Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. (Luke 2:8, 9, NKJV).
When you really think about the Christmas story, it is truly mind-blowing. God describes a realm that goes far beyond everything we know from science and physics and chemistry and biology. He describes a virgin birth, ancient prophecies being fulfilled, a once in a lifetime conjunction of planets and stars, and now, angels filling the night sky.
It’s as if God is saying, Look at this, and decide. What is your world made of? What is your life made of? Is this universe just a complicated chemistry set, or is it something more? Christmas is the day we remember that your life and your world is something infinitely, majestically, beautifully designed to go way beyond your wildest dreams.
Here are humble shepherds. They have gathered their sheep for the night. The animals have quieted down. The shepherds have settled down. They’ve made a fire. One has pulled out a flute, or a small harp. And they are resting under the stars sky. A peaceful, quiet, evening just like thousands of evenings before and since.
All that peace gets blasted away, when an angel appears, shatters their boring existence with the most awesome announcement the world has ever heard.
We love Christmas. We make a big deal about Christmas because God made a big deal about Christmas, and he made a big deal about it, because it was birth of his son. On that first Christmas Day, God became human without ceasing to be God. It was such a big deal that God lit up the sky with angelic fireworks the world has never seen.
Our theme this Christmas season is Christmas Lights.
Last weekend, we thought about the Light of the Star.
Next weekend, the Light of the World.
Today, I invite you to think with me about the Light of the Angels.
I want to think through four questions about this miraculous moment, when angels snuck up and surprised the unsuspecting shepherds.
And I’m hoping that God might surprise a few people here today, too.
The Light of the Angels
Who were these angels?
In the Bible, angels are beautiful, powerful, intelligent beings created by the hand of God. As humans, we all look basically the same — head, body, arms, legs, eyes, nose — we all have the same basic equipment.
But angels are different. They don’t descend from each other, and they don’t have angelic DNA. Each one is a unique creation of God. That is why, in the Bible, they look so different. Some have wings. Some are frightening. Some are glorious. Some are humble looking.
The Bible mentions two holy angels by name. Gabriel is named four times. Michael is named five times. There’s another angel in the Bible named Lucifer. He is now called Satan, which means adversary.
There are millions of other angels. These are called holy ones. They all serve God, and they help to guard his people.
Angels are supernatural beings. They live in a realm that is basically invisible to us. I believe there are angels in this room right now. Sometimes, I think that if I could actually see what is happening in the spiritual realm all around me, I’d probably freak out.
There’s an amazing statement in the Bible — the kind that just sums up everything.
We do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)
This means that this visible and physical world we see rests on top of a deeper, invisible, more lasting, more real world than we can possibly imagine.
Angels, demons, God, the devil, heaven, hell, truth, and lies. Spiritual realities more solid than the ground you walk on.
Who were these angels?
The Christmas angels represent the supernatural, eternal, and spiritual dimension that surrounds your life and calls to the deepest part of your heart.
Your whole life is surrounded by more than meets the eye. And it’s that invisible part, that spiritual part, that is always tugging at your heart.
If you feel that tug today, if you’ve been looking to connect with that spiritual dimension, I want to help you do what the shepherds did. I want to help you come to Jesus, personally, in your own way.
It won’t be weird. I won’t embarrass you or single you out. I just want to help you say a prayer, and express the very faith that Christmas is all about.
Who were the shepherds?
Shepherding is an ancient trade in Israel. The book of Genesis tells us that Abel, the second son of Adam and Eve, was a keeper of sheep, so were Joseph’s brothers. Some of the greatest figures in the Bible were shepherds: Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David.
It was a tough trade, demanding a whole bunch of skills. Flocks could number in the thousands. They required constant movement to fresh pastures. Shepherds and their sheep roamed the fields for months on end. Shepherds knew all the hills and valleys, and they knew where choice pastures and still waters might be found. Dogs accompanied them to help protect and guide the sheep. They had to fight off predators and keep careful track of every single sheep.
Shepherds needed alertness and courage to stave off predators, including hyenas, jackals, and wolves. The Old Testament book of 1 Samuel tells of the shepherd boy David fighting off a lion and a bear. At night, shepherds might lead their flock into one of many enclosures dotting the landscape. These were fences made of stones with a single opening on one side. Several flocks might share the enclosure. They spent the night there, safe from wandering and harm, as their shepherds slept in the opening.
