Blog, Sermon

Advent: The Shepherds (Luke 2:8-20)

white sheep on farm
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Written within a year of his conversion, Charles Wesley penned my favorite Christmas Hymn “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”. The song begins with the story of the angels proclaiming Christ’s birth to the shepherds in Luke 2, then Wesley filled the song with the reasons the angels sang out in joy. One of my favorite parts is when Wesley wrote: “Peace on Earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!” Luke “carefully investigated everything” about the life of Jesus in his gospel account to Theophilus. It is highly probable that Luke spoke on more than one occasion with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Much of what we know about Jesus’ birth comes from Luke’s Gospel with many details concerning Mary herself. It is in Luke that we learn about Jesus being born in a manger and the shepherds visit. It is the shepherd’s visit and the angel’s announcement to them which shall be our focus on the second Sunday of Advent.

A Terrifying Announcement (8-9)

Luke tells us that there were shepherds out in the field watching over their flocks of sheep. They had no idea that there was anything different about this particular night until an angel of the Lord stood before them. Keep in mind that shepherds were on guard and ready to protect the sheep at all times. When the Bible says that they were “keeping watch at night over their flock”, they were alert to any dangers or threats. They were not timid or fearful people, but they were not expecting an angel to appear before them and the glory of the Lord to shine around them. Their initial reaction is understandable: “they were terrified.” Literally, they “feared a great fear.”

A Joyful Announcement (10-14)

The angel knew they were afraid and he said to them what angels usually say to people in the Bible, “Don’t be afraid…” The angel continued, “...for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The good news of great joy was that “Today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.” The Savior of the world has been born in nearby Bethlehem in fulfillment of what the prophet Micah foretold in Micah 5:2. Charles Wesley in “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” explained the importance of Jesus’ birth, “Born that man no more may die: Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.” The promised Messiah has come, and a multitude of angels appeared rejoicing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all men.”

An Amazing Announcement (15-19)

The Shepherds were amazed at what they had seen and heard. The long-awaited Messiah has been born in nearby Bethlehem. One would think that the Messiah would be born to a very important woman, in an important family, in an important city such as Jerusalem, but that is not the case. Notice the humble beginning in this world for the Messiah. He was born to a humble woman named Mary in a little town called Bethlehem and His birth announcement went to lowly shepherds. This was not by accident. Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola succinctly explain why:

God made His entrance into this earth in the least expected of all places through the least expected of people. And as such, the worst and the best, the richest and the poorest, and the first and the last will seek Him out then and now. The conditions of Jesus’ birth demonstrate to us that no one and no place is beneath His dignity or His reach. He hallows and sanctifies all things, all places, and all people with His presence.

A Life-Changing Announcement (20)

Make no mistake about it, the shepherds lives were changed as a result of the angel’s announcement. They immediately went to see the newborn Jesus. They excitedly told everyone who would listen about the angel’s announcement. I love what verse 20 says, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard, just as they had been told.” The shepherds could not contain their joyful praise. The birth of Jesus changed them.

How about you? Have the old stories of Jesus’ birth lost their impact on you? Have you become so familiar with the details of the Christmas story that you have lost your awe and wonder? Sadly, in our culture the word ‘awesome’ has almost lost its meaning. Anything we like suddenly becomes awesome. But the word is based on ‘awe’. Awe means “reverential respect mixed with fear and wonder.” Awesome literally means “something that inspires awe.” It is awe-inspiring and breathtaking. Jesus’ amazing birth should fill us with awe.

Hymn: Hark the Herald Angels Sing!

Hark! the herald angels sing,                                        Hail! the heaven-born Prince of peace!
“Glory to the new-born King!                                        Hail! the Son of Righteousness!
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,                                  Light and life to all he brings,
God and sinners reconciled.”                                        Risen with healing in his wings ;
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,                                              Mild he lays his glory by,
Join the triumph of the skies;                                       Born that man no more may die:
With th’ angelic host proclaim,                                    Born to raise the sons of earth,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”                                      Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,                                        Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King!                                       “Glory to the new-born King!