Journey week #5
Did you get what you wanted for Christmas? Some did. Others might not have…but that is kind of the nature of Christmas isn't it? It is full of surprises. Some good, others disappointing.
Even our study of the Christmas Journey has been like that. There have been some really neat things like seeing pictures of some of these places we have heard about…We remember learning about Nazareth and Sepphoris and how Mary was a poor girl that may have lived in a cave.
We remember learning about Bethlehem, both ancient and modern, and how it means "field of bread". We know now that it is now surrounded by the wall of separation.
We remember learning about Mary's visit to Elizabeth just 6 miles from Bethlehem and the song she sang.
In addition, we remember Mary and Joseph's journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, through famous places like the valley of Jezreel, and Jacobs' well and the difficulty of that journey.
· In this last week if you were in the study, you may have been surprised to find out that there probably wasn't an inn or an innkeeper in the Christmas story? The word that has been translated "inn" is actually a guest room. Since Bethlehem was Joseph's hometown it is much more likely that there was no room in the guest room of the family home, so they fixed up the garage or basement for them. The stable was essentially the family garage. Alternatively, since it was almost certainly a cave stable, you might think of it as fixing up the basement for the newlywed couple. That's a surprise isn't it?
· Similarly, the manger was probably not a wooden box as we envision it. Wood was a precious commodity in that part of the country. More likely, it was a stone feeding trough. Wade told me if I wanted to be authentic next year and have a stone manger, I had to carry it in myself. Therefore, I think we'll stick with the wooden one.
· Then there are the wise men. There are a few surprises there.
o How about, they likely came only 600 miles from modern day Iraq. If they were on camels that is only a 3 week journey. Like across Iowa twice. I always thought it took months for them to get there.
o Additionally there may not have been three. There are three gifts, but the Bible doesn't say there were three Magi.
o Finally, a Magi is not a king. They were more like scientists or college professors, they spent their life studying the stars and interpreting what their movements meant. Frankly more like astrologers than kings.
You can read more about all of this in the book that we have been using.
However, today I want to talk about the angels. What's so surprising about angels? Well, first of all this is the 4th time we see angels in this story. (One each at Mary's, Joseph's, and Zechariah's annunciation and now to the shepherds) Nowhere in the Bible do angels appear more often than in the Christmas story. Angels are messengers. Messengers from God to people. God had been trying to get his message of good news and great joy across for 5000 years. His message kept getting lost somewhere in the spam filter of our brains. This time God was just bound and determined that we would get the message.
So far, God's message has appeared to a respected, but skeptical Jewish priest (Zechariah) and a poor little girl named Mary. God's message came to a down-to-earth, common, Jewish laborer (Joseph), and if you count the message to the wise men, it appeared to a bunch of foreigners with their heads in the stars (the Magi). God used a mass marketing advertising campaign before Jesus was ever born to make sure that, if not everybody, at least somebody was listening.
Today we read of perhaps the most spectacular angel message of all-- this is the Super bowl commercial of angel messages.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.' 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!'
Let's look at the angel's message, because I think it will tell us something important about God, something essential to understanding Jesus, and something fundamental to understanding what it means to be a disciple of the newborn king.
1. First, we have to understand the audience. Good advertising is always directed at a particular audience. There were in that region- around Bethlehem- Shepherds. Now shepherds were among the lowest class of workers in Israel. The only thing lower would have been someone who had an unclean job like swineherd or picking up dead carcasses or tax collector. Shepherds were dirty, smelly, perhaps a little rough around the edges-- but they were also, for the most part, humble, honest people. Notice it was not just to regular shepherds that the message was directed. "There was in that region shepherds out in their fields keeping their watch over their flocks by night." This was the night shift of shepherds. Talk about the lowest of the low. These guys are the underlings that worked for the shepherds who went to be with their families after a hard day in the field. It was to these second-class shepherds that the angel's message came.
2. The first thing the angel said was "don't be afraid for behold." This must have been quite a shock to the shepherds. "Don't be afraid for behold."
I was interested in the combination of Greek words here because they are so vivid and active. . The root of the word "to be fearing" is connected to the word to flee. In other words, don't be running away like a frightened lamb. The word for "behold" means, "be perceiving," "reflecting on", "really soaking in the sight". The angel said, "Do not be fleeing but be seeing" Don't be fleeing, be seeing!
