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December 9, 2018

Sermon Luke 2:8 . . .“Bible places:  a field just outside of Bethlehem”

“Bible places:  a field just outside of Bethlehem”

Luke 2:8

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

There you are, sitting at a table in the food court at the mall.  You’re minding your own business, eating an ice cream cone with your friends, when, all of a sudden, music starts to play and people come out of nowhere just to dance and sing.

What’s going on?  It’s a flash mob!

It all started back in June of 2003 when Bill Wasik, senior editor of Harper’s Magazine, asked 130 people to come together in a Macy’s department store to be part of a social experiment.  He wanted to see what would happen if he “took over” some commercial or public place.

As you can imagine, it didn’t take long, and “flash mobs” started popping up all over the world, like in a train station in Antwerp, Belgium, where two hundred people gathered to sing, “Do-Re-Mi,” from The Sound of Music, or when a few hundred others gathered in Moscow to sing, “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” or when Philadelphia’s Opera Company brought together 650 choir members in a downtown shopping mall to sing, “The Hallelujah Chorus.”  So far, the largest “flash mob” ever has been a crowd of 14,000 people who gathered in Mexico City to sing Michael Jackson’s, “Thriller.”

Sometimes you have to wonder!

But in the words of Luke chapter 2, we see one of the biggest and best “flash mobs” of all time, just outside of a little town called Bethlehem.

Please turn in your Bible to page 1090, as I read the words of our text.  Luke chapter 2, verse 8:  “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you:  you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!’”

Now imagine, for a moment that, when the Lord said to His angel, “I want you to go and tell the world that My blessed and eternal Son, the Lord of glory, has become incarnate as the Savior,” He left it up to him as to where he would go and whom he would tell.

And as the angel thought of the wonder and marvel of it all, would he think to himself, “I’ll go to the high priest in Jerusalem!” or “I’ll search out the scribes and the Pharisees!”?  Or maybe he thought he would stand before a meeting of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin.  Any of them would be perfect places to go!

And if he had the chance, it’s safe to say that the very last people he would tell would be shepherds and the very last place he would go was to a field just outside of Bethlehem.

And imagine the shock that rang through that great angelic host--”We too will come to rejoice with you that the world’s Savior is born.  And together we’ll proclaim it to...shepherds?!”

Now I don’t mean to seem harsh, but in that day, shepherds were about as low as you could go, as in bottom rung of the Jewish social ladder, right down there with tax collectors and street sweepers.  When you think of shepherds, think nomads, wanderers, like the guys and girls who work at traveling fairs, living in an old beat up trailer, moving from town to town.

A Jewish writer named Jeremias was even rude enough to say, “To buy wool, milk, or a baby goat from a shepherd was forbidden on the assumption that it was stolen property.”

And a third-century rabbi wrote that he was surprised that God, in Psalm 23, would compare Himself to a shepherd.  Even He should never stoop that low!

And if that’s not enough, imagine what they looked like.  Imagine what they smelled like!  Weeks of living out in the fields with sheep, sitting beside a campfire, with dirt caked on their faces and between their toes--a veritable potpourri of weeks-old smoke and sweat and sheep.

It gives all new meaning to the word, “pee-yew”!

And you can be sure that, when the angels came to sing that night, the shepherds were pretty surprised too!  As it says in verse 9:  “They were filled with great fear.”  Or as another translation puts it, “They were absolutely terrified!”

Well, yeah!  There they were, minding their own business, keeping watch over their flocks by night, when, all of a sudden, “Flash mob”!

No wonder the angel said, “Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

And just as soon as he said that Christ, the Savior, was born, what happened?  The Bible says, in verse 13, that “a multitude of the heavenly host,” a glowing, brilliant, shining, carpet--hundreds of thousands of angels, stretching in every direction--all came to praise God and sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”

Why?  Because Christ, our Savior, was born!

Is it any surprise that angels came to shepherds that night in the fields of Bethlehem?  It shouldn’t be.  That’s how it always is with God.