Shepherds wore a cloak made of wool or sheepskin [ironically] to protect from cold night air. They carried a staff, a sling, and a rod. Many used a flute or a pipe both to pass the time and to calm the sheep. At daybreak, the various shepherds would rouse their sheep with a series of loud calls, and head off for the morning’s pastureland. The sheep, knowing their shepherd’s voice, would sort themselves out and follow their own shepherd.
They were working people like truck drivers, home makers, teachers, and carpenters. They weren’t mighty, weren’t rich, weren’t important in the eyes of the world. Nobody even knows their names.
Who were the shepherds?
The Christmas shepherds represent average people doing average things who are unexpectedly lifted to extraordinary moments with eternal meaning.
The first people who heard the message were not wealthy people, mighty people, impressive people, or religious people. They were blue collar people.
That makes me glad, because God is not looking at your bank account before he decides whether or not to forgive your sins.
You are made for eternity. There is something planted deep inside your heart. You are a spiritual being, a little lower than the angels, the Bible says. You are sacred to God — made in his image. There is a God-shaped vacuum in every human heart. You — your identity, your personality, your memories, will live forever.
Christmas happened, so that the place you live forever can be with God. Like I said, I want to help you make absolutely sure of that promise coming true in your own life today.
Put yourself in this story. You are doing your thing. Running your business. Going to work. Going to school. Taking care of your own kind of flock.
All of a sudden, everything changes.
The angels blast through the skies and light up the dark fields, and they actually say something to you.
Or…You show up at church, and some Italian guy starts talking to you.
What was the angel’s message?
We can break down the angels’ message into four parts: its nature, core, sign, and results.
NATURE: Good News.
Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.
- Do not be afraid. That’s what the angels said, and that is what I repeat to you today.
- Do not be afraid of God.
- Do not be afraid you have failed too many times.
- Do not be afraid you have crossed a point of no return.
So many people associate God with bad news. Like he’s a bully who wants to steal your lunch money.
The first time I took my kids to see Santa, it was a love/hate relationship. We went to he mall, and there was Santa. The kids were happy and excited. The stretched out their hands. Santa! Santa!
But as soon as we got close, they freaked out! Not Santa! Not Santa!
That’s how so many people feel about God. He’s awesome from a distance, but, up close and personal, he’s bad news.
But when you understand what God wants to do for you, in you, through you, it’s pure good news.
So, what exactly is the good news?
CORE: The Savior is Born.
“For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
- If the world just needed information, God would have sent a teacher.
- If the world just needed healing, God would have sent a doctor.
- If the world just needed money, God would have sent a banker.
- If the world just needed justice, God would have sent a lawyer.
- If the world just needed a smile, God would have sent a comedian.
- If the world just needed good food, God would have sent my Italian Grandmother.
But the what the world needed most — you, me, everybody — was cleansing from our sin and outfitting for heaven, so God sent a Savior.
That is the meaning of Christmas. A Savior was born.
- One who saves from sin.
- Saves from death.
- Saves from condemnation.
- Saves from dysfunction.
- Saves from addiction.
- Saves from suicide.
- Saves from discouragement, depression, and despair.
- Saves from arrogance.
- Saves from every dark force that breaks hearts and alienates you from God.
- He is the Savior, and today he can be Your Savior.
That’s the good news. That’s the core.
SIGN: Manger & Swaddling Clothes.
“And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
It’s like the angels say, “Hey humble shepherds. Wanna go see the Almighty, Glorious, King of kings, and Lord of lords, Glorious Savior, Redeemer, and Master and Commander of the Universe? Do you you want to see see the one the prophets foretold, the rituals symbolized, and the devil fears?”
The shepherds say, “Definitely! Yes! We definitely want to see him. What’s he like?”
“The absolute opposite of everything you’d ever expect or think.”
- He’s not in a palace, he’s in the stable.
- He’s not on a throne, he’s in a manger.
- He’s not flying free, he’s wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Because Christmas proves that God’s way of qualifying you for the heavenly realms is the exact opposite of everything you’d ever expect or think.
- You expect to pay a price. Christmas means God gives a gift.
- You expect to make a sacrifice. Christmas means God made the sacrifice.
- You expect to work for heaven. Christmas means God did all the work… one hundred percent.
- You expect works. Christmas means grace.
