Christmas is special for surprises.
- Alexa with Amazon tries to protect against ruining surprises by saying they won’t name details inside the box.
- Families announcing pregnancy.
- Parents waking children up with packed bags for Disney.
- Deployed military members return home to see family (tear jerks).
- Generosity of people
- Gold coins in Salvation Army kettle in Decatur, GA.
- Paying off layaway at stores.
- Gifts dropped on doorstep of families.
Today’s message will examine the surprise angelic visit to shepherds.
EXAMINE Luke 2:7-20 Christmas Angels Surprise
Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds by Govert Flinck (1615-1660)
In this painting, your eyes start at the lighted angels. If you look closely, there seems to be more angels than meets the eye. They are gathered throughout the sky, with groupings pointing at different items. Some are simply twirling in celebration, while others are still in awe. The center angel appears to be giving instruction to those below.
As your eyes drift away from the angels they examine the townspeople below. These people are unlike the angels and like us; but in this case they are the shepherds. The shepherds look scared knowing the angels are unique with an unusual message. Even more, the world of the shepherds is dark and undeveloped with anxious animals and tangled trees.
The artist is reflecting the collision course of two worlds: the glorious light of heaven with the dreary darkness of earth. The night had never been so bright as the light of heaven was entering earth.
Luke 2:7-20 (ESV)
7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.
10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.
17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.
18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.
19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
God surprises us with normalcy.
Joseph and Mary were normal and ordinary people. God chose peasants for parents to the Messiah and a deprived dwelling for His birth. The couple traveled approximately ninety miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem they were left without a place to stay. Their prospective travel stay to an inn was not as a modern-day hotel but likely a public or private guest room (κατάλυμα / same word used for upper room in Luke 22:10). There was no vacancy and the passage notes placing the child in a feeding trough, indicative of the room being a surplus or exterior place for the animals. We must not imagine a freshly swept county fair or country home stable as today. This room was a last resort without safety or solitude; it was uncomfortable with not only the smells of birth, but the stench of straw and animals. The nativity scene was anything but sanitary, stately or saintly. A bare room or barn isn’t noble; the animals are not aristocratic; the hay isn’t holy; nor is the trough a triumphant birth place for a king. The fact that Mary had to wrap the baby herself, after giving birth is indication of poverty. Joseph’s frightened but firm carpenter hands held his weary wife and his crying newborn child; the entire circumstances were fiercely normal.
In modern-day, the Nativity site is a place of conflict and chaos. It proves to be the very reason why Jesus came in the first place: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Lk 2:14).
Much of Christianity is lived in the mundane ordinary mess of life. Many of us expect God to spare and save us from the normalcy, but that’s exactly where God meets us. He enters our everyday aspects of life.
- Animals in the attic… give thanks for a home to maintain and upkeep.
- Waking up to alarm clocks and full agendas… give thanks for breath and opportunities.
- Un-washed or un-ironed clothes… give thanks for provisions to wear.
- Cluttered closets… give thanks for abundance of possessions.
- Dirty dishes… give thanks for people gathered to eat.
- Traffic… give thanks for a job with a commute for extra time to pray/praise.
- Bills and debts… give thanks for past purchases and faith to see God’s future provision.
- Unruly or ungrateful children… give thanks for the smiles and joys of time investing in family.
- If God isn’t meeting you in the mundane then He’s seldom meeting you. Christians gain perspective from summit top experiences, but we live life and grow fruit in the valley.
- The normal things we do day in and out are those areas where God is cultivating our character and forming our faith to trust Him when those unexpected circumstances occur.
- God’s greatest gift is a surprise of the mystery in the mundane.
During Christmas season we try to fill our time with the magic of Christmas rather than the meaning of Christmas. The Christmas season isn’t the Savior, Jesus is. All the gatherings and gifts are nice, but we must be certain God is in our focus for what and why we do what we do.
God surprises us with nobodies.
