Summary: In this Christmas Eve message I want you to notice three features about the good news of great joy.
In one of Lessons this evening we heard about the shepherds’ visit to the manger in Luke 2:8-20:
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 fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a 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. (Luke 2:8-20)
Have you ever wondered what difference it might have made if Jesus had been born today when George W. Bush is President of the United States rather than when Caesar Augustus was Emperor in Rome?
One thing is sure—it still would not have made headlines. News bulletins are for world events, and Jesus’ birth was an obscure event.
But Jesus’ birth had enormous significance. God the Father sent his Son, Jesus, to be born of a Virgin named Mary. Jesus then lived a perfect, sinless life. He eventually died on the cross to the pay the penalty for sinners such as us. He was born to die. And he died so that we might live.
None of that was immediately obvious at the time of Jesus’ birth. That is why God the Father took the initiative to get the word out about Jesus’ birth.
The first people to hear about Jesus’ birth were shepherds. There were senators in Rome, princes in Jerusalem, and philosophers in Athens. But there were shepherds living out in the fields, and to them the wonderful news was given.
God delights in doing the unexpected. It is indicative of how God works even today.
This evening I want you to notice three features about the good news of great joy that was given to the shepherds.
I. The Good News of Great Joy Was an Unexpected Surprise (2:8)
First, the good news of great joy was an unexpected surprise. Luke 2:8 says, “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”
The shepherds were minding their own business or, rather, their own sheep—just another day in their lives, another night in their shepherding. Perhaps the most exciting thing that happened was a visit from a marauding wolf, which is why they kept watch.
But suddenly an angel appeared, and a bright light, the glory of the Lord, filled the sky.
The creation story in Genesis begins in a similar way, with God speaking in the darkness. Throughout history, God brings light into human darkness. The prophets looked forward to the day when the people walking in darkness would see a great light.
But for these shepherds it was an unexpected surprise.
God still breaks into human history in unexpected ways to bring light into our darkness. He comes to those not expecting or even seeking him. He comes to those going about the ordinary business (and busyness) of living.
Shepherds were not highly esteemed in those days. The very nature of their work precluded regular observance at the temple and synagogue. Their honesty was not rated highly. For example, they weren’t allowed to stand as witnesses in court.
God still surprises people like that today (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:27–29). Some of you can look back to last Christmas and you are surprised to find yourselves here today. Who would have dreamt that God would meet you this year and bring you into his family?
Others here are perhaps still in the dark, going about your business with little thought of angels and glory and God.