Come to the Manger
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “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 Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 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. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
I finished High School in Southern California and when I lived there I enjoyed visiting Universal Studios in Hollywood. I especially enjoyed the backlot tour and the features that showed how they make movies. I also am fascinated by the making of features on DVDs. But there are certain aspects to movie making that we are all aware of, that are necessary for a great story to be told. They are Lights, Camera, and Action.
This evening I want us to sense the Lights, Camera and Action in our Christmas Story. This can be a challenge as this passage is so familiar to all of us for if nothing else we hear it repeated on a Charlie Brown Christmas each year. I was joking with the staff earlier this week that I was the first one to ever preach a Christmas sermon out of Luke 2. And while familiarity does not always breed contempt one author has said it takes the edge off of admiration.
Think how often you have seen the manger scene displayed in front of your eyes, how many of you have crèche a manger scene in your home? At our house we must have 6 or 7 (yes our kids built most of them through the children’s programs here.) So, when was the last time you looked at your manger scene with a sense of awe? Think about it – its not every day- that you have shepherds visiting a birth center and Angels making public pronouncements and of course with our manger scenes we even through in three kings, lots of camels and more. This story is incredible but in our familiarity with it we miss much of it. Shakespeare once wrote “Sweets grown common lose their dear delight.”
This evening I want us to know the dear delight of the Christmas Story and I pray that each of us here will see afresh the amazing advent of God becoming Man and come to the manger. To take us on this journey I want to use the outline of camera, lights, and action.
The Camera which recorded this story of the Shepherds and the Angels is the Bible. Nothing provides a more vivid description of humanity, not just the actions we take but also the attitudes of our hearts. Over the past couple of years the rage in TVs has been HD TV, high definition Television. HD TV is supposed to show a more vibrant picture. Sometimes, my wife and I like to watch productions done by the BBC, for one reason -British Actors are uncommonly common. It’s a lot easier to relate to someone who looks like they may actually be your cousin and not someone Hollywood has doctored up. The Bible works remarkably as a camera in that scripture gives a true - a realistic picture. The Bible as it records God’s story and Man’s story is really real definition Television, showing us as we really are – warts and all- and showing God for what he is Glory and all. If you doubt me on this check it out – read it and see – the authors don’t getaway with what most of us as authors would do – paint ourselves as victims or as the hero. Instead the Bible defines us and all of humanity as we really are and this real definition spares no one.
The next element of our Christmas Story is the lights-
This story is filled with lights:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
In the midst of an everyday activity for the Shepherds – watching the sheep- the amazing took place. God’s angel came to them and the Glory of God was shining all around them. The Greek word for shone is the same as Paul would use to in Acts 26 to describe his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. This is the light which blinded him! This was an intense light, this was not a twinkle, twinkle little star moment which we might assume at Christmas- this was a blinding encounter with the God –. And this light that Blinded Paul, shook to the core the Shepherds. For it was the Glory of God that shone around them.
The lighting of a scene sets the tone- a particularly engaging film or play can move us to joy or tears, an incredible fireworks display can move us patriotically, or if you were ever involved in a traumatic event you would never forget the lighting around you. But none of the events that we could ever experience would come close to the fear that this glory of God instilled in these men.
Light does something else – it exposes. Now this is a good thing if you want something exposed- you’ll put up a nightlight to help you find your way at night – you’ll get out a flashlight when camping to help you find your tent. But what about when you don’t want to be exposed? Have you ever had a pop-quiz dropped on you when you weren’t ready? Yes the light of the test exposed you. You know the sinking feeling in your stomach, well I believe that was just the beginning of the feeling that these Shepherds were experiencing.
You have to understand that these shepherds were used to hearing scary sounds at night such as wild animals but they were never so scared as when they faced the Glory of God. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. The Greek for terrified is mega – phobia - you do the translation! Take the worst fear you’ve ever had and you mega it and then you get the idea.
Next, the Angels had to calm them- Luke 2:10-11
But the angel said to them, “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 Christ the Lord.
The first question we have to ask is why would the Glory of God terrify these shepherds? If you were to ask the man on the street a question about characteristics of God you would be hard pressed to have someone describe God as terrifying. Most people come up with descriptions which look like a cosmic Santa Clause. You can sit on his lap and tell him what you want.
The shepherds certainly did not have a vision of Santa Clause- they were absolutely terrified. I believe these Shepherds were exposed, not because they were especially evil shepherds, as far as we can tell they didn’t try to lose their sheep- they were exposed because as ordinary shepherds – compared to the Glory of God they were ashamed they were guilty and they were in trouble.
Imagine for a moment that this sanctuary was actually a giant Blockbuster Video Store – the largest one you have ever been to. And each of these pews was rows of shelves- containing videos of you. In fact imagine this room containing a video for every day even every hour that you have lived. And playing on the screens for everyone to watch was not just your actions but also your attitude and what you were thinking about the people in the scene with you. I’m sure there would be some sweet moments, some wonderful times of friends and family, but it would also reveal some very ugly moments, things you wouldn’t want anyone to know. But the moment it was played on the screen you would be exposed. You want to run out and not show your face again.
Do you know something? God knows your every action and even the deepest thoughts and feelings of your heart.
Next question is What does the light of Glory of God do to you? What does it reveal? Would you respond like the Shepherds, in Mega-Fear?
You see coming into the presence of God reveals our smallest sins our greatest insecurities and most of all our ultimate need for Christ.
Light of Glory of God reveals that God’s standard is to love Him with all our heart, all our soul, and our strength and all our mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And if we were honest with ourselves we would admit that we’ve not loved God with all our heart for an entire 5 minutes much less for life time.