Remember?  When the angel Gabriel first appeared to Mary, and told her the good news that she would bear the Christ-child, she sang, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior...He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.”

And as Jesus Himself lived and worked among us, He didn’t spend so much time with the scribes and the Pharisees, the spiritually elite.  He sat down to eat with tax collectors and sinners.

And isn’t that what Paul once wrote to the Corinthians?  “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; and He chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong...so that no one may boast before Him.”  And he wrote:  “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

And what good news that is for us!  Few of us are what anyone might call “movers” and “shakers.”  None of us can claim to be among the elite.

Yet it is to us that the angels come.  It is to us that Christmas comes.  And so, even we are privileged to hear the rich, unfathomable, incredible, good news:  “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Today, we can’t help but wonder how beautiful and incredible that angelic chorus must have been.  Imagine the glory of the Lord that shone around them.  Imagine their brilliant, shining wings.  

But Christmas isn’t about angels and their splendor.  It’s about the Son of God laying aside His splendor to become one with us, to become one of us.

He was born bloody and wriggling in a manger, to die bloody and writhing on a cross.  He grew up in a backwoods town called Nazareth, the son of a lowly carpenter.  He befriended shame-filled prostitutes and respectable teachers alike.  He rubbed shoulders with unschooled fishermen and lofty synagogue rulers.  He showed His love to helpless widows and powerful centurions.  He knew hunger as well as feasting, laughter as well as grief.  He knew loneliness and betrayal and rejection.  He became one of us in every way, and ultimately took the sins of a broken world onto His shoulders, and suffered hell on our behalf as He hung on the cross.

He plunged all the way down to the depths of our misery and bound Himself to humanity in every way.  Then He rose back out of the depths, lifting us up with Him into life with God.

In Jesus, God understands us fully, and He saves us completely.

That’s why His coming matters.  That’s why Christmas matters.

And if you want to see God’s power and glory, someday you’ll get your wish.  For the day will come when you’ll see all the glory you can handle--and more.  Jesus will come again--not as a humble baby born in Bethlehem, but as the King of kings and Lord of lords.  

But before you meet Him as the Lord of glory, you first need to trust this Baby in the manger, the friend of sinners, the reject on the cross.  You need to believe the miracle of His self-humiliation, and that He is the only one who can deliver you from sin and death and hell.

And when you do, you’ll know what the grace and the glory of God is all about.

In his book, Mortal Lessons:  Notes on the Art of Surgery, surgeon and writer Richard Stelzer tells of a young woman that had a tumor in her cheek.  And to remove that tumor, he had no choice but to cut a tiny, but important, nerve in her cheek, one that controlled the muscles on that side of her mouth.  The woman was scarred for life, her smile drooping down.  He wondered how her husband would respond to the change.

She asked, “Will my mouth always be like this?”

“Yes,” he answered.  “It’s because the nerve was cut.”

She nodded, and was silent.  Her husband smiled.  He said, “I like it.  I think it’s kind of cute.”

Then he bent to kiss her crooked mouth, twisting his lips to fit hers, to show that their kiss could still work.  

So God has come to us, accommodating Himself to us in the form of a human child, to breathe into us the breath of life, to give us both joy and delight.

In the words of Joseph Bayly:  “Praise God for Christmas.  Praise Him for the Incarnation, for the Word made flesh.  I will not sing of shepherds watching flocks on a frosty night or angel choristers.  I will not sing of a stable bare in Bethlehem, of lowing oxen, or of wise men trailing a distant star with gold and frankincense and myrrh.  Tonight I will sing praise to the Father who stood on heaven’s threshold and said farewell to His Son as He stepped across the stars to Bethlehem and Jerusalem.  And I will sing praise to the infinite eternal Son who became most finite, a Baby who would one day be executed for my crimes.  Praise Him in the heavens.  Praise Him in the stable.  Praise Him in my heart.”

 

Gracious Child, we pray, O hear us, from Your lowly manger cheer us, gently lead us and be near us, till we join Your choir above.  In Your name we pray.  Amen

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