December 22, 2013 Luke 2:9-12
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
Fear Not! Behold! A Savior - The Savior
I. Fear is a rare thing
When Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge God chased them from the Garden and placed an angel at the entryway with a flaming sword to keep them away from the Tree of LIfe; one mere look at the angel would be enough to scare them away. Tonight, instead of placing an angel to keep us from Paradise, God puts an angel in the sky to point the shepherds and us to Paradise.
It was probably very quiet and calm that night. The shepherds were used to the darkness. They probably didn’t spook too easily. They lived in it every night. They made a living in the darkness, you could say. But it was this backdrop of darkness that would have terrified them all the more. Remember that angels are chubby little babies. They are powerful warriors; God’s warriors who fight His battles. The bright and powerful glory of the Lord also shone all around them. The shepherds weren’t just afraid. They were sore afraid. They were so afraid it hurt. I don’t know if you’ve ever been that afraid. I can recall a few times in my life being so afraid I was afraid to move at all; hence the term being “scared stiff.”
The whole backdrop of this story is good for us to think about today. We live in a world of people that have become quite accustomed to living in the darkness. In some ways we’ve built a rather comfortable house down here under the curse. We have hot tubs and heaters; hot water and adjustable beds. We have automatic weapons and 911 to use in times of emergency. We also have a wide variety of foods and a thousand spices to cook it. We’ve come to really enjoy the darkness.
Spiritually, we’ve been coddled into thinking there is no sin. The only real sin we can commit in our society is to tell someone they are a sinner. Even those who still have some concept of God; even with some remnant of Christianity; they’ve been duped into thinking that a loving God would never really get angry about anything. Holiness is meant to be a fluffy pillow to sleep on; that is all. The last thing anyone wants is for something to come barging into their world and disrupt their pleasure.
I think about the reaction of the men on Jonah’s boat. A storm had come up and they were terrified of throwing Jonah overboard. They didn’t want God to judge them and condemn them. I think too about how Nebuchadnezzar had ignored God’s warnings and lived as if he were god. God made him crazy, and it scared and humiliated Nebuchadnezzar to realize how weak he really was. He then had a fear of God that he never had before. He said,
His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
35 All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: “What have you done?” (Daniel 4)
When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, it was his fear of God that kept him from even getting close to the temptation. How many of us have any remnant of fear over anything that we think, say or do?
There are flashes given; in heart attacks, near death accidents; in sermons which speak of God’s hatred of sin; but unfortunately many don’t fear our God who wants them to come to repentance. They have no clue who the true God is. They are living in the darkness and they’ve become comfortable here. They just assume that God will have to accept them as they are because they don’t really think they’re that bad. If only they saw how just and holy God really is! If only they knew how demanding He is! If only there were more fear!
The shepherds weren’t exactly comfortable in the darkness. The were looked down on by the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law because their shepherding didn’t allow them to follow all of the rules and regulations of the day. They also didn’t have nice beds to sleep in and they weren’t making a lucrative salary. Some speculate that the sheep they were raising were used for slaughter at the temple. We can’t help but think that these shepherds were poor Jews who were waiting and hoping for the Messiah to come. Otherwise, all of these words from the angel would have appeared to be gibberish.
It was these poor and lowly shepherds; living in the darkness; who were the first to hear that the Messiah was born. Hopeful as they may have been, they had no choice but to be terrified at the sight of the angel. But the angel had a wonderful message for those fearful shepherds. For those of you who realize your own sin; who know you have reason to fear standing before God; this message is for you too. Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
The NIV removes the Greek word, “behold.” That’s a sad thing; because fear can only be removed by looking at what the angel points us to. Faith is being sure of what we do not see. Yet that which we have faith in is not just an invisible concept - an idea of love or forgiveness or hope. He is a real Person who was born in a real place; Someone that can be seen and touched and held. On Judgment Day we will all see how real Jesus really is. The angel was saying to the shepherds, “Don’t focus on my holiness and my glory. Look somewhere else. Focus on something far less glorious in the eyes of the world.”
The command is simple and quick. Behold. It just takes one look – one sight – to remove all fear - for in this one place all of our hopes are met. This is no longer a look to the distance future. It is a look to the here and now. It is in a definitive place; the city of David; Bethlehem. Imagine the excitement those words held. To have a definitive place and time within walking distance to actually see what they had been talking about and hoping for.
This is the beauty of how God deals with us. He tells exactly where to look. We are all pointed to the same Word; the same Baptism; the same Supper where we can see God - be drenched in Him; taste and see that the Lord is good. There are fifty different places we need to go to. We don’t create our own destiny. We are always directed to the same places; to our Bethlehem; the Bread of Life: and then to Golgotha; the death of life. It’s well within distance. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; they are real and physical things. The Word is a real and definitive Word. It is not mere speculation; what I think vs. what you think; what I feel vs. what you feel.