In the same region of Christ’s nativity were a group of nobody shepherds. The Son of God was born not in the presence of celebrity but the setting of scarcity. The angels announced the birth of the Christ Child to shepherds who were in the fields and keeping watch over their flock at night. Shepherds and sheep were lowly and despised (cf. Gen 46:34). Israelites, especially the religious, valued cleanliness and purity. Shepherds were dirty and smelly. Men who soaked with sweat, clothes drenched with field stench, and likely their style and language lacked etiquette. Yet, God favored them as the first visitors of the incarnation. God chose nobody shepherds to identify with the ordinary and show his value for the humble.
“good news of great joy that will be for ALL the people. For unto YOU [plural] is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11)
Why does God choose nobodies?
1Corinthians 1:26-31 “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
- God chooses nobodies so that our faith is in Christ not celebrities. In the nothingness of the nativity we see the news for why Jesus came. He entered our nothing world to bring fullness; in our emptiness God brings abundance.
God chose the shepherds with angelic announcements because of their modesty. If the birth narrative of Jesus were a myth then there would be more embellishments to brag. Yet, God wants our boast to be in Christ alone not in celebrity spectators of a child’s birth.
- Embrace being a nobody.
— Like the woodpecker knocking away on a tree. Surprisingly, lightning strikes exactly where the woodpecker is knocking. The woodpecker flies back to asses the work and flies away. He returns with nine other woodpeckers and says, “See, I told you I was powerful.” However, the woodpecker was never able to repeat the same feat.
When our pride ignores the presence and power of God then God will shut off the lightning. We must remain humble and embrace being a nobody telling everybody about the greatest Somebody (cf. John 15:5).
- Embrace the nobodies around you.
- Joseph and Mary received the shepherds and sent them back with praise and gratitude to God.
- God puts nobodies in our life as friends… look for and value them and point them to the grace of God.
God surprises us with news to share.
The shepherds had a job – care for sheep. Yet, when the angels appeared, their lives changed. They left the sheep to go see the baby who would become the Good Shepherd. They went with speedy haste; there was no time procrastinated or wasted. Their immediate obedience reminds us to have a sense of urgency in hearing and sharing the good news of Christ’s birth.
Shepherds knew they needed a Savior. They were men hardened by their surroundings: dealing with winds of cold and heat, wolves in animals and humanity, and their reputation was not the most positive. Yet, God shows up to calm their fears and comfort them with grace. They could not sit idly and shared the good news.
- Why do you delay in sharing the good news of Jesus with others?
The shepherds shared the report of the angels with Joseph and Mary and those around. Their testimony had a significant impact with the people wondering (marveling) and Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Earlier, Mary responded with a praise song (Lk 1:46-55) but now in the moment she responds with a silent but sincere pondering of all the events surrounding the Christ child.
- When God speaks, do you delay or devote yourself to His word?
The one overarching characteristic of Mary is she trusts the word of God.
- Mary at the annunciation Luke 1:38 “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
- Mary with Elizabeth Luke 1:45 “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
- Mary with the shepherds Luke 2:19 “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
- Mary with Simeon Luke 2:33 “Joseph and Mary marveled at what was said about him.”
- Mary after teen Jesus teaching at the temple Luke 2:51 “Mary treasured up all these things in her heart.”
- Mary with Jesus at a wedding John 2:5 “His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’”
- Mary at the resurrection Luke 24:10 “Mary told [of the empty tomb] to the apostles.”
Christmas often feels more hard than happy. It can be hard to celebrate Christ or trust the Lord when circumstances are troubling. But it is at these times when we need the surprising Christmas truth the most.
- Jesus came to be the Wonderful Counselor to those confused and discouraged.
- Jesus came to be the Mighty God to those who are weak and weary.
- Jesus came to be the Everlasting One to those who exhausted and strained.
- Jesus came to be the Prince of Peace for those lacking peace.
- Jesus came to be Justice to those who have been hurt and harmed in this world.
- Jesus came to be Righteous to the unclean and undeserving.
May you be surprised this Christmas that a Savior offers to bear hope in your life.