Advent: This morning our journey to Bethlehem continues. The season surrounds us and the pace quickens as we count down the final days to Christmas. Amidst the hustle and bustle we sometimes suffer from tunnel vision. We’ll wake up one day and realize Christmas has come and gone and we missed what we really wanted.
Weary from worry and stress that attempts to squeeze the faith out of us, we come to worship today longing for a fresh touch from God. God’s touch is all we really need this Christmas. I hope that’s why you’re here today. God delights to reach down from heaven to touch the hearts of people who are honest enough to admit their need for renewal.
(while lighting the first four candles) Today we relight three sticks of wax and a fourth previously unlit: the shepherds candle. The shepherds outside Bethlehem were overlooked by many, but not by God. The shepherds were among the first to experience the touch of God from a tiny hand reaching out from a manger. May these small flames burning before us cause us desire the fire of God to be rekindled within our hearts again; let’s discover a fresh touch from God.
+ Luke 2:8-20 8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." 15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." 16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (NIV)
Let’s face it; shepherds were nobodies. Being a shepherd was not a popular career choice; shepherds were modern day garbage collectors. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it. God chose to announce the birth of His Son to a bunch of nobodies.
If you or I would have been directing the Christmas story, we would have done things differently. We would have made sure Jesus, the Son of God, had a proper place to be born and was recognized by all the important people.
I’m glad God did thing His way. If Jesus had been born among kings and queens some of us would never feel accepted by Him; what right do we simple ordinary people have to come before kings?
Jesus lowly birth is God’s way of saying, “I accept you; you’re welcome here.” Regardless of your social status, from the highest to the lowest, you can come to Jesus.
Shepherds who had nothing to offer the baby Jesus were the first to be told of His birth and come to see the child laid in a manger. Later Magi from the east sought out the new born king offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Right from the start both the rich and the poor, Jews and Gentiles came to Jesus. None were turned away. God welcomed everyone reaching out through His infant Son with a touch from God Himself.
Today you and I come to worship Jesus. Like the shepherds many of us have nothing to offer our Lord, but we need His touch, AND GOD WILL TOUCH US; NO ONE WILL BE TURNED AWAY.
The message of the angels to the shepherd said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” God is not against you; GOD IS FOR YOU. God reaches out to each of us with His great love. The Lord will touch us with His peace, His grace. The favor of God is upon us; He wants to touch us with His love.
What can we learn from the shepherds example to help us receive a fresh touch from God? Within the story of the shepherds which we all know so well, we can find four simple things to help us receive a fresh touch from God.
1. STEADFAST HOPE IN GOD.
We’re not told everything about these shepherd, so we need to read between the lines just a little bit this morning. One thing we can be fairly certain about is that these shepherd were Jews. The Jews were looking to God to send the Messiah; one whom they believed would set them free from the hated Romans.
Perhaps these shepherds would from time to time talk with each other about their common hope in God:
+ Psalm 23:1-3 1The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3he restores my soul. (NIV)
+ Psalm 28:9 Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever. (NIV)
+ Micah 5:2 But you, Bethlehem, David’s country, the runt of the litter—From you will come the leader who will shepherd-rule Israel. He’ll be no upstart, no pretender. His family tree is ancient and distinguished. (MsgB)
The first step to receiving a fresh touch from God is to place your hope in God. We must have faith to believe that God will reach out to touch us.
+ Psalm 33:18-22 18But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, 19to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. 20We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. 21In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. 22May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you. (NIV)
+ Psalm 71:5 For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. (NIV)
+ Lamentation 3:25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him. (NIV)
Hope motivates us to keep going and not give up. Without hope we don’t want to do anything.
Peanut’s cartoon: Lucy and Linus were sitting in front of the television set when Lucy said to Linus, "Go get me a glass of water." Linus looked surprised, "Why should I do anything for you? You never do anything for me." "On you 75th birthday," Lucy promised, "I’’ll bake you a cake." Linus got up, headed to the kitchen and said, "Life is more pleasant when you have something to look forward to."
Do you have a steadfast unshakeable hope in God? Hope not only opens the door to receive a touch from God, hope also moves you through the door. Like Linus, when you have hope you’re willing to get up and do something.
Without hope you’re paralyzed incapable of moving forward. If your hope is failing, then ask God to restore your hope. God gives us a hope beyond just a wish or aspiration; God brings a steadfast unshakable hope which never fails.
+ Psalm 62:5-6 5Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. 6He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. (NIV)
God, the one and only— I’ll wait as long as he says. Everything I hope for comes from him, so why not? He’s solid rock under my feet, breathing room for my soul, An impregnable castle: I’m set for life. (MsgB)
Hope in God! Hope is a prerequisite to receiving from God. Hope also enables us to take the second step to receive a fresh touch from God.
2. SIMPLE RESPONSE; TAKE ACTION.
The angels told the shepherds they could find the new born Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The shepherds would not find Jesus on the hillsides surrounding Bethlehem. The shepherds would have to respond to the message they had received; it was time to take action and go find the new born child.
