David Jeremiah - What to Do with Christmas?
I'm David Jeremiah, and I have a Christmas question for you. Have you ever unwrapped a present and wondered, "What do I do with this"? For many people, Christmas can be like that. They love the season, they love the celebration, but when Christmas is unwrapped, they aren't sure what to do with it. Fortunately, the topic of today's message will answer the question, "What to do With Christmas"? I imagine that was the question in the hearts of the shepherds, who were the first to hear of the Savior's birth in Bethlehem. Christ's birth was unprecedented, and the way these ordinary shepherds responded to God's extraordinary gift of love can serve as a model for us as we celebrate Christmas today. So, please join me as we discover what to do with Christmas on today's edition of "Turning Point".
Fifty years ago, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was first broadcast on American television. Some network executives thought it would be ignored. And others were worried that if they quoted the Bible, they would offend their viewers. Some came to Charles Schulz, the creator, and asked him to omit the Christmas story. But Schulz insisted it stay in, and the program was an immediate success, and it has been rebroadcast every year since 1965. When Charlie Brown, the frustrated director of the children's Christmas play, he's discouraged by the commercial spirit of the holiday season, and he asks if anyone can tell him the real meaning of Christmas.
And Linus recites this passage that we're going to look at today from Luke chapter 2, including these words, "'For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign to you. You will find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' 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, good will toward men.'" And then Linus says to Charlie Brown, "Charlie Brown, that's what Christmas is all about". Charlie Brown was right then, and he's right today. All over our city here in San Diego, you will see these little billboard signs that say, "Jesus is the reason for the season". These billboards are rented at this time of the year because if we are not careful, Christmas becomes all about us. It becomes about our schedules, our diets, our budgets, our wishlists, our time off, our vacation, our parking spaces, and our gifts that we enjoy or return.
Now, I'm the first one to admit that I love the trappings of Christmas as much as anyone. But I love the truths of Christmas even more. And if you'll pardon the pun, we have to be very careful that we don't get trapped in the trappings. How can we ever enjoy Christmas, men and women, if down in our hearts we think the reason for the season is us? The real story of Christmas is so much better than any of the backstories that we have written. The birth of the Savior of the world has no equal, and there is nothing that even closely resembles the miracle of that occasion. On that night when the Savior was born, it was amazing.
The story began in the most counter-intuitive way. I mean, who received invitations to greet the newborn king? Was it the emperors of the world, the priests and the prophets, the soldiers or the scholars? Absolutely not. This was the beginning of this unbelievable story. This was an honor reserved for the lowest of low, the least of the least, ranch hands who were despised by the upper class, men whose skin glistened with sweat, whose clothes gave off the stench of the stable, those who lacked the most basic manners, who used language unfit for your children's ears. These were minimum wage earners who were unlikely to be admitted to any respectable establishment at their time. They bore names nowhere recorded in the Bible, but their names were on the guest list for receiving the Lord Jesus Christ when he was born.
I read a book during Christmas season this year written by William Barclay, and he writes, "That the gospel should have first been given to the shepherds is a wonderful thing, that the announcement of God came to some shepherds, who were despised by the orthodox people of the day. They were unable to keep any of the ceremonial law. They couldn't observe any of the meticulous hand washings that the Jews demanded. Yet it was to these simple men, men of the fields, that God's message first came". Jesus never refers to himself as a priest, as a preacher. He never refers to himself as a clergyman or a bishop or an elder. But oh, how Jesus loved to speak of himself as a shepherd. For instance, when he looked out on the crowds of the people of Galilee, they reminded him of sheep without a shepherd. He told people repeatedly that he had come to this world that he might be the means of gathering the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He considered his followers sheep. And looking into the distance, he saw that there were sheep who would come to him who were not of his pasture.
Most poignantly when you read the Gospel of John, you hear the Lord Jesus saying these words about himself, "I am the good shepherd. And the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep". The metaphor of the shepherd is so much a part of this story. In fact, in the Jewish temple at that time, morning and evening, Judaism required that an unblemished lamb be offered as a sacrifice to God. I remember studying some years ago how many lambs were sacrificed during a year in Jewish history, and it's an amazing number. To see that the supply of perfect offerings was always available in the temple, authorities had their own private sheep flocks. In other words, there were temple sheep flocks that they had especially so they would have enough flocks, enough sheep for their sacrifice. And I know from history that these private sheep flocks were pastured near Bethlehem.
So, it is most likely that these shepherds, who were outside on the hills of Bethlehem that night, were in charge of the flocks from which the temple offerings were chosen. And it is a lovely thought that the shepherds who looked after the temple lambs were the first to see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And I made a note when I was thinking about that. After that day when Jesus came, and after his death, no more sacrifices morning and evening were necessary. He was the sacrifice, the once and for all sacrifice for our sin. We read the Christmas story over and over again, year after year. If we're not careful, we can glaze over on the story and the presentation. But as we walk through this together today, I want to ask you to help me apply the example of the shepherds to my heart and to your heart.
