The Shepherds - God's Desire For Our Lives
December 17, 2017
GOD'S DESIRE FOR OUR LIVES
December 17th, 2017 (3rd Advent)
Who delivers presents to baby sharks at Christmas? Santa Jaws.
What does December have that all the other months don’t have?
The letter D.
Why was the snowman rummaging in a bag of carrots?
He was picking his nose.
What Christmas carol is sung in the dessert?
O camel ye faithful!
What’s the most popular wine at Christmas?
I don’t like my Brussel sprouts!
What’s Christmas today?
A baby shower that goes totally overboard. Unless you buy your kid a couple of batteries, and attach a note saying, “toys not included.”
Last Christmas I told my wife that all I wanted was a chainsaw. That’s it. Beginning and end of the list. Chainsaw. You know what she got me? A homemade frame with a picture of us from our first date together. Which was great. Because I got her a chainsaw.
Missing in these jokes and really in Christmas in our modern world, is Christ. However, I would venture to guess that many people in Canada are familiar with the passage in Luke 2 about the angel making the announcement to the shepherds, even if they don’t attend church or never crack open a Bible.
These verses from Luke have even entered the popular culture, through Linus’ famous speech in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” special on TV.
Every December for the last 52 years (since 1965 (Dec 9th, 1965), in between TV specials of the Grinch slithering around Who-ville, and Scrooge meeting up with the various ghosts, and George Bailey being saved by Clarence the angel, and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer running around the North Pole with the elf Herbie, we have Linus, reciting Luke 2:8-14 (the first 7 verses), in answer to Charlie Brown, who was overwhelmed with the commercialism of Christmas and asked what the real meaning of Christmas is.
Now, it’s certainly a welcome change of pace this December to hear the Bible being quoted on television. But my concern is that with all the annual repetitions, the familiarity of the story of the shepherds can cause us to take it for granted – to overlook just how amazing this incident really is.
Because it’s not just a story of the angels’ interaction with some shepherds, 2,000 odd years ago. It’s really a story about God’s love for humanity; God’s love for you and me.
So let me read it to you again:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Lord Messiah (Christ the Lord).”
“This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly hosts appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”
This is where Linus stops reciting from Luke 2. But of course the story goes on.
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Who does God announce the birth of His Son to? Who does he invite to come and see the new baby? A ragtag collection of sheep herders! Now why would God want to announce his arrival, Emmanuel (God with us), to a bunch of uneducated, smelly, low-class shepherds?
Why not the religious or political elite? Why not the head of the synagogue in Bethlehem?
If you think about it, when a child is born to a member of British royalty, there are no personal invitations to the cab drivers of London to come visit mother and child in Windsor castle.
And what about the angel choir singing for the shepherds? ... It’s as if the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearsed all year to perform Händel’s Messiah, but then gives one performance where only the eight people are in the hall - the maintenance crew of the tabernacle!
I think God chose the shepherds on purpose because Jesus was not going to be the Saviour of only the political, social and religious elite. Jesus was not going to be the Savior only of kings and governors, or popes and priests. The good news was for all people, not just the privileged.
Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians with regard to the average Christian in that city:
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Perhaps you and I aren’t one of the “beautiful people,” maybe we’re not especially popular, wealthy, powerful or influential.
We may think, that perhaps God isn’t aware of us, and if He is, He likely wouldn’t be impressed. God really couldn’t care about individuals like me and you.
But the reality is, the shepherds were the first to hear of Christ’s birth. Other than Joseph and Mary, they were likely the first to lay eyes on the Son of God. They were the first to tell others about Jesus.
So this is just a reminder that God IS interested in you and me. He loves you and me.
THE MESSAGE TO THE SHEPHERDS
A. happy: I bring you good news of great joy
The message of the angel to the shepherds was so good, that it was to bring great happiness or joy. If accepted and appropriated, it was to make people glad, happy, joyful.
But sometimes the problem is, that while Christians know in theory that the news about Jesus’ birth is good, it sometimes doesn’t translate into happiness. Why is that? There could be lots of reasons.
The loss of a loved one around Christmas time,
conflict in the home,
a car accident,
loss of a job,
being tired and exhausted,
stress … you get it, truly a lot of reasons.
One of the reasons for a lack of joy at hearing that Jesus is born is because Jesus’ birth
doesn’t make life easy,
it doesn’t get rid of all my problems,
it doesn’t pay the bills,
it doesn’t make other people treat me nicer.
And so we can get jaded. What’s so good about the news of Jesus’ birth, anyway?
The reality is that to some degree how we experience the good news of Jesus’ birth depends upon our long-established habits of how we approach life, how we think about life, how we react to life, whether we see the glass half-empty or half-full, whether we are thankful in general or we have a sense of entitlement and take the good things for granted.
Kathy and I just came back from Mexico and there were a couple of things that I particularly noticed about Canadians. We ARE in fact, by and large very polite. I played volleyball, and whenever anyone, me included, would make even the slightest error, he or she would apologize. The serve is too long. The bump goes off. The set is too close to the net. There’s the apology. It’s so second nature, that NOT to apologize would take some concerted effort.