Until the shepherd take the steps to find the baby Jesus they could never know for sure the message of the angels was for real. Perhaps it was just their imagination.
If you and I are going to receive a fresh touch from God, then we must make a simple response to God’s message to us. We need to act upon what we are told.
+ James 1:22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (NIV)
+ James 2:17-18 17. . . faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. (NIV)
Trying to win their case some lawyers have been know to ask some incredibly unbelievable questions. The Massachusetts Bar Association Lawyer’s Journal gave the following example:
Question: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?
Question: Did you check for blood pressure?
Question: Did you check for breathing?
Question: Then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
Question: How can you be sure doctor?
Answer: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
Question: But couldn’’t the patient been alive nevertheless?
Answer: It is possible that the patient could still have been alive and practicing law somewhere.
A body without the brain is dead; likewise faith without is works is dead. Dead faith does nothing.
You and I need to respond to God’s word, to His message delivered personally to us. Don’t wait for God to surprise you with an angelic announcement. We need to respond to God’s message, not God’s messenger! God could surprise us with angels, but more than likely God will communicate to us through our personal times reading the Bible; God will speak to us through our husband or wife; through a friend; through a song or a sunset. God sends His message; are we listening?
Let me make it very practical and simple for you. When we have a time for prayer in our service don’t just stay where you are; don’t remain silent. Reach out to others and begin to pray; let your voice be heard in heaven! When an invitation is given after a sermon respond to the word you have heard preached. If our altars of prayer are empty here at the church, then what is the condition of our family altar at home?
Two of the safest places for us to respond to God is at church and in our homes. If we struggle to respond to God there, then where will we be willing to respond to Him?
Receiving a fresh touch from God begins with a steadfast hope. Hope brings about a simple response; it will motivate us to take action. God will touch us, but there is more.
3. STRONG DESIRE; WANT IT.
The shepherds went seeking for Jesus; how many mangers did the shepherds look in before they found the babe lying in swaddling clothes?
Don’t think, “I’ve gone to God before and nothing happened.” PURSUE GOD! SEEK HIM AND YOU WILL FIND HIM!
+ Jeremiah 29:13-14 "When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed." God’s Decree. (MsgB)
At the risk of sounding oversimplified, here’s a little formula for seeking a fresh touch from God:
(1) Want it;
(2) Pray for it;
(3) Wait for it.
We won’t wait for it if we don’t pray for it, and we won’t pray for it if we don’t want it. Do you want a fresh touch from God?
Usually, the waiting part isn’t long, God’s touch is given for us to receive even as we’re praying. The Lord loves to hear us express our desire to be with Him and sense His fresh touch. God promises to hear and answer that kind of prayer.
+ 1 John 5:14-15 14This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of him. (NIV)
4. SHARE GOD’S TOUCH WITH OTHERS
Don’t overlook the end of the shepherds story.
+ Luke 2:17, 18, 20 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. . . 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Don’t keep God’s touch to yourself! Share it with others! When something good happens you can’t help but to share it! Have you ever felt like you were going to bust if you didn’t share it?
What new father or grandparent hasn’t been in the hospital waiting room with a pocket full of change, or a cell phone to call everyone they know about the birth of their new baby?
Maybe the story has lost it’s excitement and we need to be reminded of how awesome it is. If it’s not burning in your heart to share it with somebody, then maybe it’s gotten old for you. Has the story of Christmas lost its wonder? Does it need to be rekindled in your heart? The Holy Spirit is here and he can fan those embers into a brilliant flame once again.
What can you do to co-operate with the Holy Spirit in this process? If you have trouble sharing what God has done then let me suggest you do the following:
1. Ask God to reveal the condition of your heart. Let the Holy Spirit search your heart and find the fire-quenchers that need to be cleansed and removed: discouragement, disbelief, distractions and disappointments.
2. Maintain close relationships with other believers. A single candle doesn’t provide much light, nor does it offer much warmth. Many lights together accomplish more than they can alone. Let’s “spur one another on” and encourage each other to do the things God wants us to do.
3. Remember the power of TRUTH. Jesus is the truth! The Holy Spirit will lead us in all truth. The truth has set us free, and the truth will set others free also!
4. Remember, it’s not about you; it’s about JESUS! The anointing of the Holy Spirit will do the work! Just be obedient to what He tells you to do or say. Don’t give into the lie that would say, “You don’t know enough, You’re not close enough, You haven’t been ‘good’ enough.” Do you realize that’s a form of pride? Your confidence should not be in yourself, but in God. The shepherds shared their experience, you can share yours!
5. Share where you are. The angels did not announce the birth in a synagogue. They came to where the shepherds were. Inviting someone to church is good, but God can touch that person right as you are with him/her because you are His ambassador.
6. Remember: It’s better to give than to receive. Sometimes we wait to give because we feel like we need to receive first. We know it’s more blessed to give than to receive; IT’S TIME TO ACT ON WHAT WE KNOW AND NOT ON HOW WE FEEL. When we give Jesus to others, He will likewise give us a fresh Christmas touch. As we give, He gives!