Summary: The story of Christmas is wrapped around people... real life people. This four-sermon-series looks closely at this special cast of characters in an attempt to find our stories in theirs. Alliterated and expository, with PowerPoint available.
Christmas: Cast of Characters (3)
Scott Bayles, pastor
Blooming Grove Christian Church: 12/16/2012
I’ve said many times that everyone needs a place to belong, and that’s especially true during the holidays. So whether this is your first Christmas season with us or your fifty first, I hope Blooming Grove is a place where you can celebrate Christmas in a warm loving atmosphere, where you can recharge your spirit and rekindle your joy.
This December—between the presents, lights, reindeer and Ralphie—we’ve been getting to know the cast of characters God chose to play the most memorable roles in the greatest story ever told. A small-town carpenter, a teenage girl, and more to come. They were common people in the hands of an uncommon God. They became characters in a story written and directed by God. And I think that we find our stories in theirs.
Mary reminds us that even in difficult circumstances, if we will surrender our hearts and lives to God—allowing him to write our story—then Jesus will step into our world and change our lives forever. Josephs illustrates how, even when we are hurt and confused, God’s voice longs to be heard; that God will speak to us and our situation, if we will listen and obey. But the story isn’t over.
From a simple birth in a manger, God brought hope, peace and joy. Two thousand years later, we still celebrate the wonder, the humble beginnings, and the joy of Jesus’ birth. But that first Christmas was a quiet celebration. No trees to trim. No decorations. No party. No hype. No hoopla.
In fact, were it not for a group of certain poor shepherds watching their sheep in the fields where they lay, there would have been no reception at all. Here’s their story:
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished.” (Luke 2:8-18 NLT)
This story has been etched into the tables of our hearts ever since it was recited by Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas and even before that. But sometimes being so familiar with a story causes us to miss the real magic and meaning of it all. So let’s take a closer look at the shepherds’ story. What was this experience like for them? What can we learn from them? And how can we find our story in theirs?
I think their story is characteristic of how God works even today and it starts with an unexpected surprise.
• AN UNEXPECTED SURPRISE
These shepherds were minding their own business, or rather, their own sheep—just another day at the office, another night in their shepherding. Probably the most exciting thing that ever happened to them was a visit from a prowling wolf, which is why they kept watch. But then, the Bible says, “Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified” (Luke 2:9 MSG). Can you imagine their surprise!? The sheer awe-struck, adrenaline fueled, panic?
Even after the angel reassures them, telling them not to be afraid, and announces to them the birth of their Savior—this would have been a very unexpected surprise.
Shepherds, in those days, weren’t highly esteemed. The very nature of their work kept them out in the fields instead of in church on Saturday morning. They weren’t very educated. They were a shifty lot; always on the move. Whenever something turned up missing, shepherds usually got blamed for it. Their testimony wasn’t even admissible in court because people didn’t trust them to tell the truth. So it seems strange that these shepherds would be the first to hear the announcement. They were your average, ordinary, everyday working people and were invited to see the birth of the King of kings!