Summary: Looking at the shepherds and Magi response to Christ’s birth.
"The Characters of Christmas: The Shepherds and The Magi"
1. The message within Christmas is that the Gospel is for everyone. I know this may seem a rather simplistic statement but as I have reflected on these past few weeks, I have come to realize more and more how true this is. Consider the characters we have looked at so far. First was Zechariah and Elizabeth, a couple who were in essence, "good people". Priestly heritage, continuing that line faithfully. Than there was Mary, young girl, poor, chosen to be the womb for the Son of God. Then there was Joseph, a common carpenter, possibly rough in appearance as well as behavior. Then there’s the two groups that get our attention today, the shepherds and the Magi. Much like Zechariah and Elizabeth can be contrasted with Mary, so too can these two groups be compared to each other and the differences become very striking. But let’s read the accounts about these two groups first.
2. Lk. 2.8-20 and Matthew 2.1ff. [read text]
3. These two groups make this message even more clear. The Gospel is really for everyone. Let’s compare these two groups:
a. The shepherds are living nearby. The Magi come from the East. In other words, as it relates to distance, the shepherds are close and the Magi are far. Yet God gets their attention regardless of distance. For the shepherds, it’s a message from the angels. For the Magi, it’s the sign of the star. But regardless of distance from the manger, their attention is grabbed and they pay attention to what God is trying to tell them. They become open to a message of grace in a whole new way.
b. The shepherds are not high on the social status. Their job was to tend the flocks of sheep that would be used for temple sacrifices. They were like innkeepers or custodial crews. People who do a job but rarely get any kind of notice. They would have been on a first episode of "dirty jobs". They did the job no one else wanted to do. And if the story of King David is any indication, they may very well have been young men rather than old. The Magi were kings in their own countries. People of wealth and dignity. The kind of men that everyone would not only pay attention to, but want them to listen to them as well. And perhaps we could suggest that they are old as well. Mature men of wisdom, although we know looking at people like King Tut, that was not always the case.
c. Financially, there would be a difference between these shepherds and the wise men. The shepherds probably lived paycheck to paycheck. Not much extra. Probably a bit of "you do for me and I’ll do for you mentality." And the wise men, we are told, brought gifts of great value, great cost; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Not only did the gifts cost a lot of money, but the trip would have been a costly one as well. This wasn’t just a trip you made on the spur of the moment. "Hey, what are you doing Saturday night? Me, oh, I’m planning a weekend trip to Bethlehem." It doesn’t work like that. This trip was an expensive one for these Magi to make. And they apparently had the means to make it.
4. So what you see, when you compare these two groups, shepherds, and Magi, when you consider what we have already learned about Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, when you look at all of the statistics of all of these people whose lives were intersected by God, one reality comes clearly into focus. And this is it. The grace of God is intended for everyone. Regardless of age, social status, financial wealth, wisdom and understanding, regardless of your refinement, personality. Regardless of how bad or how good we are, regardless of what we have done or haven’t done, regardless of any inside or outside factors, regardless of your address or location, the Gospel is for everyone. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. For God so loved everyone that He gave the best gift He could have ever given. And that gift came with one single message, God loves you. And He wants a relationship with you. And once you embrace that relationship, share it with those around you. Because those you know, are also a part of those whom God loves, whether shepherds or Magi, or somewhere in between.
5. We have been celebrating the 85th anniversary of our church. And I just want to take a moment to remind you that the reason this church exists is because the church in Arenzville, Illinois believed the people of Havana needed the Gospel. They had discovered a relationship with Jesus Christ and determined to take it to others because they believed it was that valuable. They believed it was that important. And what will help this church continue into the future will be a continued belief that the Gospel is for everyone.