Summary: The message looks at the freedom of Christmas. 1. Freedom from fear 2. Freedom from hopelessness and 3. Freedom to worship.
A Christmas Message: Freedom
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Four hundred years of silence from the Lord. The events of Malachi to Matthew represent an absolute time of silence. There were no prophets of the Lord to speak a message to the people and no great signs or wonders as far as we know. The silence from God must have been deafening and it must have left some wondering if their God had not abandoned them.
Some of you may be wondering the same thing. I have seen and heard more weeping and tears this year than any I can remember. It has been a rough one and I am sure some may feel that the Lord has deserted them. The message today deals with the first words spoken by the angels concerning the words of Almighty God, Words of freedom from fear, hopelessness, and a new found freedom in worship.
1. Freedom from fear
The shepherd’s were attending their flocks. There were no lights in the desert where they were, nothing except perhaps a fire to keep warm or possibly a full moon. Suddenly the area lit up as though the sun had appeared just for them.
Scripture says they were afraid. The Greek word literally means, they "feared a great fear". They were very; very afraid of what was happening.
God’s message to His people begins with three words. Each time the angel of the Lord appears his words are, "Do not be afraid." He appears to Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, and to the shepherds.
I like to watch the old westerns on TV. The battle usually centered on the cowboys and Indians. We would even go out a play cowboys and Indians after school or on Saturday after watching an episode on TV. One thing that was in every movie was the rescue. The cowboys would be surrounded by overwhelming numbers and doomed. It seemed like they wouldn’t be returning next week. But, at the last possible minute the cavalry would come to the rescue.
The angel said, "Do not be afraid", because Almighty God is coming the rescue, salvation, to the hopelessness, the sinfulness, the sorrow and woe of this world.
2. Freedom from Hopelessness
The shepherds lived in a secluded/hopeless world. One reason is their jobs required them to be away from the city so that their sheep could eat. Where ever their sheep were there to were the shepherds. They were away from civilized society.
The other reason they were secluded was because no one wanted to be around them. They worked with sheep so they had an odor about them. It was not a pleasant odor, they were stinky.
Another problem is they had a bad reputation, deserved or undeserved. They were generally considered thieves. "What’s thine is mine" is a quote from the Talmud concerning the character of shepherds. On top of their body odor they were thieves and so they were ignored by the city people.
They were also excluded from worship because they were unclean. They could not, by nature of their work, attend enough temple services to be clean. So in the grand scheme of things shepherds were outcasts. They were both secluded and excluded from the "acceptable" people.
The good news of great joy came to these shepherds. The Lord is back and there’s great news, a Savior is born, He has come. The shepherds were left out in the cold when it came to the things of God in New Testament times. They must have forgotten that the forefathers were herders and David the King was a shepherd.
The news of God was not to the elite or religious the good news was to these outcasts. Perhaps it is the hopelessness concerning religious matters that God brings the hope to them. The good news of great joy is for everyone.
The hopelessness in this world has been overcome by the Savior, Christ the Lord, who brings salvation, hope, and joy, and who was revealed to the lowly shepherds. That message is truly great joy for all.
3. Free to Worship God
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
What did the shepherds do? They went to see for themselves. When they arrived they found the baby wrapped in clothes lying in a manger just like they were told. The "sign" was there. The expectations of the shepherds were met.