Here are four things we can do with this message. First of all, we can receive it. We can receive the Christmas message. It says in Luke 2 that, "There were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid". Just imagine if you will the wonder of that evening near Bethlehem. When I've been there, I've looked out at where they say the pasture land is, and it's kind of like you look at it and you say, "Yeah, that's really something like that should have happened here". One moment, the skies were dark, and probably the moods of the shepherds were even darker. And the next moment, an angel was in their presence, an angel with an amazing message. And they were afraid, but they heard this message that the angel brought. "And 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. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.'"
The shepherds received the news that the long-awaited Savior was finally born, and they were now ready to greet this deliverer. And they learned during that day that this was going to be a unique deliverer. First of all, this message they heard was the message of helplessness. It's hard for us to wrap our arms around the fact that when Jesus came, he was a helpless baby. "And this will be the sign to you. You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manager". Now, it's been a long time since we had a baby in our house, but we have children and grandchildren. And I want to tell you, a newborn baby's helpless. We swaddle them to keep their fragile limbs protected and their delicate bodies warm. And for the first few years of their life, can I get a witness, nobody can leave them for a moment. They can't feed themselves, they can't clothe themselves, they can't clean themselves. They are completely dependent on someone else to keep them alive.
And listen to me, this baby, who was the Savior of the World, was no different. He was a helpless Savior, and he was a humble Savior. "And this will be a sign to you. You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger". That's so much a part of our Christmas trappings that we never stop to realize this wasn't just a little box with some hay in it where you could lay a baby that would be comfortable for a moment. It was that, but a manger was a feeding trough. Jesus was born in a feeding trough in a barn, the humblest of cribs. He was a humble Savior. The Apostle Paul reminds us why he came the way he did. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet, for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich".
At the heart of the Christmas message, men and women, is the message of humility. Jesus expresses that humility by becoming poor so that he could go to the cross as one of us, and die that we might receive the riches of his grace and forgiveness. We express our humility at this season of the year by confessing our poverty and receiving him. As if to set the tone for the entire life and message of his Son, God brought together a delegation of shepherds to be the first to see him, the first to worship him. He was only a few moments old, but he would have liked those shepherds in his presence. I know that because I've read his whole story. He's the Jesus who was comfortable with the despised tax collectors and known sinners. He was the teacher who always had time for the pressing crowds, and spoke of the greatness of being a servant. He was the one who said that if we do anything to the least of these his brethren, it's for him like we're doing it to himself. He was a humble Savior. And he was also a heavenly Savior.
The Bible says that night, when the shepherds out on the hillside saw the angels, the message was, "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.'" I always am enamored by this scene in the Christmas story. My mind wonders, how many angels were there? Well, we don't have any way to know, it doesn't tell us the number. but there's only a couple of other occasions in the Bible where numerous angels are gathered. One of them is in the book of Revelation, so let me read it to you and let's wonder ourselves today if perhaps this is the way it was that night. "And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands".
Can you imagine if it was even anything close to that, what it would have been like for these shepherds? Not expecting it, no announcement that it's coming, and yet all of a sudden their sky is filled with angelic beings who are singing the praise of the coming Christ. Now, at this point in time, I should stop for those of you who have been around here for awhile and confess to you that I did something some years ago for which I am greatly sorrowful. I did some homework on this and discovered that in the Bible, the angels are never said to have sung except in the book of Job, where they sing at creation. And so, I read the Scripture as it is written and said, "And they were saying, not singing". And boy did I get in trouble. Emails from everywhere, first of all from here, and then from all over the United States wherever this message was on the radio.
I got all these, so, I'm sorry for that, I repent of that. I can't prove the angels singing, but I've accepted it by fact they probably were singing. And the reason I say that is because in my experience, I can't imagine not having singing at Christmas. Knowing what Jesus has done, it makes you sing, doesn't it? It puts a song in your heart. It makes you want to express that. In fact, in the Bible, there are only a few places where we are told that the angels were in a context where they were singing. First of all, Job tells us the angels sang at creation. Here in this passage we have before us, we learn that the angels sang at the birth of the Lord. How many of you know Luke 15 says every time somebody becomes a Christian, the angels sing in heaven? And one day in the future at the exultation of Jesus Christ, they will sing again.
So, if you're taking notes, you can write it down, they sang at creation, they sang at the incarnation, they sing at regeneration, and they sing at exultation. The angels are singers. Don't send me any notes. The reason we are so joyous is because God has come down to us. Every other religion, every other ideology that tries to claim its ability to get in touch with God, they all have one thing in common. They want to teach you how you can make God happy with you. They want to teach you how you can climb up to God if you do certain things of this and that nature, you will be in God's good graces. I want to give you some bad news, you can never climb up to God. And there's not anything you can ever do that will make God happy because what Jesus did made him happy, and he's offered that to us. We don't get to heaven because we climb up to God. We get to heaven because God reached down to us, and it all started at that scene we have been describing in Bethlehem.