But the other thing I noticed, is that Canadians are complainers. You know, I could overhear conversations, and I was always astounded at how often a person would complain … about the service, the food, some relative, whatever.
And the reality is that, if we consider life to be good, even really good, then chances are, that we feel happier. Right? But if we think of life as being bad, or very bad, then chances are good that we will be unhappy … regardless of whether or not we call ourselves Christian.
For example, the way we think about our spouses will make a huge difference in how we speak with them, act toward them, react to them, … how we experience marriage as a whole.
Many years ago, when I was helping my neighbour Garry build his fence, he commented, “Life’s a bleep, and then you marry one.” At the time I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t. A number of months later he went to work and just didn’t come home to his wife and two young sons. I’m not sure anymore, but I think shortly thereafter he left either town or the province.
And you know what, his wife was a good person. Had he thought different about her, likely he would have reacted differently to her, and his marriage experienced would have been a lot better.
That's not to say that everything is hunky dory if we just think it is. But maybe you have heard of the very old illustration about a plane. And not being a pilot, I hope I’m not getting it all wrong.
In the cockpit of an airplane there is one instrument called an attitude indicator (or AI).
It is also known as an artificial horizon because it informs the pilot of how the plane is oriented relative to the earth’s horizon.
If the pilot wants the airplane to climb, then two things need to happen. The nose of the airplane has to be moved above the horizon, the attitude has to be up, but just as importantly, the power needs to be increased, the engines will need to work harder.
If the pilot wants the airplane to drop, he can push the nose of the airplane downward, or he can decelerate to the point where the nose drops, or he can increase the wind resistance of the airplane with the flaps until the nose drops, or he can do all three.
In other words, given the effects of gravity it’s fairly easy to drop the airplane, but it takes a bit more to make the airplane climb. The attitude needs to be up and the output of the engine needs to be increased.
For Christians, the increased power is not only their own efforts, but also the strength of God on the inside, that is helping them.
To reiterate, if our attitude is up, if we consider life to be good or very good, then we will be joyful. And the news that the angel proclaimed to the shepherds was great. We tend to forget just how great it is (old hat), because, as the angels said, “a saviour has been born … the Lord Messiah”.
1. THE MESSAGE TO THE SHEPHERDS:
B. get saved: “A Saviour has been born”
Now the shepherds knew what people needed to be saved from.
They needed to be saved from the tendency to sin, to do what is wrong, to do what is against God’s will.
The shepherds knew themselves and they knew human nature.
They also knew that they needed to be saved from the Roman occupation. They needed to be saved from their enemies so that they could live in peace within God’s kingdom.
But today that’s not nearly as clear as back then. Many people don’t think they need to be saved - from anything or anyone. Their life is pretty good. Financially they are secure. They enjoy fairly good health. They’ve got a pretty positive outlook. What more could they want? It’s only when the bottom drops out of their lives - but sometimes not even then - that they get to the point of acknowledging that they might need a Saviour.
But there are still enough people, even in our day, who know that, if they need saving, they need saving from themselves … so that ultimately they can know they’re OK with God - now and for eternity.
1. THE MESSAGE TO THE SHEPHERDS
So Jesus’ birth was to bring joy, it was to save, and then,
C. be at Peace -
When the large company of angels appeared and started to their song of praise, “Glory to God in the highest,” their song also included the words
“On earth peace to people on whom God’s favour rests.”
God’s favour rests on humanity because of the birth of the Messiah (Christ).
As I thought about this promise of peace in a world full of hate and violence, I realize that this announcement by the angels, as it relates to the Christian existence, has so much to do with what we have spoken about so far – God beginning a transformation in our lives, first, by allowing us to be at peace with him.
Then, by allowing me to be more at peace with myself. Both of which contribute to our ability to be at peace with others.
1. I’m saved at peace with God
2. I’m changed at peace with myself
3. at peace with others
When I am at peace with God and then with myself, then I can be at peace with others! The opposite of peace is conflict and anxiety.
When I am at war with myself, when I feel uneasy and insecure inside, then I will react strongly - in a negative way - whenever I feel slighted, insulted, disrespected, threatened, attacked, rejected.
I will become defensive, possibly aggressive, loud, hurtful.
I will want to win no matter what.
I will see the person who disagrees with me as the enemy.
I will react to others with rage and self-righteousness
I will withdraw from anyone who could hurt me.
I will comply and not voice my true opinion
I will allow others to run over me and pretend it doesn’t matter
Having a thin skin or a bad temper is really a sign that a person hasn’t learned to be at peace with himself or herself.
When we try to control a situation and make things go our way through anger and intimidation is really a sign that we aren’t at peace with ourselves. We are overreacting, overcompensating.
If we are passive-aggressive, always agreeing, but never following through and dragging our feet, then we are not at peace with ourselves.
When we are NOT at peace with ourselves, if we are full of anxiety, then this will negatively affect our relationships:
We become highly reactive – we lash out “automatically”.
We deny responsibility for problems – it is always someone else’s fault.
