Thursday, January 03, 2008

Advent (2007) IV: Mary and the Shepherds
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Mary and the Shepherds

Intro.: I ran across this poem earlier this week.

While shepherds careful vigil kept o'er lambs in fields of green.

The sky took on a brilliant glow and lit the grassy scene.

In dread they looked upon the star that rose anew that night.

Then angels came to calm their fears and tell of the heavenly light.

In word and song they shared the news of the babe who was their king.

They sang of peace and love and joy, and the good will he would bring.

The keepers of the flocks arose and followed the heavenly beam,

But not to gleaming palace walls as it would surely seem.

It led them to an earthen stall where cattle and goats were kept.

And in the manger soft and warm, the little Jesus slept.

Tears filled up their tired eyes and ran down wind burned cheeks.

They had found the promised one, for whom the world still seeks.

Though they were watchers of the flocks, tenders of lamb and ewe,

He was the keeper of God's flock, HE was the shepherd true.1

I want to spend our time together looking at the shepherds response to Jesus' birth.

Read: Luke 2:8-20


T.S. The story of the shepherds can be easily divided into a three act play.

  1. Act I - The Shepherds and the Angel

    1. We all know the story of the shepherd sitting out in the field watching their sheep. They probably had tents or lean-tos to protect them from the elements. But there were wolves and foxes in the area that ate small animals – like sheep. The other common danger that they faced was bandits – who would steal the sheep to add to their own. To protect them, the shepherds would take three hour shifts to watch the sheep and be sure they were not attacked.2

    2. This night started out like all the others – but we all know that it did not end up that way. It started out with an angel – in fact the angel was not even so startling. He just appeared. Some translations suggest that the angels appeared suddenly – but the Greek has no suggestion of that. It would seem to me that something else was occurring.

(Ill.) The other night Sandra and I were driving home after buying our Christmas dinner. The cars were slowing down – very strange. And then Sandra looked to her right. She couldn't believe her eyes. Out there in the field were – cows? Why would any farmer leave his cows out on a night like this – it was horrible. How could they do that to those poor animals. And those cows, they were awfully skinny – no, wait, they are not cows. Those were deer – there must have been 20 of them out there in the field. It did look strange – but it also was amazing.

    1. I think the appearance of the angel was a similar experience – here was this man, but it was only as they spent time in the angel's presence they began to realize that this was no ordinary man – it was a messenger from God.

    2. And something happened – scripture says “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” Did you hear that, it “shown around them”, it was not the one angel – it was the shepherds. And the shepherds responded – they were afraid. No it was worse than that, the Greek uses two related words adjacent to each other – the root of both words is phobos. Phobos is the root of phobia – fear. Together the two Greek words are saying that they were “fearfully afraid”. They were, to quote the NIV, “terrified”.

    3. But it was not just the angels presence that is surprising, it is also his message: Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christa the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

(Appl.) The angel brought good news – not just for Israel, not just for Christians, not just for evangelicals, not just for Americans, not just for republicans. The angel brought good news for the whole world.3

  1. Act II - The Shepherds and the Angels

    1. And that is the end of Act I.. Act II opens on the same hillside, but there is a change. Rather than there being a single angel, there is a host of angels.

    2. No longer are they speaking about a little baby lying in a manger – but a God who has a concern for the whole world. We are seeing a picture of worship – and like our worship it is two directional.

    3. Worship begins by giving praise to God. Even the angels begin by praising God. “Glory to God in the highest.” Worship is not primarily about us – but it is looking at God as He is.

(Ill.) I really appreciate Judaism - their faith is full of legends and stories. The Jews have one legend that when Abraham started on his journeys he saw the stars in the heavens and said, “I will worship the stars.” But ere long the stars set. Then Abraham saw the constellations—the Pleiades and the rest of them—and he said, “I will worship the constellations.” But the constellations also set. Then Abraham saw the moon sailing high in the heavens and he said, “I will worship the moon.” But the moon also vanished when her season was over. Then Abraham saw the sun in all his majesty, coming out of his chamber like a bridegroom and rejoicing as a strong man to run a race. But when the day was spent, he saw the sun sink on the western horizon. Stars, constellations, moon, and sun—all were unworthy of his worship, for all had set and all had disappeared. Then Abraham said, “I will worship God, for he abides forever.4

    1. But worship is also when God meets us. The angels say it this way: and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.

(Ill.) About 150 years after Christ the church was spreading throughout the known world. One of the early church was a man by the name of Irenaeus. Irenaeus, though born in Turkey, lived his later years in what is now France. Irenaeus was one of leading defenders for the divine inspiration of the New Testament.5 But Irenaeus also understood that in worship we had to see God: The glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God.6

    1. As we meet here each Sunday, come to give glory to God and ready to meet Him and experience His present.

  1. Act III – The Shepherds and Jesus

    1. And then we move into Act III. But the setting has changed. The shepherds are moving into Bethlehem to see the child.

    2. As I read this story, something caught my eye. Back on that field, the shepherds were told where the Messiah would be born, they they were told something of the circumstances, but they were never told to go and visit Him. But they had been waiting – they knew of the promised Messiah and when they heard it had been accomplished, they wanted to see.

(Ill.) I have told many of you that I went through a very dark time in my Christian life that nearly destroyed my walk with God and my family. I don't think I ever told you about that first Christmas. After going to Family Camp twice during the preceding summer my life was beginning a dramatic turnaround. I looked forward to that next Christmas like none other. For the first time in my life I had experienced God's grace in forgiveness in ways that I could never imagine till that time. And I wanted tell everyone that I knew what I learned. And it was those events that began that brought me here 12 years later. And it wasn't just me ...

    1. The shepherd went to visit the manger – and when they had seen God, they were changed. They could not keep quiet about what they had seen – they spread the word.

    2. But Mary has different response. She treasures all that happened in her heart. It had been a very busy nine months – and now she had a son for whom she and Joseph were responsible. She did not understand it all, she could not see the future. But she would wait for 33 years before she saw the end of it – the death and resurrection of her son. The death and resurrection of the Son of God. And she could stop pondering – because she would understand.


Act III is not yet over. We are living it out as servants of the Lord of Lords. Welcome to the cast. And as you play your part, I hope that you experience some of the miracle of Christmas.



2Barnes, Albert (2007). Barnes' Notes on the New Testament. WORDsearch Corp.

3Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson's Application Commentary (301). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

4Tan, P. L. (1996, c1979). Encyclopedia of 7700 illustrations : A treasury of illustrations, anecdotes, facts and quotations for pastors, teachers and Christian workers. Garland TX: Bible Communications.


6Water, M. (2000). The new encyclopedia of Christian quotations (1139). Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt Publishers Ltd.

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