Light of Glory of God reveals our discontentment, our hearts are never satisfied.
When I was a kid I used to judge my Christmas gift by its weight, if it was heavy that was good – no sweater could be that heavy!
Discontentment reigns at Christmas…
This fall I read a book by Greg Easterbrook called the Progress Paradox, and in this book Easterbrook says,
“Please don’t be alarmed, but almost everything about American life is getting better for almost everyone. Public health is improving by nearly every measure, including rising longevity and falling rates of most diseases; even many forms of cancer are in decline. Drinking, smoking and most forms of drug use are declining. Welfare rolls are shrinking without increase in poverty. The divorce rate has stopped increasing. Personal freedom has never been greater. Book sales hit new records almost every year. Nearly all forms of deaths due to accident are declining. Crime has declined so rapidly that the fall has been almost eerie. Education levels keep rising, while test scores and public-school performance show guarded improvement. Despite what evening news carnage suggests, armed conflicts and combat deaths worldwide are in a cycle of decline. Global democracy is rising while military dictatorships are on the run. As far as living standards are concerned in the main Americans are steadily better off.
Yet, Easterbrook says, most people reject the idea they are prosperous. Surveys show that the majority of Americans think only the rich are “well off” despite the fact that most Americans live quite well compared to more than 99 percent of human beings who have ever existed.”
Did you get that? Despite the fact that as Americans we are living better than ever before in history, we aren’t content. It’s never enough. That is why discontentment reigns at Christmas. For if your heart could be filled by gifts under the tree we should all be satisfied. If you are waiting tomorrow for the gift to bring you real lasting joy you won’t find it under the tree.
Contentment is not wrapped in a box.
Contentment is not wrapped in a box.
Light of the Glory of God reveals our discontentment, our hearts are never satisfied.
Light of the Glory of God reveals our need to be saved from our own hearts.
And so it was the light of the Glory of God that shone on the shepherds and revealed their need of a Savior, is why the Angels needed to comfort the Shepherds. And the only way the Angel could tell the Shepherds to not be afraid was because they had a Savior. The peace for our hearts had to come from outside our hearts.
And so the angels said, “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 Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
And that brings us to the final point -Action.
You have seen how the camera of Scripture has captured for us this amazing story, you have seen how the Light of Glory of God has shown us the need for a Savior. Finally, let’s see the action that follows-
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 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. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”
After the angels left we see that their visit had some incredible impact. The Shepherds immediately discussed it and said, “We have to go to the Manger.” This is not normal behavior for Shepherds, as a Pastor I have been to the hospital many times after a baby is born and not once have I ever seen a shepherd come by for a visit. And these shepherds hurried to the manger.
The reason that the shepherds hurried to the manger is that they knew that their whole reality was being shaken by Jesus’ birth and the Angel’s visit. For they said, Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened.
John MacArthur points out that the word translated “thing” in this passage denotes much more in Greek than it does in English. The term literally means “word” or “reality.” The shepherds understood that they had received a word from God, and the reality of it was that Messiah had been born that same day.
The Shepherds hurried off and this was not an easy jog since Bethlehem sits on a ridge, the shepherds most likely had to hurry uphill the two miles from the fields to town.
AND now we get to the key action of our passage – and they FOUND the baby lying in the manger.
The Angels word was good, God’s Word was good, the Shepherds found the baby right where they Angels said he would be found. And that meeting with Jesus changed them, just as it changes everyone who comes in contact with him. Listen to the action of the shepherds from this point on –
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. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
The shepherds couldn’t stop talking about it - listen it’s in there twice –
When they had seen him they spread the word concerning what had been told them about Jesus AND
The Shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard
This again doesn’t seem like normal behavior for shepherds- I don’t know a lot about shepherding but one of the main skills seem to be calling sheep and not talking to others and singing. But Luke points this out to show us how they had been changed by coming to the manger.
What about you this Christmas Eve? Do you realize this call to the manger is for you as well?
Just as the Glory of God shines tonight and exposes our need for a Savior, so also is the call to go find the Savior.
If the glory of God reveals our real need and our intense self-pleasing sin, then the Grace of God demonstrates that when God became Man and slept in the manger he revealed power, light and love.
Think of it, the God of all creation resided as a baby and would grow up to offer salvation to the world. There is power in that manger.
The Chronicles of Narnia are big this Christmas season with the release of the Lion, the Which and the Wardrobe. In the final book of the series, the Last Battle, the main characters go through the door of a stable only to discover they were in Aslan’s Country- a whole new world – heaven. And after marveling at the fact that what looked like a door to a stable was really a door to a whole world King Tirian says, “It seems, then that the stable seen from within and the Stable seen from without are two different places.”
“Yes,” said the Lord Digory. “Its inside is bigger than its outside.”
“Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a Stable once had something inside it that was bigger than the whole world.”
And that is power! Come to the manger where there was someone much bigger than the whole world.
For Jesus grew up and announced, I am the light of the world!
And Jesus ultimately announced his love for his people when he died in our place so that the Glory of God would not be something to dread but rather to marvel at and love.
If you want to know more about this God of power, light and love let me invite you to check out Christianity Explored starting January 15, Christianity Explored is a 6 week course featuring dinner, a lively talk and lots of discussion. This is a safe place where you can ask any question and you can embark on the most important discovery. Come to the manger and discover a savior has been born to you – He is Christ the Lord!
And if you have been to the manger and already know Jesus as your Savior - then come to the manger again tonight and leave like the Shepherds spreading the word concerning what you have been told about Jesus AND glorify and praise God for all the things you had seen and heard.
Come, all of you, to the Manger.