Christ, it is quite probable that he found the actual shepherds. Since they had gone everywhere telling their story of “good news of great joy to all people...” there were probably many people who knew just where the shepherds still lived. Today’s churches in Bethlehem still consider their founding fathers to be the shepherds who were first to tell the story of Christmas.
Most folks seem to hold the wise men as their favorite characters in the nativity scene, all rich and regal, but I have always loved the simple shepherds, somewhat unkempt, out sleeping in the fields, looking like today’s guys coming home from a week long hunting trip. As a child I could always get a part in the nativity pageant because I asked to play a shepherd. The costume was simpler to get up. Dad’s old bathrobe and a brown towel around your head would do just fine. I loved drawing fake whiskers on my face with charcoal. We would add some sandals, or bedroom slippers to make the costume complete. Nobody ever wanted to put makeup on a shepherd, unless it was dirt, and that was always fine with a young boy. Shepherds did not look so pretty with fancy golden gowns and crowns.
Young readers of this text, in the King James Version, had to be very careful to read the words in proper rhythm or it came out, “country shepherds,” instead of “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8). The 1611 translators needed to have included a comma after “country.” Many young nativity pageant readers have fallen into that mistake.
I also admired the shepherds for getting up and going immediately to the manger. It is assumed that the Wise Men arrived several months late, when the holy family was living in a “house” (Matt. 2:11). I read on the internet last week that if the Three Wise Men had been Three Wise Women, they would have asked directions, been on time, cleaned the stable, helped with the birthing, and made a casserole. Anyhow, most of us today forget that our custom of giving expensive gifts to each other, like the Wise Men brought to the baby, was supposed to signify God’s gift of His Son. Yet, the big gifts are almost assumed these days. One woman gave her husband a fifty dollar gift certificate and he used it as a down payment on a BMW. We forget that today’s Christmas gifts are sold at next summer’s flea markets. Some use Christmas gifts as a way to get even. One man gave his boss a leaky ant farm.
Again, at our nativity pageants, we always listen to the readers carefully because if they miss the tempo they could have the shepherds finding Mary and Joseph and the Babe all lying up in the manger together. “And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” (v. 16). J.B. Phillips’ paraphrase made the reading easier by inserting a dash line, instead of a comma, after the word Joseph. The New English version uses a semicolon.
As an adult I have come to admire the shepherds because they were the first to both visually witness and to give verbal witness to the coming of the Messiah. “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad... and the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen...” (v. 17 & 20). They became the first evangelists going out to tell everybody they could find what they had witnessed in the stable. No wonder that all who heard it were “filled with wonder.” (v. 18).
As a preacher I have come to love the story of the shepherds because it contains so much preaching material; even a three point sermon: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you (I) good news of (II) great joy, which shall be to (III) all people.”
In a world filled with: death, disease, hatred, violence, and fear; comes a story that is all Good News. Christmas brings joy to everyone’s heart who will allow him room. As the year 2000 dawns many are filled with fear. Headlines in the newspapers and cover stories on major news magazines have dealt with the worldwide fear of the end of the world, and fear of violence that have gripped many. However, in Christ we have no fear for we are filled with “Glad Tidings of great joy...” How we wish that “all people” everywhere could have the shepherds’ assurance and joy in their hearts! Perhaps we could be the ones to go out and share the angelic message with our family, friends, associates and neighbors.
Perhaps I love to preach about the shepherds most because they embody a living example of our own coming to the Christ Child, and our own living for the Christ Child. Not only do we come and observe what God has done in Christ; we also must accept it into our hearts and allow it to remold our lives. It is not enough to merely come and see the pretty decorations in the Sanctuary and listen to the words that are sung and preached, we must decide to make them our own. So often the Spirit comes to us just about like He did for the shepherds: When we least expected Him, there He was. Most often the Spirit still comes in a surprising manner.
And the Spirit of the Babe of Bethlehem has been here today. The guarantee that Jesus gave is that whenever even just two or three of us gather in his name he will always come and be in the midst of us. (Matt. 18:20). And He is especially here at Christmas. What a story it is with all the ingredients of a precious baby born to a wonderful young couple. And that baby being the Son of God who was born to die that we might live.
Christmas! What a story it is! Only God could have thought it up!
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor