For many of us the Christmas story is well known – we’re aware of the basic details that concerned Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem. We know that Mary was heavily pregnant and we know that when they arrived in Bethlehem no-
But all that happened over 2000 years ago. And we may deep down want to ask why do we bother remembering it in the 21 st century. What is there in such a story to warrant all the hype and all the celebrations that take place year after year?
The trouble many of us have is that we think we’ve understood what Christmas is all about and we’ve never really bothered to sit down and think about it at all.
This morning we’re going to dig just a little deeper and think about just what the Christmas story is really all about.
If we want to understand just what took place at that first Christmas and why it is so important we must realise that the whole of it is shot through with references to the supernatural.
You see, our God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, is everywhere active in the Christmas story. It has his finger prints all over it and yet it is a story which is recorded for us as straightforward, if incredibly unusual, historical fact.
Messages that God had given to his prophets hundreds of years earlier are being brought to fulfilment.
Angels are sent as God’s messengers to convey a series of fresh messages from heaven.
Jesus Christ, the Lord, is born.
We’re not to let this wash over us as though this emphasis upon the divine, the supernatural, was a mere embellishing of an otherwise touching but ordinary story. This emphasis upon the divine, the supernatural, is essential – without it there would be no true Christmas story!
The Christmas story is about what happened when God decided the time had come for him to launch his great plan to save sinners from their sin.
You may find thinking about God directly intervening in the affairs of this world a little unsettling. You may find the thought of him deliberately seeking to confront you as troubling. Don’t worry if you do, none of the major actors that first Christmas took what happened in their stride either. They were fearful too. The thought of God drawing near can be immensely troubling until we realise that he intends us no harm but longs to do us good.
This morning we are just going to focus our attention upon one of these supernatural incidents -
Jesus had just been born in the stable. Mary had wrapped her new born in strips of cloth as was the custom in her day and she had laid him in an animal’s feeding trough as she didn’t have anywhere more suitable.
Now the scene changes to the fields nearby and to a group of shepherds who are looking after their flocks of sheep. They had probably done this many, many times before – they weren’t afraid of the dark and weren’t given to being spooked. But then something happened the like of which they had never seen before.
An angel of the Lord appeared to them.
Now sometimes when angels have appeared on earth they have appeared as if they were men and they weren’t recognised as being anything special at all. Both Abraham and Lot had such a visit. They welcomed angels and offered them hospitality while been unaware of their true identity.
But it was not like that this time. This angel of the Lord didn’t appear as some stranger taking a night stroll in the fields. This angel of the Lord appeared in a blaze of divine glory. He was God’s messenger and his message was a direct communication of good news from heaven to earth. God had a message and he wanted these shepherds to hear.
A message coming like this was extraordinary! It was all the more so when we realise that shepherds were not choice members of society. Shepherds were generally looked down upon – their work often kept them from religious meetings and they had a reputation for not being overly bothered about who owned what, they were happy to take what they found.
These men were taken aback by the sudden appearance of this angel and the display of divine glory – tough, outdoor types that they were they were scared!
The whole appearance of this angel has been designed to interrupt the shepherds and to grab their undivided attention. This is no haphazard event with no significance. An important message is to be given to them. God wants them to know what has happened, he wants them to know what has begun!
The angel’s message is not a long one but is certainly comprehensive. This is the message that the shepherds heard:
Let’s look more closely at the different parts of this special message
The angel begins right where the shepherds are – he addresses their fears.
v.10 "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.
I wonder whether deep down you’re afraid of God. Perhaps you’re frightened of being seen as a religious nut if you start to take too much of an interest in spiritual matters; perhaps you’re frightened that God is a kill-
Well, the message that the angel passed on to the shepherds is for you too! Don’t be frightened. Heaven has good news to share with you and it is news designed to secure you great joy if only you will listen, if only you will take it on board and respond! Did you notice that the angel’s message said it was "for all people"?
The second thing that the angel does is to explain just what this good news is all about and it focuses on the baby that has just been born in Bethlehem. His description is detailed and very significant:
v.11 "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord."
The angel prefers to describe the place where the baby has been born as the city of David. Yes, that is Bethlehem but referring to it this way points us in the direction of something else. David had been Israel’s greatest King and God had promised many centuries before to send his deliverer as a descendent of this great King David. God had made his promises in the past and was keeping them and he always does. You may put your trust in God confident that he will always do what he has promised to do.
The second description that the angel gives concerning this new born child is that he is born to be a Saviour. We use that word in so many different contexts but all share the same basic idea of rescuing or delivering from danger. Sometimes the term is bandied about so much that we’re in danger of failing to appreciate its importance. A new manager to replace Mourinho is already being referred to as a potential saviour of Chelsea Football Club – and for those who couldn’t care less about football the term saviour is devalued.
The child born in the city of David was born to be a Saviour, the Saviour, not of a football club’s season but of the World. A Saviour because we are sinners in God’s sight and we need saving.
The angel’s message tells us that just the one we need had at last come into the world!
But how could it be that a little baby boy would be able to fulfil such hopes and such dreams?
It is quite simply because this baby boy who was born was special like no other. This was the birth of Christ, the Lord. The promised Messiah, the divine Messiah, God himself coming into the world, Immanuel, to save. What a phenomenal declaration the angel made to those shepherds! We can deduce from it all how grave was the danger from which we needed to be saved if it took God himself to come to save us. We can also deduce how great God’s love must be if he is prepared to go to such lengths to save people like those ordinary, disreputable shepherds and people like us!
And now we come to the third part of the angel’s message:
v.12 "And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."
The news was wonderful, staggering in fact, but could the shepherds believe it? The angel gives them some details which they will be able to check at least some of what he has told them. It wouldn’t have been normal to find a new born in such circumstances so the shepherds had an opportunity to see whether what the angel had said was believable. It wouldn’t be long before they were off to do just that.
Now you can’t do just as those shepherds did. You can’t jump on a plane and fly to Bethlehem and look for a baby in a manger who is Christ the Lord. But you can nevertheless investigate these truth claims for yourself and here are some of the ways you can do so:
You can take hold of a Bible, especially the NT, and read on about how this baby boy grew up to be a man. You can read how he went about doing good. You can read of his miracle working power and you can read his teaching. You can hear him speak about how the leaders of his own people would fail to understand who he was and what he had come to do and how they would end up rejecting him completely. You can read how he explained, before the event, how he would be handed over to non-
You can then consider down through history how so much good has been brought about in the world because of this man. You can see the transformation that Jesus continues to bring about in the lives of men and women today – in the lives perhaps of your friends and family members.
Yes, you too can check out for yourself concerning this Saviour.
The question is whether or not you will. Then, having discovered it to be true, will you put your trust in the Saviour?
Those shepherds did. They didn’t dither or dally but got on with as quickly as they could. And you know what? They found it exactly as they had been told by the angel.
Please don’t dither and dally and put off thinking seriously about Jesus. The great danger with doing that is tomorrow never comes and we may simply end up putting off and putting off until it is quite simply too late for us.
Jesus was born in the city of David, he did come to be the Saviour, the choice one of God and his coming is wonderfully good news if only you will hear it and receive it.
May God give you the gift of understanding and trusting the Saviour this Christmas.