Sunday 27 December 2015

A Christmas nobody (Luke 2:8-20)

Are you a Christmas nobody?

It’s not that you hate Christmas or that you’re alone over Christmas. But you just feel insignificant this time of year. No one would notice if you walked out of the room. They would still be celebrating, drinking, watching the Dr Who special. But you? You’re expendable. Like a sprout rolled under the tree.

The thing is, being a Christmas nobody might not be such a bad thing.

1. The nobodies of the world

And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, 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.”
Luke 2:8-10

Shepherds were nobodies. Five times we’re reminded what their job was: Sheep-keepers. They looked after smelly sheep. They had a reputation as weirdos - the Jar Jar Binks of the ancient world. They were nobodies in the world.

But not to God. “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you,” the angel says to the shepherds in verse 11. “This will be a sign to you,” verse 12.

When God sat down to write the first Christmas card, he wrote on the envelope: “Shepherds.”

Not “Prime Minister” nor “Archbishop of Jerusalem”. God wanted the first people to hear about the first Christmas to be nobodies, not the somebodies of the world.


Years later, Jesus would call himself the good shepherd (John 10:11, 14). You see, the way that shepherds care for their sheep - “living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flock,” verse 8 - was the way that God cares for his people. Looking after sheep isn’t glamourous. Yet the great leaders of old - Joseph, Moses, King David - learned the ropes by leading sheep. It taught them humility. Practical love. Jesus came to be that kind of shepherd king. That kind of humble Saviour born in a manger.

It takes a nobody to recognise Somebody special. God knew that shepherds would recognise their Saviour.

But they weren’t alone. There is a second group of nobodies: The angels.

2. The nobodies of the universe

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 favour rests.”
Luke 2:13-14

It might seem strange calling angels nobodies. I doubt the shepherds would dare do that. They were terrified! (verse 9) The angel had to tell them, “Do not be afraid.” (Verse 10)

Furthermore, the “great company of the heavenly host” appearing in verse 13 is not a musical choir. We get that from “O come all ye faithful” - the line from the carol which goes, “Sing choirs of angels, sing in exaltation” - but that is far from what verse 13 is talking about. In reality, it is describing an army. In the same way that the “Lord of hosts” in the Old Testament is better translated the “Lord of armies,” so here, the “heavenly host” refers to the armed forces of Almighty God.

Think less Sister Act and more GI Joe.

Yet these armies appear - “suddenly”, verse 13 - not to fight a war, not to defeat an enemy. Rather, God sends his generals, warriors and footsoldiers on a mission of peace. Verse 14: “...And on earth, peace to men on whom his favour rests.”

You see, Christmas Day made these angels, well, redundant. Because Christmas means an end to the war. Christ is born. His birth marks an end to our rebellion against God.

Jesus once told his disciples, “Don’t you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53) He said this to friends trying to prevent his arrest by soldiers with swords. With violence. He was saying, “Cool it, guys. I’ve got the Heavenly Avengers on speed dial.” He was talking about the same angels we meet here in Luke 2.

The Trinitarian Terminators. The Jehovah Jedis.

Jesus could snap his fingers and the full military might of the universe would be at his disposal.

So why didn’t he? Because the way to win this fight was to lose his life. No angel, however awesome, can take your punishment for sin. No friend, however sincere, can take your place of judgement. Only God can do that. And on the cross, he did. He died in our place.

Christians call this the gospel. It’s the “good news” announced by the angel in verse 10. It is good news for bad people that God has forgiven our sin. It is good news for all peoples that God has defeated our sin. It is good news for you and me that Jesus Christ is Lord. This was a message delivered by angels to shepherds.

This was a message delivered by shepherds to Mary, the last nobody we meet in the Christmas story.

3. Nobody but God

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.
Luke 2:16-20

We see two reactions to Christmas. Both good. But both different.

Some people are like the shepherds. They hear the news. They see the baby. And they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.” (verse 20) It just makes sense!

But others are like Mary, who “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (verse 19) It’s those quiet moments when nobody is in the room, when the turkey’s in the fridge and guests have gone home, when you ask yourself, “Is this really true? Did God send his Son to save me from my sins?”

Of all people, you would think Mary got this instantly. After all, she gave birth to the Messiah. When she was pregnant in Luke Chapter 1, the angel appeared to her, calling her highly favoured, saying her son would be the Son of God (Luke 1:28, 35). Mary is a model of faith. “I am the Lord’s servant,” she says in Luke 1:38.

Yet Luke Chapter 2 reminds us this was a process, even for Mary. She treasured up the moments and pondered them in her heart. The phrase occurs again at the end of the chapter (Luke 1:51), meaning, she was constantly pondering over what it meant for Jesus to be to be her Lord and Saviour.

I suggest to you that Mary did this all her life because (and I want to be careful how I say this) Christmas isn’t enough to make sense of Christ. It’s a good start, don’t get me wrong. Christmas says Jesus was born for us but it is the cross that says Jesus died for us. The cross makes sense of Christmas. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Mild he lay his glory by,
Born that man no more may die.

Like Mary, it might not be such a bad thing to be alone during such moments. To think. To pray. Because friends, the times in life when we are most aware of our own insignificance isn’t, I don’t think, when we’re lonely or depressed, but when we are in the presence of something truly marvellous and awesome. When God enters our lives, when we are most awed by his holy presence, those are the moments when we are most aware of our sinfulness, most humbled by our lowliness and most surprised by his grace.

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 Saviour has been born to you;

he is Christ the Lord.

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