3. What did he want the shepherds to see? He wanted them to see "good news of great joy." It is news of great joy, not great fear. How long do you suppose it had been since these lowest of low, night shift shepherds had heard good news? As we look back on 2012 how long has it been since we have heard good news.
a. There isn't much good happening in Washington, or Cairo, or Jerusalem.
b. There is Newtown Connecticut, the Trayvon/Martin case, and the Colorado shootings.
c. There is Hurricane Sandy, gas prices and Jerry Sandusky.
d. There is the death of American icons Whitney Houston, Norman Schwarzkopf, and Joe Paterno.
A person just gets beaten down by all the bad news. When you are already on the bottom of the social ladder like the night shift shepherds, there isn't very far to go down, but that doesn't make the darkness any easier. We are all ready for some good news aren't we? I for one would like to be able to watch the news without being afraid of what bad thing has happened today.
If it wasn't' obvious already with the message coming to the lowest of the low, the angel says it is for all people. Not just the rich or just the poor, not just the priests and Pharisees, not even just the Jews or just the Christians. This is good news for all people everywhere!
4. The good news is "He is here!" God is born among us as Savior, messiah and lord. "To you is born this day in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the lord." A Savior, Messiah and Lord. I don't know about you, but I could use a savior. I need someone to save me from a life of complete narcissism focused on wanting "more, more, more." I need someone to save me from screwing up my marriage. I need someone to save me from being the worst person I can be. I need someone to save me from my guilt and shame, from hopelessness and despair, from fear and death. I need someone to save me from my self-centeredness, self-absorption, resentfulness, bitterness. I need someone to save me so I can be loving and seek justice and offer compassion. Don't we all need someone to save us from the ugliness of our shared human condition? Don't we all need a Savior to make us the people God wants us to be?
I don't know about you but I could use a divine king or messiah to lead me out of the brokenness that is in me and deliver me some healing and hope not only to myself, but to those around me and around the world. Don't we all need a messiah?
Don't we need a Lord, a good God to show us something other than the cold gray walls of the prisons we have built for ourselves? Someone to live for, someone to honor and obey and serve? Don't we all need a Lord?
We need a savior, a messiah, and lord. The angels said, "To you is born this day in the city of David, a savior who is the messiah and the lord."
5. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!'
This is the tag line at the end of the commercial. It is God's tag line saying, "I'm God, and I approve this message"
We started looking in this angel passage for something important about God, something essential to understanding Jesus, and something fundamental to understanding what it means to be a disciple of the newborn king. What have we learned?
First, what do we learn about God. The consistent lesson through all of the Christmas story—in fact all of scripture is God's message is intended for ALL people. God's message that came to the lowliest of the low shepherds also came to men and women, wealthy and poor, religious, non-religious, and even people who followed other religions like the Magi. The angels say "to you and to all people." To all people and to you. No matter who you are, no matter what kind of life you live, no matter how religious you are or are not, no matter what you have done or used to do, no matter what family problems you have, or how you have hurt your loved ones, no matter what you think in the dark quiet corners of your heart; God's message of love for you reaches out from God's heart to yours. To you and to all people…
Second, what do we learn about Jesus? What does the angel say? "A savior who is Christ the Lord." The good news of great joy is that we have a savior who is Christ the Lord. A SAVIOR who saves us from our past and our present sin, guilt and shame. A Savior that brings forgiveness of sin and hope for a better relationship with God.
The angel also calls Jesus, CHRIST (which in Greek is the messiah) who comes to loosen the grip of sin in our lives. He comes to beat the powerful hold of evil in our hearts. The angel tells the shepherds and all people that the Christ may come riding on a donkey instead of a white horse, in a stable rather than a palace, but he still offers us the hope of a life free of the power of sin.
Finally, the angel points to the fundamental nature of Christian discipleship. God's message is good news of great joy… Jesus brings salvation and hope… but none of that means a thing unless we make Jesus LORD of our lives, king of our days and ruler of our nights. Yes, he was born in a stable; no, he doesn't have all the trappings of worldly authority and power. But as disciples of the Lord of Life we must submit ourselves to the humble baby king, and give ourselves to the one who broke the silent night with the cry that brought salvation and hope to all who will humbly bow before his manger, his cross and his throne.
Are you willing? How badly do you want salvation? How much do you need hope?
Are you willing? Willing to lay your sins down for the one who was laid down in a humble manger for your salvation?
Are you willing? Willing to lay your life before the one who laid his life down to free you from the death grip that sin has on your heart?
Are you willing? Willing to bow in humble adoration and submission before the King of Creation, the Lord of life, the babe of Bethlehem?
Are you willing? Let's use this time of singing Away In A Manger to say "yes." Yes, Lord. Starting today I am willing to call you my savior, My Christ My Lord.
As we sing, as we pray, you are welcome to join me at the altar rail or in your seat to give thanks, worship him, and to lay your life before him. Let us sing.