Summary: The "sign" the shepherds received was a baby in a manger. But compared to the sights and sounds of the angels in the sky... a baby in a feeding trough would seem somewhat anti-climatic. Why did God do it that way?
OPEN: A Salvation Army woman was informed by a policeman that a local ordinance would prevent her from ringing her bells to invite contributions. She was contrite and apologetic that she had “broken” the law. But the next day she was back in front of the store… doing a brisker business than ever… as she waved one sign and then another in the air.
One sign said "ding" and the other said "dong."
APPLY: Throughout this month, we’ll be seeing houses all lit up with Christmas lights and decorated with reindeer on the roofs and those blowup Santa Clauses and Snowmen balloons in their yards. Stores will be filled with tinsel, Christmas trees, and holiday music. And of course, you’ll see the Salvation Army people out there ringing their bells and asking for donations for the poor.
When you see these things taking place, you know that Christmas isn’t too far away. These are all signs of the season. The woman in our story also was a sign of the season... and she even used literal “signs” to get her message across.
Scripture says that God ALSO used a literal “sign” to get His message across. The angel said to the shepherds:
"And this will be a SIGN to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." Luke 2:12 NKJV
As I thought on that verse (and the use of the word “sign” in it) a couple of things occurred to me:
1st - this was not the kind of “sign” I would have used. I’d have used something far more dramatic. I mean, here are these shepherds surrounded by angelic beings that fill the sky and they’re so frightened that they’re literally frozen in their tracks. One commentator suggested that they may have even fallen to the ground and groveled at the feet of these heavenly beings.
Comparatively, the presence of a baby in a manger seems almost anti-climatic to me.
But the 2nd thing that I noticed in this passage was that this subtle “sign” of the baby in the manger had a more powerful effect on the shepherds than anything I would have thought up.
Luke 2 tells us that “when they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
… The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Luke 2:17-18 & 20
This quiet unassuming child, in the feeding trough of a barn, seemed to have an overwhelming effect on these simple shepherds. And it drew their attention to the main message that God intended to communicate.
There’s a great advertising phrase that Christians have used over the past few years: “Jesus is the reason for the season.”
He’s the reason that we Christians celebrate.
He’s the focus of this ENTIRE holy season for us.
Now, there are many “signs” of this season: there’s the bright lights, the festive decorations, the cheerful music…. and on and on and on. And they are all enjoyable parts of the celebration. But it’s possible for these “signs” distract us from the Baby in the manger... from Jesus. And if that happens to us then we can end up missing the true sign of the season.
I realize there’s been a lot of furor over businesses trying to remove Christ from Christmas. But even if that wasn’t happening – even if every store in the nation placed a nativity scene in it’s front window - we could still miss the true meaning of the season.
Because, just like my admitting that the manger seemed anti-climatic compared to the angels, there are lots of people – even Christians – who get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle, the hurrying about to buy presents and to decorate the house, going to this event or that party, that Jesus just kind of falls into the background.
It’s not that they mean to overlook the baby in the manger… it’s just that there’s a lot of other stuff going on. There’s so much else that’s intriguing and entertaining and powerful that Jesus can get overshadowed.
But we who love Jesus don’t want that happening to us, so it’s important that we guard against becoming distracted. From being lulled into focusing on something other than Jesus during the season. How can we do that?
Bill Hybels (preacher at the Willow Creek Church up by Chicago) had an intriguing suggestion: He suggested that we us the tools we’ve already been given.
I. For example, he suggested, that we should realize how powerful Christmas music is.
ILLUS: According to one commentator