Summary: Most people throw out their Christmas joy with the wrapping paper and the tree. Where does one find Christmas joy that lasts?
There once was a small group of people – separate from the rest of the world. While the rest of the world was gathering together with family and friends, having a good time, eating and drinking, laughing and talking with music in the background – while the rest of the world did this, there was a small group of people off by themselves – thing were quiet – and they heard the Word of God.
Who is this small group of people – is it you? Sounds like you, doesn’t it? Right now the rest of the world is gathering together with family and friends – there’s a party going on right now and you’re missing out. Here you are, off by yourself, things are quieter here, and you’re hearing the Word of God.
But I’m not talking about you – I’m talking about the shepherds that first Christmas Eve, a small group of people off by themselves. The rest of the world was having quite a party. It was tax time in Judea – everyone had gone to their hometown to register, just as people today go to their hometowns for Christmas. I’m sure there were all kinds of family gatherings as people returned to their hometowns.
But not for the shepherds. They were off by themselves, in the hills with their sheep, missing the party in Bethlehem. Everything was quiet out there, and then they heard the Word of God. And by the time that night was over, we are told in Luke chapter two that they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” The shepherds were filled with joy. Wouldn’t you like to have that kind of joy tonight? Did you know that you don’t need to be at a Christmas party to experience Christmas joy? You don’t need to eat until you can’t eat anymore, and sit around with the presents and the tree and the Christmas music, in order to experience Christmas joy. Those things to make people happy – but it’s a very temporary kind of happiness. Wouldn’t you like to feel a kind of joy this Christmas that lasts beyond the holidays?
Tonight, let’s spend some time with the shepherds, and see where their joy came from. In verse 8 we are introduced to them, “shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” When we think of shepherds, we might think of the clean-cut, respectable altar boys we see at the manger scene every year. But if you were a shepherd in Palestine, at that time, you would laugh at that sort of description. “I’m no altar boy,” a shepherd would say to you. “The priests consider me unclean because I live in the fields and don’t attend services at the temple. I’m not allowed to give testimony in court, because no one trusts me.” The shepherds at that time were the wanderers, the drifters of society. People didn’t trust them – they had shady reputations.
And so there they were, out in the fields, missing the big party in Bethlehem. Things were quiet. But then everything changed. In verse 9, we are told that “an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” Terrified, we are told, scared out of their minds. It’s not every day that an angel of God appears to you.