We seek a distraction or outlet or something to temporarily mask our problems – drugs, sex, shopping, retreat into a fantasy world online.
But when we are at peace with ourselves. When we are secure without ourselves. Then people can say all kind of things, and we will be able to deal with these things in a rational and positive way.
We don’t have to dominate;
we don’t have to be in charge;
we don’t have to have the limelight;
we don’t have to try to outshine others;
we don’t have to become defensive;
we don’t have to make sure our opinion is followed.
We will be able to go to those who have wronged us.
We will own up to our own part in a misunderstanding.
We will find ways of working through bitterness and move on to forgiveness.
We will learn to empathize with others, even those we don’t see eye to eye with.
If we are at peace with ourselves, then we will be able to admit to mistakes, react calmly to insults, and not get caught in the trap of trying to deaden or escape from our anxiety.
How are we at peace with God?
I admit that my attitudes and actions separate me from God (I need a Saviour)
I accept that God has provided a way of forgiveness through Jesus’ death and resurrection
I commit to live for God to the best of my abilities
I ask for help to transform into a balanced, wholesome, caring human being
Truly accept myself as someone loved by God
Some people go through life saying, “I’m so bad. I’m such a great sinner. I’m such a wretch.” Paul said, I am the greatest sinner that ever lived, and yet, and yet, I am God’s chosen instrument, a true apostle who has been forgiven and given a job to do.
You are a child of God. You are someone he loves. When he looks at you, he doesn’t see your past failures, but your future successes, he doesn’t see your limitations but your great potential.
How do you view yourself?
Truly commit myself to being more like Jesus
God saved us to transform us! We have to recognize Satan’s lies. One of them is that only sinful activity is fun.
Take responsibility for my own spiritual and emotional health
This is not something that we can sluff off on others. Others are not responsible for our spiritual journey. Not the pastor, not my spouse, not my parents, not my school. It’s my own responsibility to build and maintain and grow my relationship with God.
If we have the Spirit of God dwelling within, then we have already the answer to most of our problems.
Yes, sometimes we need others so we can speak of our problems, sometimes we need counsellors to give us advice, sometimes we need medication to help us deal with chemical or hormonal imbalances, sometimes we need a support group to help us deal with addiction or dysfunction – but every one of us who is a believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit, already has the most of the answers within.
Accept that life is life
When we approach life with false and unrealistic expectations, with a sense of entitlement, with the belief that God HAS to make life easy, then we are sure to be disappointed and disillusioned. Life is not and never will be a bed or roses.
When we know that life will bring with it good times and bad, times when everything goes smooth and times when things will be difficult and everything will seem to go wrong, then our approach to life will be realistic.
Not: Things are going so good, I wonder when the hammer is going to drop?
Find a greater purpose than myself
We will never be at peace with ourselves if we don’t have a purpose that is higher and more important than ourselves.
There may be some satisfaction in only living for oneself. But it breeds self-centredness and selfishness, which in turn impacts our relationships in a tremendous negative way.
THE RESPONSE OF THE SHEPHERDS
I think that the way that the Shepherds handled this situation was pretty good - an example to us.
A. Let’s check it out: “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see”
Is God asking you to see for yourself this child in a manger who would grow to be the man hanging on the cross? Is it time to give in to what your heart is telling you is the way you should go?
B. Let’s let it out: “They spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child”
And all who heard were amazed at what they said.
We may think we do not have anything to share. We could think that the birth of Jesus is just our own truth, and not for others. We may think that we are way too shy to speak about our faith. We may think that we’re just unqualified to do so.
The truth is that we all have a story. If we are believers, each one of us has at least something to say about how our faith has impacted us in a positive way, how it has helped us through a rough spot, how an answer to prayer changed everything. If there is no positive difference of any kind, then something is wrong with our faith.
And yes, we don’t have to hit others over the head with our story. But we’re all called to share it at times, at the appropriate time, with a lot of humility and respect for the other person’s viewpoint.
C. Let’s sing it out: They returned glorifying and praising God
The best and most wholesome reaction to God’s love for us is a heart and spirit that is deeply thankful to God.
Is not the joy of the Lord expressed in praise and thanksgiving? When you are sincerely praising God, how can our spirit not be anything but positive?
WAS THERE ONE THING THAT I HEARD GOD SAY TO ME THIS MORNING?
IF SO, WHAT EXACLTY WAS IT AND WHAT EXACTLY WILL I DO ABOUT IT?
If I know that a Saviour, the Messiah, is born, let me not lack joy and happiness and laughter in my life.
If I know that I am separated from you, that anything or anyone is separating me from you, it could be my pride or my distrust of you, help me to set these aside and come to you in humble dependence and ask you to save me, to bring me to yourself.
If I know that I lack peace, possibly peace in my home, in my friendships, in my family, with my spouse, with my kids, with my parents, then help me to do whatever it takes to be at peace with you … to be at peace with who I am, to take responsibility for wholesome thought, to be OK with life being life, with finding the reason why you put us on this earth.
And may that peace give me a story of your goodness and faithfulness. Not just at Christmas time, but throughout the year and throughout my life.