Printable PDF: 12-27-2020 Christmas 1 Sermon
Pastor Wagenknecht ~ Luke 2:8-20 ~ Christmas 1 ~ December 27, 2020
A SHEPHERD TELLS HIS STORY
An imaginary visit with one of the shepherds who saw and heard the angels on the first Christmas night in Bethlehem
Good evening! I am so glad that you could visit me today. I am always happy when people drop in because this gives me an opportunity to tell my story once more. I am an old man now and what happened took place nearly 30 years ago, but I can remember everything that happened that night.
I will start by telling you a little about myself. My name is Jonathan ben David. As my name indicates, I am a descendant of King David. I am also a descendant of Abraham and therefore I am an Israelite. I am proud of my nation for it was Israel that the Lord chose to be his own people. Israel had been given special favor by the Lord God himself. From the days when he led his people out of slavery in Egypt by the hand of Moses down to a few hundred years ago, we were a mighty nation with a place in the world. In fact, we were a world empire under the great King David and his son, Solomon. But this greatness is past and since those days we have suffered humility at the hands of Babylon, Greece, and now Rome. I am also proud to be Judean, but for a much different reason. You see, the Lord also chose our tribe of Judah to receive his promise of a Messiah which he had promised years ago to Adam and Eve.
There are not many of my countrymen left who still believe the word of the prophets of old. There are few who really look forward to the fulfilling of this promise of a Messiah. My family was one of the few that returned from Babylon to this Promised Land. We returned to Bethlehem in Judea because we did believe in those promises. I can still remember the days when I was a child and we would gather for the Passover Feast. My father would read from Moses’ Book of Exodus. When he was done reading, he would teach us about the Passover lamb and explain how this was also a prophecy of the promised Messiah, who would be the real “Lamb of God.” As a child I often prayed that God would fulfill this promise in my lifetime. This faith in God’s Word is the reason my family had stayed several hundred years in the small village of Bethlehem, for the Prophet Micah said the Messiah would be born here.
As I grew up I became a shepherd and took care of my father’s sheep. I loved the work as a shepherd because sheep are so much in need of someone to care for them. Sheep are not even able to find water or grass for themselves if they are lost. So I enjoyed the responsibility of caring for these helpless animals. While we roamed the hills and valleys around the little town of Bethlehem, I would find the best grass for my sheep, which I loved like pets. In fact, I even had names for some of my favorite sheep. The sheep knew me by the sound of my voice and if I wanted them to follow me, I would call out their names or sing a song. One of my favorite songs was written by another shepherd, David. I loved to sing his song: The LORD is my shepherd: I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. Surely the Lord is the perfect Good Shepherd and so this song was even more meaningful to me because I could understand how I am like a lost sheep that needs leadership and care.
On that special night about which I want to tell you, I was watching my sheep in the fields by night, and I joined several other shepherds around a common campfire. We let our flocks mingle together, and we sat enjoying the fire in the cold winter night air. It was one of those brilliant nights when the stars were shining in all their beauty and you could see their reflection in the Great Sea to the West and the outline of the Judean hills to the East. On a hilltop nearby the village of Bethlehem was visible with its glimmering lanterns and the central fire in the village inn.
While we sat around the campfire that night, we were talking about many things, but I do remember one long discussion we had about “The Hope of Israel,” which was the common name for the promise of the Messiah. I told the other shepherds about the many prophecies in the Scriptures by Moses, Isaiah, Micah, and Malachi. One of the other shepherds sort of surprised me when he said that as a child he often hoped that it would happen in his lifetime. That was my dream, too. We talked about this for hours, but we also decided that we would probably never see that day because it had been over 400 years since the last prophet spoke about him. About midnight we decided to get some sleep, and we wrapped up in our warm cloaks and inched closer to the fire.