So, we can receive the Christmas message, and we can respond to it. The Scripture says that when the angels heard this message that Jesus was being born in Bethlehem, they stopped everything and they said to themselves, "'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". These weren't theologians. These weren't students or scholars. They were simple men of the field. But when they heard that Jesus was born, the long-awaited Jewish Messiah had come, they left their fields and they went immediately to Bethlehem to check it out. And I want to tell you that every time the message of Jesus Christ is faithfully preached, there ought to always be an opportunity for people to respond. It's not enough to hear the story. It's not enough to take in the information. It's not enough just to read about it in the Bible. We must also, as the shepherds did, respond individually to what we have heard.
If Jesus is the Savior, that requires something from me. If he is the Savior of the world, I must come to know him if I am to have any hope of eternity. And the shepherds responded intuitively in their own lives, so we must respond as well. We can receive the Christmas message, and we can respond to it. And then the shepherds did something that often goes under the radar when we tell this story, they retold the Christmas message. Listen to what it says, "And when they had seen Jesus, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning the child". After seeing Jesus, the shepherds left the manger, and they went everywhere along their way, telling everybody, "Did you know, have you heard? Let me tell you what I just saw. The Messiah has been born. Let me tell you what that means".
They might not have known very much about it or how to explain it, but they knew what they knew. They knew they had seen the Son of God. It was indelibly written in their hearts. I often think about the shepherds along the same line as the disciples after the day of Pentecost. You remember the disciples, how fearful they were after the death of Jesus? You would have been fearful too because the word was, "What we did to him, we want to do to you". And so, they went into hiding, and nobody came out, and nobody was there. And that's the way it was. Jesus died, he was buried, he was resurrected. After the resurrection and the day of Pentecost, the disciples were transformed into such flaming witnesses of the Savior that the Bible describes it this way: they turned their world upside down.
Wouldn't it be something if we as Christians got so excited about the birth of our Savior, we talk about what Jesus has done for us? In fact, it's too late for most of you 'cause you've already sent out your cards. But if you're a late responder and your cards aren't out yet, why don't you just write a note on them saying, "Hey, before I say my final goodbye, let me tell you the greatest thing God did for me this year". Witnessing in the Bible is simply telling others what's happened to you. It's saying to them, "Jesus has changed my life. I want you to know how he's changed my life, how he's made everything new in my life". That's what it means to witness. And the shepherds went everywhere. They had seen Jesus that day, and everything about them was changed. And everywhere they went, they witnessed.
Finally, we can not only receive the message and respond to it and retell it, we can rejoice about it. One of the reasons we have such a beautiful, majestic time here in this room during the Christmas season is based on the Scripture. "And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them". We live in an opportunity right now, and we have no guarantee that it'll always be this way, where we can gather publicly and lift our voices to the Lord in praise of the great Redeemer he has given to us. Did you know that in the Gospel of Luke, we have a firm foundation upon which to base all of our musical activity? For in the first two chapters of Luke, there are six songs listed. Most people are surprised by this, but I'm not going to deal with all of them. I'll just tell you what they are, listen carefully.
First of all, there's the Beatitude of Elizabeth. Elizabeth was the cousin of Mary, who was the mother of our Lord. And Elizabeth sings this song in the early days of her pregnancy with John the Baptist. And there's the Magnificat of Mary, who expresses the joy in her heart that she has been privileged to be the mother of our Lord. There's what they call the Benedictus of Zacharias. Zacharias was the father of John the Baptist, and his song is in anticipation of the coming of the Redeemer. Then there's the song of Simeon. When Simeon saw the promised Messiah, we are told he burst forth into song, chapter 2, verses 29 to 32. There's the Evangel Song that was sung by the angel of the Lord over the plains where the shepherds were.
And there's the Gloria of the Angelic Hosts, the song of the heavenly hosts, which was sung to glorify God for his peace and goodwill. And in the Bible, when Jesus was born, all around the birth of Jesus was this incredible music, the songs that we have. And we sing because we know that Christ has come. When you have Christ in your heart, when you know what Christmas is really all about, when you don't get trapped in the trappings, something changes inside of you, and a melody starts to form that you can't really control. And we love to come here and sing the songs of the incarnation, and it's all about the birth of Jesus Christ.
Do you know him? Is he your Savior? When you put your trust in him, when you bet eternity on Jesus Christ, you become a Christian, and you fulfill the very reason that Jesus Christ came to this world. "For the Son of Man is come not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many". The gospel of Christmas is amazing, but it's not just a story, it's a plan. It's not just a sequence of events, it's a strategy. It's God's way to get you to heaven.