When you think of God, and heaven, and salvation, and all of that, I don’t know what comes to mind for you, but if what comes to mind feels like a heavy burden, you’ve got the picture backwards. Grace is counter-intuitive. God is making the best offer the human race has ever known, and we’ve actually been praying for you, that you would say yes today. Because this will be the result:
RESULT: God and Sinners Reconciled.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:10-14)
Picture God, the Son in heaven. It is time to fulfill the eternal plan.
The angels gather around him. They can’t believe their eyes. The Son lifts off his crown. Sets it aside. He removes his royal garments, and casts them down. The angels gasp in wonder, as Son of God becomes the Son of Man… and veils his glory… and masks his splendor… and assumes into union with his divine nature, a perfect and complete human nature. Undiminished deity. Perfect humanity. Two natures in one person.
He left the splendor of heaven, shed his glory, was born of the virgin Mary, laid in a manger, lived, loved, taught, died for our sins, and rose again. There has never been a story of self-sacrificing love like the story of Christmas.
The result is messed up humans reconciled to a holy, perfect God.
Peace on earth, good will toward humans… whatever hostility was caused by our sins was erased, and forgiven, and forgotten because of what Jesus did.
If you will believe him, and if you will trust in him, that same result will be yours today.
The Angels’ Message represents God’s continuing invitation to all people of every generation to receive his gift of love.
There’s an invitation that has your name on it. You can make this Christmas your first Christmas as a member of the family of God.
How did the shepherds respond?
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. (Luke 2:15, 16)
The heavenly, supernatural angels disappear.
The earthly, natural shepherds respond to their message.
What was their response? They came to Jesus.
No spiritual fireworks. No more rush of emotion. No overwhelming, mountaintop experience.
Just the quietness of their own thoughts.
I want to give you the quietness of your own thoughts today. Because I believe God is tugging at your heartstrings. So, no manipulation. No pressure. Nothing showy or spectacular.
Just a truth. A mountain of good news. A Savior born, who lived and died, and lived again, and reaches out to you in this very moment with a love that knows no bounds. He wants to forgive you, adopt you, and build a mansion for you in heaven.
The shepherds leave their sheep, rush from the field, run down dusty street of tiny Bethlehem, ask around and find the house, and there is Mary, and there is Joseph, and there is the baby, Jesus, lying in a manger.
In your own way, here, in this place, or wherever you are hearing my words… in your own place, you can come before Jesus the Savior today. Because…
The shepherds’ response represents your response faith and trust in Jesus.
We’re going to pray in a couple of minutes, and I want to lead you in a prayer do do just that.
There’s a Christmas verse in the Bible that I think is my favorite verse of all. For the last fifteen years, I have recited this verse from this pulpit every single week. But you’ve probably never heard it. Unless you come really early. That’s because it’s the verse I say during my mic check. Here it is:
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
I say this is a Christmas verse because it tells us why Jesus was born.
- The MOTIVE of Christmas was love: herein is love.
- The MIRACLE of Christmas was that God loved those who did not love him back: not that we loved God, but that he loved us.
- The METHOD of Christmas was the sending of God’s son: and sent his son.
- The MEANS of Christmas was the Cross: to be a propitiation for our sins — to be a sacrifice that satisfies the justice of God.
I said it’s one of my favorite verses because of this word propitiation. It means God is satisfied with me. That has always been my struggle. Do I measure up? Is God mad at me, or does he smile at me? Have I achieved his standards? I have always felt that I’m simply not good enough.
And in rushes this verse to remind me: God is satisfied with me. Propitiated. Not because he pretends I am so perfect, but because Jesus Christ died for my sins, and rose again to declare me perfect.
And God is satisfied with me.
And that is the greatest Christmas miracle of all.
This is the meaning of the Light of the Angels. God is saying, look at this, and decide. What is your life made of? What is your world made of?
It is more than meets the eyes. Good tidings of great joy to all the people.
Our prayer follows an ABC pattern.
- ADMIT. God, I admit I need you. You’ve been tugging at my heart. I’ve been searching for answers. I can’t find them without you. I admit I have fallen short of what you require and I need you God.
- BELIEVE. I believe that on Christmas day, you sent Jesus into the world. I believe he came to bring me home to you. I believe he is your son. I believe he died for my sins. I believe he rose again. I believe he is the Savior, and today I believe he is MY Savior
- CHOOSE. So right now God, I choose to trust in Jesus as my Only Hope. I choose to believe in him. I’m telling you God, as best as I can, that I’m believing in Jesus and receiving him as my Savior, and I ask you right now, because of Jesus alone, please save me.