THEN SUDDENLY THE SKY BEGAN TO LIGHT UP. We looked up but the light was blinding and we hid our faces in our cloaks and fell to the ground in terror. Then we heard a voice saying, “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy.” When I looked up, I saw the form of a man, or was it an angel? The angel said, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord.” I couldn’t believe it at first. The Messiah had come? Then the sky was filled with a multitude of these heavenly messengers and the glory of the Lord made the heavens brighter than noon-day and the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Then as suddenly as they had come, they were gone, and the night was dark and still. It took a while before anyone spoke. “What is this?” “A Savior?” “Is this the promised Messiah?” “In the city of David?” We had to find out if this was all true and we forgot about our sheep and hurried into town.
While we were heading to Bethlehem, we began to wonder how we could find a little baby in the town which was so crowded with many strangers. You see, the Roman government had demanded that people return to their ancestral towns to be registered for a census that would determine the taxation. As we scrambled up the hill toward the town, we noticed the bright light of the central fire at the inn. We went into the inn and began to look around. Around the central courtyard with its fire there were three sided booths closed by a curtain on the side toward the fire. We walked around the inn listening for the cry of a baby and asking people we met.
Then we remembered the words of the angel that the baby would be lying in a manger, so we hurried out back to the stable. When we looked in, we could see the animals and in the far corner there was a light, and we saw two people. As we approached them, we noticed a little baby between them sleeping in a small manger box, wrapped in swaddling clothes.
My heart was pounding with excitement and joy. I hurriedly told the man what had happened to us out on the hillside when the angels appeared to us. Then I recognized the man; it was Joseph ben David from Nazareth, a distant cousin who had moved away from Bethlehem. Joseph began to tell us about the angel who appeared to him and told him that his fiancée Mary was with child by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit. She was to give birth to the Son of the Most High God and he would sit on the throne of his father David. He was told to take Mary into his own home as his wife and to name the baby Jesus. The name Jesus means Savior, and this name confirms that this is the promised Messiah. All my hopes and desires were answered in those few short hours nearly 30 years ago.
How difficult it was to leave the stable that night, but I was filled with happiness and rushed home and told everyone in my family of the great things that we had seen and heard. Since it was getting light in the morning, I rushed about town waking my friends and sharing my story. They all wondered at the things such humble shepherds were telling them. I also heard that Joseph and Mary found a house in which to stay.
In the days that followed I returned to the sheep that I had left at the camp site, and I spent those days glorifying and praising God for all that I had heard and seen. It was true! I thought a lot about the meaning of that great event: THAT THE LONG AWAITED MESSIAH HAD COME to Bethlehem. Born in a stable. Wrapped in swaddling clothes. Lying in a manger. I pondered the humble way in which he had come. He is Immanuel = God with us. This is a message that I have been telling over and over and am still telling to all who will listen. I am glad that you came today to hear this most heartwarming story. You can imagine the great joy with which I now sing that song to my sheep, “The LORD is my Shepherd.”
Sometime after this I heard the story told around Bethlehem that King Herod – a terrible and fearsome man – had sent soldiers to kill all the baby boys in town who were under 2 years old. This disturbed me greatly for I was afraid for the life of the Christ-child. These years have been long years of waiting. It has been 30 years since his birth, and I had heard nothing more about the Messiah until a few days ago. The word was all over that a great prophet was teaching and baptizing in the wilderness near the Jordan River. Could this be the Messiah? I followed the crowds out to see this man who was not called Jesus but was called John. He preached that the Kingdom of God is at hand. He told us to repent of our sins and to be baptized. I stayed out there and had a chance to tell John my story about the angels and their wonderful tidings of great joy. Then John told me that this child is now grown and truly is the long-awaited Savior of the world. The very next day as I listened to John preaching, he suddenly stopped. He pointed to a man walking toward him and cried out: BEHOLD! THE LAMB OF GOD THAT TAKETH AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD. My heart is filled with the same excitement and joy I felt in the stable in Bethlehem. God has kept his promise. He has sent the Savior.
I still tell this story to all who will listen. I hope what I saw, and what I heard, and what brought me such great joy has done the same for you. You, too, need this Messiah. Christ is your Savior. Listen to the good tidings of great joy, “Unto you is born this day a Savior which is Christ the Lord.” And join the angelic song: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”