III. A Savior - THE Savior
Within that small little town of Bethlehem they were to look for a baby. It is a baby; but not just any baby; it is the birth of the Savior; Christ; the Lord. All of these terms pile on top of each other. It starts with the Savior, and all of the other descriptions define the Savior. The KJV says “a” Savior; but really the Greek is saying with its lack of an article that there is only ONE Savior; no other. He is not the Savior of financial problems. Nor is He only the Savior of sicknesses. He is the Savior from God’s wrath. He is the Savior from hell. He is the Savior from death. He is the Savior from fear.
The Savior is Christ, the LORD. The Jews would have referred to Him as the Messiah; the Anointed One; prophesied throughout the Old Testament. The Old Testament was full of examples of their prophets, priests, and kings being anointed into office. All of this foreshadowed THE Messiah; the One main Anointed One who would come and save them from God’s wrath by dying for them; by being pierced and lifted up on the cross. This Anointed One would not just be a man. He would also be the LORD Himself. As Isaiah said, “Immanuel.” Not just an angel, but actual God with us; taking on flesh.
Before He would be popular; before He would heal the sick and raise the dead; the shepherds were given an opportunity to get a first glimpse at this Christ child; to come and see Him fresh out of the oven. Think about how when rare animals like panda bears and polar bears are born in zoos; how people come to see the rare occurrence. When tigers are first born they are soft and cuddly; posing no threat whatsoever to humans. People love to be able to hold and cradle such creatures before they grow. How much more rare would this be! They could come and see the actual Savior; not behind glass; but walk right up to Him and see Him; touch His forehead; perhaps even hold Him; and talk to His parents. What an amazing thing! They would have an opportunity to see and perhaps even hold the God of the Universe.
Christmas is a wonderful time for us, for it is at this time that we can see our Savior in such a gentle and tender moment. Before He is stilling storms or chasing out demons; before He is condemning the Pharisees or screaming from the cross; here we find just a mild and gentle baby. Here our God is so approachable and soft and tender. He is not intimidating. He is able to be held and caressed as the most tender flower by even the most powerless and overlooked humans in the world. Our holy and unapproachable God has made Himself visible and touchable by taking on flesh for us! He has become one of us so that we could hold Him and see Him and most importantly believe in Him.
Think also, how could this God who Himself experienced the tenderness and fragility of infancy, not then know how to hold us; now that He is not a baby in a manger? He came as no Superman flying through the sky and bending steel. He came as an infant; experiencing the humility of being clothed and fed. It is with this tenderness that God reaches out His hands to us and says, “I know exactly how to handle you, fragile and dying human as you are.” This God is not a baby; not any more. He is our powerful God; but also our gentle God; the God who holds us in the hands of Christ.
The shepherds, unlike the Wise Men, had nothing to offer the Christ child. I find this to be a beautiful thing. The angel didn’t want anything from them on this night but to just sit and look. Isn’t that the message of the Savior Christ? Nothing on my plate I bring, simply to thy cross I cling. Just look at Him; for He has everything to offer you; He has salvation for you. The Holy Spirit offers us no words from the shepherds in the stable. In the stable He wants us to envision them as spectators; standing in awe of the Christ. When they leave, then they can talk; and talk they will.
This baby did not come into our world to be a spectator. He had His work cut out for Him; to fight against the devil’s temptations in the midst of starving in a wilderness; to confront the most hardened sinners; to chase out demons; to suffer the anger and accusations of his own countrymen; the rejection of his family; the denial of His friend; the wrath of God. He came here to work. This baby would have a rough life and a hellish path to death. But tonight, He is gently resting in a feeding trough. Certainly no place for a King. Nonetheless, here He is.
When my kids fall asleep I still like to peek in their rooms and watch them sleep. It is a wonderful thing; these children so full of energy; so full of life; when they sleep at night. At that time; for that moment; I can just sit and watch them and appreciate them for what they are; gifts from God. So the shepherds were told to “fear not” and “behold”.
Tonight, this Christmas Eve night, in the midst of all of your fears in this life; fear of death; fear of sin; fear of offending God; do nothing more than behold this baby in faith. Just take a moment to sit and look in awe and wonder at what this baby is going to do for us. He is coming to bring us peace; the peace of knowing that our sins are paid for. The angels say to the shepherds and they say to us, “Do not fear my holiness. Do not fear my wrath. Do not fear my glory.” Why? Because the greatest glory of God is not in the power of the angel or the brightness of God. The greatest glory of God is that the baby in the manger is God in the flesh. He may not look powerful. He may not look like anything great. But just wait until He grows. Wait until you hear Him speak. Wait until you see him die. Watch the sky turn dark. Hear Him proclaim it is finished. Watch Him rise from the dead - for you. Then you will witness just how powerful He really is. Then you will experience just what kind of peace the angel was talking about. Amen.